|System: Wii||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Toys for Bob||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Activision||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: 19 Nov. 2006||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1 - 4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: E 10+||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Adam Brown
Tony Hawk has been a part of the video game scene since the original Playstation. Every year since his first, a new Tony Hawk game has been released that improved upon the original formula. This is what makes Downhill Jam such an oddity.
It marks the first time that the Tony Hawk franchise has tried to do something completely different. Well, at least somewhat different.
Some Tony Hawk purists may not be completely satisfied with Downhill Jam's gameplay. Fans expecting this to be a traditional Tony Hawk game will be surprised once the racing starts. Instead of revolving around complex tricks and objectives, Downhill Jam has you racing time and other boarders to a finish line. While this may not be what is expected by fans, it is still enjoyable and plays fairly well, with only a few exceptions.
Players will control their skater by holding the Wii-mote like a steering wheel, tilting it left and right to turn your character. The 1 button is used to grind while the 2 button and D-pad are used to pull off tricks. Both of these aspects of the game are far too easy to achieve.
Balancing while grinding is incredibly forgiving, allowing you to grind almost the entire length of a race track. Tricks are also dumbed down to the point where you can just randomly mash buttons while in the air and get virtually the same result as you would if you took time to link and execute combos. Completing these tricks will fill an on-screen meter humorously named the zone bone. Once this meter is filled, it can be used as a speed boost by shaking the Wii-mote up and down. While this works, it sometimes doesn't feel responsive enough when precise timing is required. Shaking the controller up and down is also used to recover if you wipeout or wreck during a trick. These similarities in movements can sometimes result in speed boosting after an accident and in frustration. Even more irritating is when you recover and find yourself skating uphill. This happens far too often and completely sabotages any chance you have of victory.
Downhill Jam offers a decent variety of different modes to keep the gameplay feeling fresh. The events are divided into race, slalom, trick, and special event. Slalom involves you racing against the clock while steering through blue rings to collect some much needed time bonuses. Trick has you trying to complete your best moves to rack up your point total. These events have rings to leap through that will slow down time so you can perform an incredible amount of absurd combos. Perhaps the best single-player mode in the game comes in the form of the special events. These events will have you punching and kicking a certain number of pedestrians one minute, while the next, you will be trying desperately not to be in last place during an elimination race. The game also offers a multiplayer mode for up to four players. This variety of gameplay keeps the game feeling fresh even after you've played it for hours.
As you progress through the game, you will unlock new characters and boards to use. With 16 of each, all with different attributes, there is a variety of choices when deciding which would be best for each race. The only real skater featured in Downhill Jam is a cartoony looking Tony Hawk. The rest of the roster is filled with equally cartoony looking stereotypes. With unoriginal looking characters like the spoiled rich girl, the Goth chic, and the pothead to choose from, you will most likely find yourself taking full advantage of the create-a-skater feature. This feature is a little limited, but it is still possible to create some unique looking characters.
While the characters in this game are unoriginal, the courses are anything but. Downhill Jam will have you racing in a wide variety of locations from the streets of San Francisco to ancient ruins in Machu Picchu. Each track has its own unique look and feel. Every level is full of destructible objects, pedestrians, grinding rails, huge jumps, and shortcuts galore. Oddly, this turns out to be both the game's greatest strength and its greatest weakness.