Tony Hawk's Proving Ground (Nintendo DS) - Review by Chris
Another year has passed and that must mean it's time for a new entry into the Tony Hawk's franchise. Last year's title saw Vicarious Visions, the developers of the DS version, take an entirely different route with the game, successfully pairing up downhill racing with classic trick based gameplay but it seems that it may have been a one off as we're now back with Tony Hawk's Proving Ground; a new game in the franchise which falls back on the tried and tested gameplay we've seen in the earlier games and the stuff that has dragged down the franchise overall. Does this one make a smooth landing or should you bail on it completely?
This time around, Tony Hawk's Proving Ground is all about defining the character you create and choosing the style of skating that you want to run with. The game's story mode provides the base for where this takes place, with little context to go on other than Tony Hawk scouts you and sees that you don't comply to either the Career or Hardcore styles of skateboarding. As such, he wants you to go out into the areas of Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC and complete tasks from various characters, some of which are professional skateboarders, and define your style of skating. It's a case of less is better as the franchise is known for creating convoluted plots for why you are doing the skateboarding you are doing. As such, it gets you into the gameplay that has made the franchise what it is quickly.
As expected, the gameplay follows a similar route as the previous games have, tasking you with completing enough challenges to meet up with a pro skater and take on further challenges before moving on. This time around, however, the game provides 3 skill levels to each challenge, each of which will net you more money for completing. You don't need to select the level of challenge you want, going from amateur to pro to sick, rather you simply take on the challenge and attempt to see which of the objectives you can complete. It therefore makes it a very accessible game as newcomers will be able to get to grips with the amateur level of competition and still be able to experience everything those competing at the sick level do. An example of how this works is in one instance an amateur level task is to complete a spine transfer while doing a kickflip while the sick level task has you doing both a tailgrab and backflip while doing a spine transfer. This incremental setup to the challenges gives players of all skills something to work towards and definitely gives hardened franchise fans a work out skill wise.
Adding to this of course is the duality of skating style type tasks you can take on, with Career skating tasks that make you go for big scores in demos or Hardcore skating tasks that have you going for big, old school tricks. It brings this handheld offering into line with the console versions but unfortunately doesn't bring anything new to the table to make it truly stand out beyond the enjoyable skating action.
Away from the Story mode, you have the suite of modes you'd expect to see in the game from Classic mode, where you'll undertake the 10 challenges in each area, Free Skate, a practise mode as well as a Skate Lounge, which houses all of the games plentiful customisation options which are thankfully carried over from previous games. There is also a plethora of multiplayer options for both local and online play for up to 4 players, with online play supporting leaderboards on the game's website and voice chat between those in your friends list. Even with it not quite having an element to call its own, the game more than makes up for it in content to keep you occupied, which the game will.
Controls are unchanged from previous games, the only difference between Downhill Jam and this is that there is no boost button to speed up the proceedings, this of course being replaced by the standard aggro kick. As it is essentially the same control setup as the previous games, you get the same good and bad. The d-pad works well for manoeuvring around the locations but can make it tricky to pull off more complex tricks that are mapped to diagonal presses, something an analogue stick would take care of, but it's something that you'll have adapted to if you've played the previous games. Trick layout is exactly as it has been, using the face buttons for the various flips, grabs and grinds. All in all, the controls continue to work extremely well.
Proving Ground utilises the same engine as that used in the previous two games yet the distinctive cartoony style of the visuals has now been replaced with a more realistic look to bring the game in line with the home console versions. As such, it's either a change that you'll love or hate. Yet the move to a more realistic style has brought with it some more obvious graphical issues. The limitations of the hardware are more apparent as a result of the change, with character models now looking slightly more angular and blurry in their presentation in comparison to previous games, although thankfully they still animate extremely well through tricks.
Locations garner the best results from the visual change making for somewhat more believable locations this time around, yet the scope and scale is more in line with American Sk8land rather than Downhill Jam, and some will definitely see this as a drawback. Each of the locations still has plenty of areas to explore, with the usual mixture of grind rails, banks and spines for you to trick off of, but they do unfortunately lack the originality of the previous game and fall squarely back into the well trodden realms of Tony Hawk's games gone by. That being said, Vicarious Visions continue to produce games that run at a solid frame rate, which is something which can't be said of the other versions.
Once again, the audio presents the usual mixture of rock and punk style music for you to listen to as you skate around, with another 15 tracks in total for you to listen to, and they continue to meet the same level of quality we've seen in the Tony Hawk's games on the DS with the quality bordering on MP3. And again, it's something you'll either like or hate depending on your taste in music. There's a very small amount of voice work and it's of the quality we've come to expect from a DS game.
Where Downhill Jam felt like a step forward for the franchise, Tony Hawk's Proving Ground feels like it's taken several steps backward, ultimately feeling slow paced and lacklustre in some respects. The route taken is one that has been well trodden in much earlier games and while you still get the usual 'complete tasks' gameplay, which is more fleshed out and difficult than in previous entries, it doesn't bring anything new to the table to make it stand out against both last year's title and against EA's own SKATE series. It's definitely beginning to show its age, but the game still looks good and plays well on the handheld and if Downhill Jam was too much of a deviation for you, then you can rest assured that Proving Ground returns to pastures tread. Just don't expect to be blown away by it.
Pro: Robust online options, visuals still look good, controls extremely well, gameplay is fun...
Con: ...But it is beginning to show its age, brings nothing new to the series
Final score: 7.9