(Activision for PS2)
By Mike Delano
For all of its revolutionary impact so many installments ago, the steady stream of Tony Hawk skating titles that have been released every year for the better part of a decade have done little to distinguish themselves from one another in the eyes of the casual gamer. The Wasteland and Underground spin-offs riffed on the original’s premise with varying degrees of success, but to anyone but the most hardcore devotees, having one Tony title in their collection didn’t leave them with the feeling they were missing much by passing on the others.
Downhill Jam does feature a big change to separate it from its long line of predecessors. Unfortunately, it feels like it was implemented in the Jak X-style: A pleasant afterthought rather than a bold new direction for the series. By eliminating the open environments and trick/mission-based challenges of past Tony Hawk games and focusing strictly on downhill races with an arcade feel, Downhill Jam does manage to create a fast, funny, attractive racer. By lessening the focus on tricks, novices to the series will feel much more welcome, while pros can use the tricks they’ve learned from previous games to get an edge. The creators accomplished a true feat by keeping the basic track layout accessible to straight-up racing fans, while adding enough complex layers and side paths to engage Tony Hawk purists forever looking for the ultimate rail series to grind or trick string to pull off.
Despite the impressive core gameplay mechanics, though, the overall package isn’t polished enough to qualify as a complete success. The racing controls and Road Rash-style collision detection could use some tightening, and coupled with the breakneck speed of the tracks and overwhelming number of obstacles, the whole experience often feels sloppy.
That’s not to say there’s not enough here to recommend a rental for Tony Hawk and arcade-style racing fans. The groundwork is here for a polished next-gen sequel that will unite the racers and tricksters in a worthy companion piece to the Tony Hawk series.