A slippery slope.
At E3 2006, nothing short of two stealth kills, a hail of business cards, some lies, and an impressive series of back flips got me past miles of nerds and into the forbidden Wii booth. I quickly found out that the inside was as crowded as the out, and started trying to figure out which lines I could cut into, because patient waiting just isn’t the GR way.
Anyway, right before I chloroformed that fanboy and stuffed him behind a kiosk, I noticed one lonely Wii in the corner, devoid of any line, and I had to know. Is it broken? What could it be? I strolled up to an even lonelier booth man (poor bastard), and he showed me skate boarding’s first Wii title, Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam.
That ‘skateboarding’ part might be misleading, since Downhill Jam
is uncannily similar to SSX
, or any other snow
boarding game, since the whole thing is played on downhill, snowboarding style courses. While a good portion of the ride is straight up racing, there are a few different things to do along your trip. It’s no Project 8
, but it can still grease your bearings.
It’s incredibly easy to pick up due to the simplified controls. Just tilt the wiimote to turn, using the two buttons for jumps, grinds, and tricks. The D-pad works as a modifier for tricks just like any other Tony Hawk game. The only new additions to the equation are the ‘Zone Bone’, a horrible name for a boost meter than fills up when you do tricks, and combat, which is as easy to master as punching yourself in the face.
Anyway, you pick from a group of skaters that will educate you thoroughly about every awful teenaged stereotype from the past ten years, and Uncle Hawk, of course. Before every event, you’re treated to an interview clip with one of these clichés. It adds personality to the game, it’s just bad personality. There’s little technical difference between the skaters, just the order of missions you’ll undertake as you work up through the tiers.
Finishing an event will net you points to open up a new tier of missions, and there certainly are a lot of them. The bulk of the work gets done in Race, Slalom or Trick events, but there are a few other types to spice it up, like a challenge to break stuff, hit people as you fly by, or grind a few thousand feet and still finish. These few other missions show promise, and it’s a shame there aren’t more of them, especially to replace the Trick events.
Busting tricks is as easy as ever, the problem is the environment. Scoring a billion-point combo is easy in a free roaming, normal Tony Hawk environment, but it doesn’t translate well to this downhill format. Holding a trick line together while careening down a hill full of people, cars and fruit carts leads to some of the game’s most frustrating acts of trial and error. It feels very pasted on.
It isn’t helped one bit by the ho-hum graphics engine, and looks no better than a Gamecube title. But although the character models are so-so and the textures are muddy, Downhill Jam
manages to convey a good sense of speed. The track design is even better, with lots of short cuts and branching paths. The only downside is that looking for shortcuts can frequently seduce you into a wrong turn.
The real problem in Downhill Jam is the lack of replay value, simply because you’ll find yourself replaying so much of the game the first time through. Even with a ton of events and twelve skaters, the goals become more and more difficult, nudging you ever closer to pure trial and error. After retrying a tough slalom ten times, you’ll never need to play it again.
With friends, though, things get a little better. Up to four players can queue up a list of favorite courses and event types from the single player game. It tends to lead to better competition, as the computer-controlled skaters are pretty predictable.
Strangely, Downhill Jam is host to about forty or so high-class tunes, from Iron Maiden to Bad Brains to Peanut Butter Wolf. You can even customize each skater’s playlist or build one to rule them all. The voice-over work is also pretty good. The script is pretty lame, but the actors do a decent job.
So was it right that this little punker was left all alone in the corner at E3? Well, it may not provide the most revolutionary take on the Wii controller, but it works well enough. I said it last year, “Every console launch will have a Tony Hawk game,” and while Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam isn’t the biggest or best, it’s still a decent ride.