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Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam

Score: 89%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Media: Cartridge/1
Players: 1 - 4 (Online)
Genre: Racing/ Sports (Extreme)/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam is a completely different take on the long-running skateboarding series. Whereas past games have focused on completing trick-based missions in open city areas, Downhill Jam takes an SSX-styled racing approach. This fresh twist provides a fun and exhilarating racer for the DS.

Downhill Jam uses the same cel-shaded visuals seen in American Sk8land, giving the entire game a very comic book feel. Everything is very colorful and character models don’t look all that bad. Locales aren’t as huge as the ones found in the previous game, but still look remarkably good. Best of all, the game runs at a constant 60 frames per second, giving the game a real sense of speed.

Sound is just as impressive, though it does come with a few flaws. Several licensed tracks appear in the game. There’s also a lot of voice work as well. The trade-off is that both had to be compressed to fit on the cart, giving both the voice and music a tinny sound. Things sound a little better when coming through a headset, but not by much.


You begin Downhill Jam by creating your own user-created character. For a handheld title, there are a number of options. You can choose between several clothing types, hair-styles and boards. The Create-a-Deck option found in last year’s American Sk8land is back and has been expanded to allow you to design your own clothing patterns.

After creating your character, it is on to the game. Once again you join Tony Hawk as he travels the world in search of skaters to join his team. It seems that Tony is tired of the skate circuit and has decided to get back to downhill races. Upon his return to San Francisco, Tony is approached by his old 80’s rival and challenged to a race. From here you move through six locales and challenge other racers in downhill races.

Six courses may not sound like a lot, but Vicarious Visions has actually packed each course with a number of tasks that extend the time spent at each location. Pacing is similar to other Tony Hawk games where you must complete specific tasks in each course. One course may have you grinding on streetcar rails, while another has you simply trying to come in first in a race. Some races even require accumulating a certain number of trick points during the course. Racing may be a big part of the game, but it isn’t all there is.

Downhill Jam expands on the great multiplayer options found American Sk8land. Several multiplayer modes are available and run nearly lag free. The number of players per match has been upped to four. You can also use the DS’s built-in microphone to chat with other players and even check out a special website for tracking your in-game progress. About the only thing missing is an easy way to connect with friends.


Races stay competitive for the most part thanks to the symbiotic relationship between boosting and tricking. Boosting sends you flying, but tricking slows you down. This relationship is only part of the difficulty curve. You also need to learn how to perform tricks and how to correctly time them into combos. Doing so requires memorizing the courses which, of course, means learning the shortcuts. All of these components stack up to form a well-balanced game.

Challenge will vary during online play. You may dominate in one game, but fall flat on your face in another. There's a lot of competition out there, so make sure you have a good handle on the gameplay before jumping into the online portion.

Game Mechanics:

Even though most of the focus has been shifted towards racing, tricks are still an important part of the game. Tracks are filled with areas you can get air and grind from. Knowing when and where to use tricks can often give you an advantage. Grinds can help you make tight turns without losing too much speed. Some jumps and grinds can even help you find hidden paths on the track, many of which are oftentimes key to victory. Landing tricks fills your boost meter, giving you an extra boost of speed. You can store up to four boosts at a time, and knowing when to use them is just as important as knowing shortcuts and where to trick.

Each Tony Hawk game introduces a new trick or two, and Downhill Jam is no different. While turning, you can lean in a little tighter, allowing you to pull off a “Burtslide”. The move works much the same way as a powerslide in other racing games, allowing you to quickly cut corners without a drop in speed.

Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam is a great change of pace for the series. It keeps several of the core concepts that have made the games so popular, but uses them in a new way that really works.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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