Something’s Going Downhill Alright…
The game boasts about thirteen skaters and the ability to customize your own. In the beginning you can choose from a half dozen or so of these characters, the most well rounded being, who else, Tony Hawk. So you grab your Basic board (there are also about twenty skateboards to unlock with different levels of abilities like Jumping, Turning, Speed, Combat) and head out to the quick tutorial. The tutorial is nice in that it covers basically every aspect of the game in a quick but clear manner. After skating your way through the Tutorial, your career begins and you have the option to set your first race in Hong Kong, Edinburgh, or San Francisco. Most events are just flat out downhill races, sprints really, from the start to the finish. Control is easy, as is the game in general. There are just a few basic ideas in the game besides skating forward down the course and getting to the finish line.
One thing to know about Downhill Jam is the combat, uh, system. A significant part of the game is about clobbering pedestrians and other racers. You do this by hitting L1 or R1 when close to them. This not only stops the other racers temporarily, but it also adds to your Zone Bone (or is that Bone Zone? either way…) meter. This meter, when filled, can give you a shot of speed for a few seconds whenever you press L2. You can fill it up to four times, too. When hitting pedestrians, you increase the meter and some events task you with just hitting as many pedestrians as you can anyway, with medals of bronze, silver, and gold being set at predetermined intervals. Just as you can kick and punch, so can the AI, so you have to be somewhat mindful of that. On a side note, a great way to start any kind of race with NPCs is to hit the ones on the left and right of you right out of the gates.
Being a Tony Hawk game, you might wonder how tricks work. Well, they’ve never been easier, and for people like me that struggled to do the big tricks in the other Tony Hawk games, this is kind of nice. You’ll catch a lot of air as well as some slow motion time (when you hit certain markers) and executing tricks is as easy as pressing X to ollie and then the other keys and directions to do various spins and grabs and flips. You earn points by doing this as well as fill up your Zone Bone meter. Tricks still look pretty cool, but they aren’t as satisfying as doing them ‘for real’ in the other Tony Hawk games.
There are a handful of different event types ranging from the basic race to the finish line against NPCs (none of which are real skaters), to beating the clock, to collecting coins (and yes you do spill them Sonic-style if you wipeout) to clobbering as many pedestrians or objects as you can during your sprint from start to finish. Most tracks take under three minutes to complete and I never came across a track that I just really liked—all of them are rather plain and forgettable. The environments will vary quite a bit from the night time settings of Hong Kong to the mountainous Machu Picchu, but in any case the tracks aren’t too great nor do they look very good.
Speaking of not looking very good, the game as a whole is actually pretty bad looking. It looks like a much older PS2 game, with low resolution textures, some framerate issues, and a general lackluster appearance to it. I’ve definitely played worse looking games on the PS2, but I was surprised with Downhill Jam, I was expecting something much better looking. Similarly the soundtrack is not as large as other Tony Hawk games, and is complete with your fairly standard card of miscellaneous rock bands and hip hop tracks and some rap from some pretty well known artists.
Downhill Jam features eight environments, a handful of different race modes, and some two player action but it’s not enough to keep you playing for very long. The game is pretty easy, and you’ll move up the ranks pretty steadily without having to spend a great deal of time retrying courses you have already ran through, but if you are a typical Tony Hawk fan this isn’t what you are used to. For newcomers, this could be pretty fresh, but there are better games out there; might I recommend Freekstyle, an older EA BIG title that is a lot of fun that Downhill Jam reminded me of, or one of the other recent Tony Hawk titles.