Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam
Reviewed by Didi Cardoso
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2006-12-18 Wii Racing E10 (Everyone 10+) Activision / Toys For Bob

Need some help with the game? Check out this Tier 1 Tips Guide, courtesy of Activision!

I've always been bad at Tony Hawk games. Actually, bad doesn't even begin to describe it... I really suck at skateboarding games. I wasn't sure what to expect from Downhill Jam, except for sucking some more at controlling my skater. But for the first time ever in a Tony Hawk game, I actually got a sense of accomplishment right from the short tutorials.

First of, Downhill Jam is basically any snowboarding game you know, without the snow and on a skateboard. It's composed of a series of races instead of mission-based gameplay. You're always launched off a ramp and away you go, downhill, facing your oponents, pedestrians and all sorts of urban obstacles.

After picking a skater or customizing your own (each skater has different attributes), you are placed in a series of short tutorials that teach you the basics of the game and its controls.

You steer with the remote. You hold it sideways and tilt to turn, just like in Excite Truck. It's simple and easy to get into, but takes a bit to find out how much to tilt exactly and not end up turned around going uphill, especially in those tight twists and turns. Tilting is also used for balancing while grinding and to turn your skater while performing tricks in the air. If you fall, you shake the remote to get back up.

Gone are the complicated controls for doing tricks. Instead, you use buttons 2 and 1 to do any trick combination and variations. To ollie (or jump), press 2 and then release it. To grind, ollie and then press 1 near a rail. Explore with variations of 1, 2 and flicking the remote to do all sorts of flip tricks, grab tricks and more.

Doing tricks during a race fills up your Zone Bone meter. This is your booster, which you can use when the meter is full to get a speed burst, by simply shaking the remote. Knocking down pedestrians or opponents and destroying things also adds to the Zone Bone.

Trick chains build up your SPECIAL meter, which you can see under the Zone Bone. When your special is all lit up, ollie off a ramp and press A and 1 (or 2) to do a special trick for extra points.

Downhill Jam is divided into tiers. Your skater needs a certain number of progress points to reach the next tier. You accumulate points by finishing a race among the first three.

Each tier is composed of 10 races. The objectives are varied and they range from pure races to slalom, scoring a certain number of trick points, head-to-head challenges, elimination races and even causing as much destruction as possible (which is quite fun). There are even some surprise events market as question marks that will be randomly selected once you access them for the first time.

The game is packed with extras, but unlocking them depends on how well you finish each race. Some of the unlockables include new races, new characters, better boards and outfit variations for existing characters.

Aside from the single-player story mode, there is a quick play race mode and also a split-screen multiplayer component for up to 4 skaters. The events in multiplayer include Race, Slalom, Eliminator, Trick and something like tag called Steal the Head, where you must be in first place the longest.

The tracks are creative and the environments are fairly detailed and alive. You will race through Honk Kong, Machu Pichu, San Francisco and Edinburgh. Each track has its own surprises and shortcuts, and that's where the replay value is at: as you learn where the shortcuts are and gain better boards, you will want to go back and do better.

The character animations and facial expressions were nicely done, but there were a few instances where graphical issues were apparent, particularly skaters going through walls or fences.

The music is great, I personally never had any complaints about any of the previous Tony Hawk soundtracks. Even if it's licensed music, it doesn't grow tiresome like many EA soundracks do. You can customize it by choosing what songs you want to play, or you can pick one of the pre-set character soundracks.

The voice acting and sound effects are very good as well. At the beginning of each race, you get to see a short piece of an interview with one of the characters (you can turn them off in the options though), and their personality really comes through with the voice. You get to hear them complain about the other racers or reveal silly little details about their lives. You can skip the interview though, and when you do, you will hear the character that was being interviewed scream in despair. I personally thought it was a funny touch.

In the end, not only is Downhill Jam easy to pick up and play, but you don't even need to have played any Tony Hawk game before, anyone can do it. Mastering it is a different story. But finally, I can feel more pleased than frustrated with my skateboarding clumsiness.

Special thanks to Allison Guillen, Kehau Rodenhurst and Activision for providing a copy of this title.