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Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam Package Art
Extreme Sports/Racing

Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam

Another year, another incarnation of gaming’s premiere extreme sport, Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam. This time around Neversoft skates Tony smack dab in the middle of breakneck downhill racing. The result: a game with the tricks and physics of Tony Hawk and the speed and racing of SSX. Such a cataclysmic change to the Tony Hawk formula already has the community thrilled and trolling with the traditionalists.


Building off of last year’s American Sk8land, DJ’s 3D cel-shading boasts increased detail and crisper textures. Faces and decals now stand out from the blur of lo-res polygons. Menus and the HUD are clean with a curly-cool font and comic book art direction lined in spare, bold streaks and inked in Adobe. The fluid skating animation gives an excellent sense of speed and paints plenty of movement streaks toward the screen. Each of the six locales exudes its own aesthetic, from the byways of Edinburgh to the vibrant Hong Kong. Even the bone hawk logo on the OS (before launching DJ) flaunts its style. In all of this, DS flairs its graphical hat with ease; only the occasional framerate hiccup tarnishes its showmanship.

Yet it must be said that 3D is not DS’s strength. These graphics are eerily reminiscent of the bygone Playstation era, so full of games that have not aged well from a technical standpoint. DJ easily conjures images of Twisted Metal, which played great, but left the eyes sore from its muddy aesthetic. For all the innovative gameplay of the third dimension and all the rage over HD graphics, one does not play a 3D DS game for graphics. Despite the technical achievement of DJ, pretty it is not.


Tony has never been one to neglect the ears, and DJ is no different. A whopping fifteen tracks of the usual punk thrash metal have been sampled for your tinny little speakers. Songs can be selected or randomized to a playlist of your choice. The digital quality leaves something to be desired, and the clichéd selection needs to expand its horizon. Halo was such an aural joy for its electronic choir swells to the fragging of Covenant. Extreme does not mean load music. Sometimes a whisper is the most haunting.

Voice work is sprinkled liberally throughout the game. Its extended use is lost to text during training and a few other odds and ends, but the usual catcalls and quips are in place. As in American Sk8land, you can record a sample of your own to flatter your gamer id on a nice trick or preempt that profanity when you wipe out. Beyond this, the sound effects cue the habitual bells and whistles of Tony Hawk.


DJ features five modes: Jam Session, Quick Race, Free Skate, Lessons and World Tour, Jam Session is akin to classic mode in previous Tony Hawk’s, where you collect secret tapes, crash trash cans, accept various challenges and net high scores. The trick challenges can be frustrating, because the downhill nature of the levels makes backtracking a chore if you missed the trick. Fortunately you can pause and restart the challenge, but load times in DJ are inconsistent, sometimes making you wait far too long to retry. Style challenges can also pose a problem to the beginner since keeping your balance can be difficult around other racers and the rapidly changing environment.

Quick Race offers you the ability to select opponents, tweak a few options and jump right into the fray. Free Skate lets you explore the level, while getting your trick on. The Lessons mode features a robust tutorial taking you through the basics of the Ollie to the advance technique of wallriding. But the bulk of the single player experience will be spent in the World Tour, racing opponents and scoring cash in San Francisco, Edinburgh, Kilimanjaro, Hong Kong, Rio and Hoover Dam to upgrade skills and purchase costumes.

On your initial play of the game, you are asked to create a character. This avatar can be set to default, or you can play Barbie, creating one of several hundred characters with your own stylus drawn logo to sport on your board and shirt. Earning money allows access to an even larger wardrobe, making DJ what may well be the most customizable portable experience ever. Alongside your character’s appearance are your upgradeable skills, which have been simplified into four attributes: Speed, Trick, Air and Balance.

New to the Tony Hawk experience is the Boost Meter. The similarities to SSX’s Tricky Meter are apparent as performing tricks fills your meter, which with a press of the X button gives a speed boost until the meter is depleted. Also new are the Bertslides assigned to the shoulder buttons. These function like a Mario Kart power slide, allowing you to speed around those tight corners and knock unwary opponents off balance. The Revert is now gone, and in its place a combo timer is set. After each move, the combo timer ticks for a few seconds, during which you can pull off another move to add to your combo. This works well with the fast and furious downhill gameplay, but can be limiting when you want to end the current combo to immediately begin another bigger combo. Of course, once the timer ends, you’re already well past that uber rail grind.

DJ’s level design upholds the series watermark, and you’ll often swing around the bend right onto that ramp or be flying sky high only to land right smack on that unseen, but well placed rail. It is important to stay close to the ground, because most roofs are out of bounds. Short cuts abound, and your opponents race to Mario Kart rubberband A.I., where the better you play, the better they race. Controls are solid Tony Hawk, even without the finesse of the analog. American Sk8land’s downloadable content returns, giving players extra goals and artwork to skate them through the holiday season. Unfortunately, DJ is prone to locking up, especially in San Francisco. This bug aside, DJ is a great package with a fantastic sense of speed and fun.

But amid this downhill frenzy, something is lost. Whereas past Tony Hawks emphasized technique and precision, DJ can easily be beaten using only a few tricks. The incessant downhill skating limits tricks to being largely situational and snubs the upper echelons of skill and trick flow. Speed replaces style, which leaves DJ feeling at odds with the Tony Hawk series. Some of the tricks and physics would be well remade into a more extreme fashion. SSX exceeds in being utterly outlandish with extreme air and uber tricks. If a DJ2 is to be made, Neversoft would be well advised in taking yet another page from DJ’s inspiration and aping SSX even more.


Wi-Fi returns for up to four players. A random one-on-one matchup can be had within minutes, but you best be exchanging friend codes on the official site or your favorite forum haunt for a multiplayer match, unless you’re just wasting time in the waiting line. Friend codes give the additional benefit of being able to chat before and after the match. While not realtime chat, tapping the microphone icon on the touchscreen will allow you to record a short taunt for your friends. You can tell when a friend is trashing you when the icon disappears. One glaring flaw of multiplayer is the lack of a level playing field. Players get to use their created character with all their skills. So unless you’re willing to get a 100% completion to max out your skills, online play with the best isn’t an option. DJ also features multi-card play for your friends at home.


DJ is a great new take, and together with 2005’s American Sk8land, gives the aging series a much needed shot in the arm. Fans may be turned off by the emphasis on speed and racing, but those willing to let go of their ideals will find an enjoyable experience. Those who have missed out on the past decade of Tony Hawk goodness or who prefer SSX’s brand of racing will also find much to enjoy here. Props to Neversoft for breaking the mold. Here’s hoping for good things yet to come for this much beloved franchise.

final score 7.5/10

Staff Avatar Abraham Walters
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"The cake is a lie."

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