Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam Review / Preview for the Nintendo DS (NDS)

Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam Review / Preview for the Nintendo DS (NDS)

Once you grasp the concept, Downhill Jam picks up speed.

I thought that it was all downhill for Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam when I first started playing it but like a rolling snowball, it eventually picked up speed and momentum. And in case you’re wondering, there is also a snowboard level.

My first impression of Tony Hawk Downhill Jam at first was not exactly positive, but that’s my own fault. The gameplay just wasn’t what I expected, but the more I played it I began to appreciate it for what it was rather than to diss it for not fitting into my preconceived notion. Downhill Jam plays like a version of SSX with skateboards. It mixes racing with tricks. It’s more structured (which translates to “linear”) than previous Tony Hawk games in that you follow a course all the way to a finish line with two basic objectives in mind: To get there the fastest – and to complete specific goals. Winning and completing goals will unlock new courses, award you power-ups such as boost, and earn you points which you can use to upgrade your character’s attributes. This game is a departure from the classic Tony Hawk gameplay and while it may not be perfect, it’s definitely something different for the series.

The game doesn’t really make much use of the touch screen controls with the exception of some character customization and the option to execute combos that you have saved up. The action takes place on the top screen while the bottom displays a map of the course complete with all the twists and turns and shortcuts. There are numerous obstacles which you can use to grind, ollie and catch some air. The tricks aren’t extensive but they are fun to execute thanks to the timer system which lets you add tricks to combos in place of reverts. One of the more frustrating aspects of this downhill challenge is that missing a particular trick that is part of a goal can be a real pain in the ass as you’ll have to interrupt the flow of the game to start it over at that section. But at the same time it’s more realistic that way and really puts the pressure on your to perform perfectly. Add to that the fact that you almost always have to come in first to progress and you’ve got a lot of weight on your shoulders. Playing as Tony will give you more of an edge over your created character, although you can upgrade your creation over time by increasing various attributes.

In the single-player World Tour mode you will tag along with Tony as he travels the planet taking on challengers and looking for new recruits for his downhill team. You’ll race a multitude of different courses around the world from the streets of San Francisco to the rolling hills and castles of Scotland – and all points in between including Rio and Hong Kong. The Jam Session mode is filled with goals to complete. Some include collecting items, attaining a specific score and performing certain tricks. You’ll also earn style points for making great landings, avoiding contact with the AI opponents and maintaining a varied selection of tricks. There is a Free Skate mode but it’s more of a practice mode than anything else. The fun in this game comes from the pressure of performance, something that took me a few hours to realize. The Free Skate mode basically keeps you going down the same course over and over until you get used to it. It’s not as much fun, overall, as the other free, open-ended modes in the Tony Hawk series but it’s essential for skill development.

If you like the single-player mode, you’re going to love the multi-player component. You can play locally or online, although there aren’t a lot of online players ready, willing and able to complete the full, four-player line up. I’m sure that the numbers will increase over the Holiday season as more players get this DS system and game as a present. There are enough modes to keep all players satisfied and challenged whether they want a tournament or just a quick race. The ElimiSkate mode will eliminate the player in last place at any of the checkpoints on the course until only one player remains. There is an online leaderboard as well as some extra unloadable content in the form of goals. A friends’ list can be set up so that you can always find your buddies when they are online which could save you a lot of time just waiting for the system to choose you three other random players. You can also engage the voice chat feature with your friends.

From a cartoon standpoint, the game looks good with cel-shaded graphics, but some of the background objects and textures can be a little hard on the eyes. The poly count is pretty low, giving everything an angular look without the benefit of smooth curves. It’s easy enough to distinguish a ramp from a car but they are more “icon-ish” than realistic. At least there is no pop-up or framerate issues but do be aware that you may experience some bugs such as the entire game crashing on occasion. The controls are standard Tony Hawk fare but the boost feature is a little awkward to use. The characters animate well and response is smooth and immediate. The tunes are heavily compressed, like listening to them on an AM radio, but there’s a lot of them and they do motivate you. The voiceover work in the story mode is good and the sound effects, while not unique, are appropriate.

Downhill Jam may not be the Second Coming of Tony Hawk, but I’m sure that once players get familiar with the gameplay, they’ll be coming back for seconds.


  • Choose Tony Hawk or One of Eight Original Characters: Play your way through over 90 events in 8 enviornments.
  • Arcade-Style Racing: Crouch for more speed, jump or grind over obstacles and pull off all of your favorite air tricks to gain boosts as you race down the steepest terrains in the world.
  • Ride a Variety of Skateboards: Choose from a wide variety of skateboards, all of which have different attributes that affect gameplay.
  • Create-A-Skater: Create and customize your own character with the quick and easy customization menu that allows you to instantly preview items and see them on your skater.
  • Head-To-Head Gameplay: Challenge friends in split screen competitions and compete in a variety of modes: Race, Trick Attack and Slalom.

    Rating out of 5 Rating Description


    Environments take a backseat to the characters which are cel-shaded and animate well.


    Doesn’t make that much use of the DS’s unique control features (aside from saved up combos and design features) but the controls are smooth and responsive.


    Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
    Good voiceovers (cutscenes) and lots of tunes, though sound quality is somewhat suspect. Voice chat is supported online!


    Play Value
    Lots of modes, both single and multi-player, including online four-player modes (friend codes and match up)


    Overall Rating Great
    Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
  • Preview

    May 16, 2006 – I’m a’feared. I’m a’feared that this new Tony Hawk game is going to be a glorified kart racer. At least that’s what I thought before I saw the preview.

    Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam is a departure from the free-roaming arenas where Tony and the boys could ply their trade by pulling off all kinds of moves and objective-based tricks and stunts. Instead, this is a racing game that features a bevy of skateboard characters pulling out all the stops to be the fastest one to get to the bottom of the hill. Does this mean that it’s all downhill for the Tony Hawk series?

    Graphically the game is very impressive. The environments are very nicely rendered in full 3D. There is a good sense of speed and the smooth draw distance assures that you can see things coming for quite a distance. This allows you time to prepare for your next stunt.

    Now these aren’t just your run-of-the-mill soapbox racing hills. We’re talking major hills like the undulating streets of San Francisco or amidst the mountainous terrain and Aztec ruins of Machu Picchu. Downhill Jam looks like an amped version of Amped. There will be a multi-player mode included so that you can humble all challengers.

    You can perform many of the top ‘boarding tricks such as ollies, plants and rail grinding. To add even more excitement to the races there are shortcuts, speed boost bonuses, various obstacles and platforms to do tricks off of – if you’re feeling punchy there is even some combat involved. A punch button will allow you to slow down your opponent while you work out your aggressions in his face. Although Tony seems like a nice guy even he knows that nice guys finish last.

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