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Critical Reception: Activision's/Toys for Bob's  Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam

Critical Reception: Activision's/Toys for Bob's Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam

May 16, 2007 | By Danny Cowan

May 16, 2007 | By Danny Cowan
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This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to the PlayStation 2 port of Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam, an interesting case in which a well-received Wii launch title is "not quite as fun" on the PS2.

Originally released for the Nintendo Wii in November of last year, Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam received equal parts praise and criticism. Though many were upset by its simplified gameplay and extreme deviation from the standard Tony Hawk formula, others found Downhill Jam to be an acceptable launch title whose simplicity was a perfect fit for the casual-friendly Wii.

Without the benefit of immersive motion-sensing controls and a forgiving audience of early hardware adopters, however, the PlayStation 2 port of Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam is facing much harsher criticism. While the Wii version released in 2006 averages a review score of 69 out of 100 at Metacritic.com, Downhill Jam on PS2 only manages a 63 out of 100 thus far.

Jose Liz at PGNx Media rates Downhill Jam at 7.9 out of 10, though he notes that much of the fun was lost in its transition to the PS2. "Best described as SSX on wheels, the game emphasized speed to the point of chaos but still kept the series token tricks and grinds," Liz says of the Wii version. "The big selling point, of course, was the use of the Wiimote, which is obviously missing in the PS2 game. The end result is a fun gamejust one not quite as fun as it was on Wii."

Liz continues: "Part of the reason that the Wii version was so fun was because the sort-of loose Wiimote controls worked wonderfully with this game. It doesnt really require precision and flinging the Wiimote around felt natural. When you fell, shaking it to get back up also felt natural since you really wanted to shake something."

"The PS2 version has traditional controls," he explains, "which offer a lot more precision but also removes, at least in part, the chaotic, frantic nature that the game previously had."

Liz emphasizes that the game is still much the same on the PlayStation 2 as it was on the Wii, however, and that it remains an enjoyable experience. "On Wii, Downhill Jam was a great party game," he concludes. "On the PS2, its more like SSX-Lite. The game is still fun but if you have a choice get the undoubtedly superior Wii version."

GameSpot's Jeff Gerstmann takes greater issue with Downhill Jam's core gameplay, and feels that the title earns a mediocre 5.9 out of 10. "Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam takes the trick-oriented gameplay of the Tony Hawk series, streamlines and strips it a great deal, and attempts to cram it all into a racing game," he begins. "The result is a spasmodic game that's OK at making you feel like you're moving fast, but not much else."

Gerstmann acknowledges that Downhill Jam has its share of strengths, as well as interesting level designs. "The racing is straightforward, but the level design definitely isn't," he says. "Each downhill course is filled with different ways to get down. So you might turn your way around and down a parking garage, or you might just want to skip all that and hop through a window to get down to the street below."

"This adds to the frenzied feel, but it doesn't make the game much fun," Gerstmann notes in contrast. "The confusion also has a nasty side effect. It's possible to get turned completely around and start skating in the wrong direction. The game has a 'wrong way' message that pops up, but it doesn't pop up immediately, so you might skate for a couple of seconds before realizing what is going on."

Gerstmann also cites unimpressive graphics and occasional framerate hiccups as being detrimental to the experience. "Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam starts with a time-tested trick system and an interesting idea on how to reinvent it, but the concept doesn't come through clearly at all," he writes in conclusion. "There aren't enough different tracks to keep the action fun for long, and you're sort of left thinking that the game should have just stayed on the Wii, where its unique control scheme at least helps set it apart from the other Tony Hawk games."

Chris Roper at IGN shares many of the same complaints in his 5.5-out-of-10 review. "It's been pitched as a racing title first and foremost, one designed for a wider audience than the now-complicated core skating series," Roper says. "Once the control was moved to the Dual Shock 2 however, the game lost its unique sense of control style and winds up simply feeling like a kid's version of the series."

"one problem is that while tricks are an important part of the game as they earn you boost, it doesn't matter which specific tricks you perform at any given time," Roper notes in particular. "You spit them out so quickly and with such abandon that you can score just as many points mashing on Square while pressing different directions as you can while trying to make sure you mix things up."

Roper continues: "But the main point of the game is its racing, which sadly isn't much more skill-dependent than the tricks. You can punch and kick at other racers to knock them from their boards, but you aren't really penalized for repeatedly tapping the attack buttons and they don't really ever fight back, so this is a rather one-sided mechanic with little to no downside."

Roper also describes a series of technical issues involving missing textures and buggy respawn points, and comes away from the experience unimpressed. "While the Tony Hawk series has certainly started to age and it's nice to see Activision attempt to mix things up, Downhill Jam simply does not work on a number of levels," he criticizes. "This simply isn't the right direction for the series and only casual gamers will find much to like here."

According to critics, what was once a passable Wii launch title is now a sub-par racing game marred by glitches and stale gameplay. Assuming the game's simplified and problematic gameplay is not a concern, a common recommendation is to avoid the PlayStation 2 port of Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam if at all possible, and to stick with the original Wii version.


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