…To The Manual.
You ollie perfectly onto an iron rail, grinding 50-50 as the rusted fence of the skate park whizzes past. The metal shaves your decked-out board, skittering beneath your brand-name sneakers, as you knock down the trash bag oddly resting at the end of the rail. Your body tenses. That was the eleventh bag of twelve you have been asked to collect by the garbage man who’s probably lounging somewhere on his going-to-be-old and lazy ass. With the last bag in your sights just three meters away, you leap high off the rail into a nose manual. You can feel the fifty bucks slipping from the garbage man’s wallet into your pocket. But you lift your feet too high, and your head says hello to the pavement once more.
Luckily, you have experience with this. Before your body gets mangled into a mess, you pause. Press down once. Restart. And sigh, as you attempt to complete the goal before you sleep.
[image1]Making you start over is the hallmark of the Tony Hawk franchise, and Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground for the Nintendo DS doesn’t change that. In fact, this handheld port does a fakie towards the classic Tony Hawk titles of yore, contrasting the race-oriented, anomalous Downhill Jam. Several additions from recent console iterations are peppered throughout, but like most conservative changes, you’ll appreciate the retreat back to basics but also yearn for something different.
As a budding skateboarder with an oversized hangar, you are approached by the illustrious Tony Hawk to get your name out there and gather funds to build a sick skatepark. The path to stardom can be found by ripping as either a "hardcore" or "career" skater, and it becomes apparent that the game wants you to choose one or the other. However, there’s little reason for doing so, as getting your street creds and the respect of every skater is the only way to get full completion. Besides, would you really refuse doubling your cash and fame?
Opting to transfer from one style to the other, though, means further repetition of the same objectives. No matter which city you’re in, you’ll find hopeless people that need you to gather this, knock off that, score this many points, do this trick, and rip along this line performing a series of flips and grabs in a combo. It doesn’t matter how far you have progressed. Though the difficulty gradually increases as you travel from city to city, every goal not only earns you the same amount of money, but is supported with a story as poignant as this: “The museum door was left open and our flyers were blown all over the place. Please collect them.” It might as well be: “Here, boy, fetch the pokéball!”
[image2]Of course, Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground has a license to be downright ridiculous. Why arcade-style titles are outrageous by default is beyond me, but then again, who can complain about being able to grind on telephone wires? Tony Hawk titles has always been about stringing an insane number of tricks together that would make underground skateboarders want to watch the X Games again. Zooming on your board with the speed boost of three aggro kicks, hitting a ramp, launching ninety feet into the air, doing a varial heelflip into a 720 madonna, and landing with a revert into a manual is just the tip of the lip.
Veterans of the series will expect and value much of this. With the exception of having to mash through the introductory information every time you restart a session, the usual polish and upgrades are all present and accounted for. As you build your abilities (no one cares for lip tricks, though) by reaching a fixed count of various stats such as tricks and grind length, you can use the stylus to activate special moves, angry freak outs, and slow time – which makes you wish there were bullets to dodge. Online mode is put together well, with a supporting website and lots of match types. If you don’t care for any of the new features, you can hang in Classic Mode, where you can revisit the typical two-minute sessions and collect the not-so-friendly Sesame Street letters in “S-K-A-T-E”.
[image3]Graphically and aurally, the presentation is oddly appropriate. Sure, the character models are more polygonal than Tony Hawk Pro Skater for the Playstation, but they’re as decent as a Nintendo DS can muster. It’s hard to complain with the low-res videos and the wardrobe of jeans, ripped t-shirts, suits, cowboy hats, and assorted knick-knacks. The soundtrack, despite the small cartridge, fares much better, ranging from “The Pretender” by Foo Fighters and “Breed” by Nirvana.
There isn’t much we haven’t seen before in Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground. Although it doesn’t get to the point of nausea, having the same goals again and again gets tiring. Still, this pint-sized port brings everything that makes Tony Hawk titles such an enjoyably irritating affair. As a do over to Downhill Jam, it’s as good as you can get with a new skateboard on old wheels.