Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam (Nintendo DS) - Review by Chris



After the big unveil of Tony Hawk's American Sk8land during Nintendo's E3 press conference, the Activision published title went on to receive critical and sales success and we're now back, a year later with a new entry into the Tony Hawk's franchise. Attempting to breathe some life into an ailing franchise, developers Vicarious Visions have decided to create a new approach to the genre, combining downhill races with the classic trick based gameplay, the result of which is perhaps the most exhilarating take on the sport in years.


Previous games in the Tony Hawk's franchise saw you taking to a variety of levels and approaching characters to gain tasks which you had to complete to either move on or to unlock further tasks. While the basis of this formula remains, developer Vicarious Visions have taken a new approach to the way in which the game plays out. Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam sees you creating a character and teaming up with the Birdman himself to assemble a skate team and beat your opposition. As with most of the games, the story is uninvolving but it was never meant to take centre stage, especially in this given instance.

In Downhill Jam, you'll be tasked with heading to 6 locations around the world, from San Francisco to Edinburgh to Rio de Janeiro, and adding the 6 skaters from these locations to your skate team. To do so, you'll have to prove your worth to them by completing a series of tasks and ultimately a couple of challenges which will prove that you are good enough to front a skate team. Where these tasks would have been mundane in previous games, adding the element of downhill races to the proceedings takes the gameplay to an entirely new level and one that breathes new life into the franchise and creates an air of excitement that previous games have been missing due to the implementation of poor gimmicks. Tasks now include downhill race heats, score challenges in specific areas of the courses and big air challenges and due to the nature of the courses, you'll have to quickly learn the layout and placement of jumps and grind rails so as to be able to finish the challenges in first place, which ultimately allow you to move on to the next location.

Completion of the challenges in each location allows you to build up your created character, allowing you to add points to one of four attributes: speed, balance, air and trick. This can only be done in the World Tour mode of the game, however you can use your character, along with any of the other characters in the game, in any of the other modes. Full completion of the World Tour mode will take some time, as each of the 6 locations has 9 tasks in total to complete and 3 character challenges and these become increasingly difficult as you progress making for some trial and error moments as you try to hit to correct line and land tricks perfectly as you're always on the roll downhill.

Outside of the World Tour mode, you have access to many staple modes from within the franchise, such as Free Skate and Practise as well as a Jam Session, which does a spin on the classic mode where each level has 10 challenges, such as getting specific scores or finding hidden tapes. The game also bolsters a good sized customisation element, allowing you to create your own graffiti tags, board and cloth designs. It all helps to provide a decent amount of content and make the single player options the most exciting they've been in quite some time. The biggest offering away from the World Tour is that of the multiplayer. Up to 4 players can play either locally or through the WiFi connection, with all forms of gameplay, from downhill races to score challenges, being supported. You can even make use of voice chat as well to set up games with friends online, a feature rarely seen on the DS and it works extremely well and makes for a more complete and enjoyable online experience.


As you'd expect, the game is entirely controlled by way of the d-pad and face buttons, bringing it in line with what you would expect to find in the Tony Hawk's franchise. While the d-pad doesn't quite give you the same accuracy that an analogue stick affords you, it still feels very fluid and the implementation of a Bert Slide move, mapped to the shoulder buttons, help alleviate any minimal issues you may have with cornering around some of the tighter parts of courses. Trick layout on the face buttons is mapped exactly as it was in American Sk8land, which is to say that anyone coming from a home console version of a Tony Hawk game would easily be able to get to grip with the controls as they are the standardised layout that has been apparent in the franchise for years now.

Some occasional touch screen input is used in the game, although it isn't a necessary part of the game. Tapping an icon on the touch screen can activate special moves but it makes things more awkward than they need to be and you'll rarely find the need to utilise them. The only other area where the touch screen is used is for the customisation elements and here, the controls work extremely well allowing for fine detail to be put into each of you customised icons and clothing.


The game runs on virtually the same engine used in the previous game with some slight alterations to allow for the increased scale that comes with the change in gameplay. It still carries that cel-shaded look that the previous game ran with and as it was then, it remains visually impressive now on the handheld, bolstering some impressively detailed levels, some of which vary drastically in their terrain as you progress through them, which fly by at speed during the races and provide ample opportunity to do grabs or grinds. Even with everything packed onto the screen at one time, that includes up to 3 other characters and some slight environmental animation, the game maintains a steady frame rate, showing Vicarious Visions have truly mastered the DS' 3D capabilities.

Character models continue the cel-shaded style and while the DS can't push high numbers of polygons to create realistic looking characters, what you get is still impressive enough, if only really let down by the poor texture work which has gone on to finish them all off. Some of this can be alleviate with the customisable options but you'll still see characters' faces with pixels of different colours which pull back the overall impressive 3D visuals. Cutscenes are handled mostly in a hand drawn 2D style, and again they capture the more jovial atmosphere that this game is trying to portray.


15 licensed tracks make up the selection of music you'll hear while tearing your way down the courses, and even with the cartridge limitations and the poor quality speakers on the console, the music is of a very high standard and doesn't fall too far short of MP3 standards. It's the usual mix of rock and punk music, most of which you would associate with skateboarding in general, but it's the kind of thing you'll either love or hate. There is a small spattering of voice work, strewn throughout some of the cutscenes but they'll mostly be told through text based instructions. The voice work that is here, though, is of a very good standard.

Dual screen

The game doesn't make great use of the two screens, opting for the tried and tested routine of gameplay on the top and map on the touch screen. Yet it works and well enough to make the map on the lower screen a worthwhile inclusion seeing as it allows you to spot alternate routes through some of the levels.

Final comments

For such a drastic change in the gameplay to the series, Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam is perhaps the most refreshing take on the skateboarding genre that we've seen in quite awhile. The combination of the high speed races and the classic trick based gameplay melds perfectly together to create an invigorating experience and the best skateboarding title on a handheld to date. A superb visual style, fantastic audio and one of the best online setups on the console means that Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam is a must buy for fans of the sport and anyone who plays games for fun.

Pro: Superb visuals, exhilarating gameplay, fantastic suite of online options
Con: Touch screen special moves, can occasionally be tricky setting up an online match
Final score: 8.6


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Boxart of Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam (Nintendo DS)
Platform: Nintendo DS
Genre: Sports
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Publisher: Activision