So it's come to this already? Barely six months into the Wii's life span and we're already seeing it lose one of its exclusive games, Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam. To a last-gen console, no less. But PS2 owners should be happy, especially given the barebones version of Tony Hawk Project 8 it recieved last fall. After all, every other game gets spin-offs, so why not the Birdman, right?
Even though the main series left the realm of anything resembling a simulation years ago, this off-shoot provides a far more arcade style skating experience, featuring short levels based on hyper-stylized versions of San Francisco and Machu Pitcho, as well selectable boards that enhance abilites instead of stats applied to the individual player.
In case you missed Downhill Jam on the Wii, gone are the real-world pro-skaters, thin plots and open-ended environments of previous Hawks. Instead, racing down hills at breakneck speed is the name of the game, with a little old fashioned Road Rash fisticuffs thrown in for good measure. Tricks are divvied out in the same way you remember them; grabs, flips, grinds and special moves, etc. Except this go round the Manual has tagged out to allow the entrance of the new Boost button, which can be executed when the "Zone Bone" meter reaches burning point. And the similarities to SSX don't end there. There's also a slammin' soundtrack and a fictional cast of characters so full of obnoxious 'tude you'll yearn for the heyday of master thespian, Bam Margera.
In an interview we conducted with Downhill Jam's producer Kragen Lum, he stated that players apparently weren't ready for Tony Hawk on the Wii. Of course this is a subtle way of saying the game didn't sell well, due in some small part to the cumbersome flailing of arms used to control your skater. So on the PS2, classic Hawkers will have no problem diving head first into DJ's trickery, though it's this traditional method of control that weakens the overall experience here. Either due to the gimmicky nature of Nintendo's new Remote, or conversely, its inimitable distinction, the controls are where things get lost in translation.
For the most part, actual trickage takes a backseat to careening down the game's well designed courses for time and pole position, and to simply inflicting general mayhem. Then, when tricks are used they're absurdly easy to pull off with the classic PS2 pad-enabled control scheme. Other than crashing into guard rails, holding a trick presents little to no challenge whatsoever.
It's an interesting case study as far as Wii ports go. Were the Wii controls that crucial to the gameplay, or simply a flashy carnival trick whose novelty and imprecision disguised an otherwise medicore game? Either way, with the motion controls now excised, what you're left with is an unpolished and somewhat lackluster snowboarding game that doesn't come anywhere close to achieving the refinement of anySSX game currently in existence.
There's still plenty to do here, including 10 new events and decks exclusive to the PS2, but it's hardly enough to merit a purchase over the superior Wii version, if you have the means. And say what you will about the processing power of the Nintendo's little white rectangle, but the PS2's Downhill Jam suffers from the move; it's riddled with graphical hiccups, occasional slowdown and - especially given the brevity of the tracks - some fairly heinous load times.
Tony Hawk Downhill Jam is still essentially a decent game, albeit somewhat stripped of its original essence. Whether you consider motion-sensor controls a revolution or simply a novelty, their absence makes for a much more shallow experience. As a whole, the game feels more akin to an overblown supplemental mode that should've been included with Project 8, rather than a stand-alone edition to the Tony Hawk saga.