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Tony Hawk's American Sk8land Package Art
Extreme Sports
Vicarious Visions

Tony Hawk's American Sk8land

It might be cruel to say that the Tony Hawk video game franchise is becoming timeworn, but the statement could also be considered somewhat accurate. The beloved 'boarder has no less than five titles under his belt on current-generation consoles with a bevy of handheld games. As the series first appearance on the Nintendo DS, Tony Hawk's American Sk8land tries to mix up the standard formula a bit, and for the most part, succeeds.


Developer Vicarious Visions, the studio behind numerous Tony Hawk games on the GBA, wanted to distinguish the game from the American Wasteland console titles, and it shows. If the title alone wasn't enough of a hint, the game's sharp visual style makes it quite obvious. The cel-shaded graphics make colors stand out, doing a good job of smoothing textures which would otherwise have been jagged, and the backgrounds especially benefit from the unique look. Far from taking away from what has always been a real-life vibe for the series, the cel-shading lends the game a graffiti-like atmosphere which manages to fit the flavor of the series quite well.

Story sequences are shown in comic book panels, featuring both professional skaters and original characters. The art department clearly took advantage of the "fresh 'toon style," as the game's packaging boasts, and indulges in cartoon license frequently. For instance, Tony drives his party bus into a warehouse, then uses it to shove a quarter-pipe into place. These touches of surreality enhance the experience and help further separate it from previous Tony Hawk titles.


American Sk8land boasts a soundtrack featuring over a dozen popular songs, including tunes performed by Oingo Boingo and Green Day, all crammed into one tiny DS card. The tracks provide appropriate atmosphere without demanding too much attention and sound crisp on the DS speakers. The voice acting complements the mostly-still animations well, and although most of the lines are spoken by Tony Hawk himself or self-proclaimed "skate chick" Mindy, one other important voice actor is involved-- the player. The game includes the ability to use the DS's built-in microphone to record voice samples, which will then be inserted into gameplay. This feature is cool, but players need to be careful not to say anything too naughty when laying down their samples! Assuming they want to play the game in public, that is.


Tony Hawk veterans will find themselves quickly at home within the game once beginning the story mode. Controls are vastly similar to other games in the series. While DS-specific features are not prevalent, the lower screen provides several touch-buttons that activate special moves and a slow-motion function that makes it a great deal easier to line up trick combos. Finishing off a huge run in slo-mo can be more than a bit exhilarating.

The story is somewhat similar to that of American Wasteland, but has its own twist on the tale. A nameless Midwestern skater runs into Tony Hawk after an amateur competition, and since he apparently has no other concerns, immediately hops on board Tony's bus and heads to California. Completing various missions will bring in some cash to finance the renovation, but some make more sense than others. A photographer paying to take shots of the player catching air makes sounds a bit more logical than a bum paying two hundred and fifty dollars for collecting trash bags. The beginning missions serve a dual purpose as a tutorial for players new to the series and a refresher for returning veterans. Most of these will take little time to complete, though the difficulty level gets ramped up a little towards the end. A level-up system will allow players to increase their abilities as certain pre-set conditions are met, for instance, pulling four grab tricks in one jump will incrase the Air score.

In addition to a Free Skate mode, a version of Classic Tony Hawk is also playable as the created character from story mode or as a selection of pro skaters with a group of specific goals for each of the game's stages. Some of these goals will seem familiar, while others will appear completely random. In both the story and Free Skate modes, free progression is possible from one stage to the next, assuming that the levels have been unlocked, but in Classic mode, the action is limited to one area only.

Online single-player is also possible, as DS owners can play Classic mode using the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection to record their scores for online showcasing at Top scores will be posted on the front page, but every user's score will be accessible, and the site also allows players to upload and exchange custom-made skateboard artwork and avatars designed in the game's skate shop.


Local multi-card multiplayer lets two thrashers go head-to-head in Trick Attack (competing for highest score), Score Attack (the first to reach a target score wins), Combo Mambo (only the highest combo score counts) and the Price Is Right (target a specific score without going over). Online play is also possible via the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. Game modes are basically similar to those in local multiplayer, but records will be also saved at the American Sk8land website. In addition to sharing custom decals and boards, the website also offers downloadable goals to shoot for every few days. This is a great idea--it ensures replayability for the game even after the standard single-player modes have been exhausted.

A lot of American Sk8land's features rely on access to the game's official website. Unfortunately, logging in to the website currently seems to be a problem for some DS users. While some have been able to link their DS account to the site, others are having difficulty achieving the link. Scores can be viewed, but actually logging in to the site as a user with the access code provided by the game is not always successful. Sending and receiving the downloadable goals is still possible without PC access, so those DS owners who are unable to log into the site or simply don't want to will still be able to participate


In the hype surrounding the launch of Mario Kart DS, the DS's second online title didn't get a whole lot of recognition. This was unfortunate, because not only is the game quite good, but it is also the first third-party Wi-Fi title. Tony Hawk's American Sk8land brings the tight gameplay that can and should be expected of the Tony Hawk series and manages to use every single one of the DS's unique features in an interesting, if not always pivotal, way.

One thing that makes American Sk8land such a worthy DS game is the basis of the entire series. In essence, the true goal of the game is for the player to compete against himself--his own high score or longest combo. The online multiplayer is tight, and it's an easy way for players to see how they stack up against one another. What differentiates Tony Hawk's American Sk8land from Mario Kart is the level of involvement. Sk8land is far less pick-up-and-play, but those who take the time to learn its intricacies will have a blast.

Vicarious Visions did another wonderful job translating the Tony Hawk formula to a portable system. Although the story mode will be finished fairly swiftly, the replayability in the game is near-limitless. This is perhaps the best American-developed software yet to grace the DS, and while those who want to play online will definitely want to get a hold of it, pretty much any DS collection will be enhanced by a copy of American Sk8land, unless, of course, one has a crippling fear of skateboards.

final score 9.1/10

Staff Avatar Aaron Roberts
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