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Review Rewind
Review Rewind: Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam (PlayStation 2)
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on February 02, 2018   |   Episode 5 (Show Archive)  

   
This is Review Rewind, the show where we revisit games I reviewed a long time ago. Today we're taking a look at Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam, Activision's spin-off that I reviewed all the way back in 2007. Is this game as lame as I remember it being a decade ago? Find out now when you experience a brand new episode of Review Rewind!



The year is 2007 and the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater franchise is in disarray. Activision could sense that both critics and customers were growing sick of the tried-and-true formula, so they were scrambling to reinvent the series for a new generation. Unfortunately, this led to misfires like American Wasteland, Project 8 and the game we're going to take a look at today -- Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam. At least, I remember it being a misfire. Is it possible that I've been wrong all this time?

"Instead of leisurely searching for things to trick off of, in this game you are constantly being pushed down a steep hill while you attempt to do tricks over jumps, grind on whatever you can find and, most importantly, get to the bottom in one piece. If anything, this Tony Hawk is more like Electronic Arts' popular SSX series, it's an intriguing combination of traditional Tony Hawk game play and a fast-paced racing mechanic. Unfortunately, developer Toys For Bob can't quite get either of those parts right and Downhill Jam proves to be more of an interesting concept than a solid Tony Hawk game."

This spooked me. For the first time in this entire series, I started to wonder if it was worth wasting an afternoon playing a shitty PS2 game. Turns out, I was wrong. Yes, this is a shoddily assembled SSX clone that falls way short of the snowboarding series, but Downhill Jam is nowhere near as bad as my 2007 review lets on.

I think part of the problem is that this review was written before Tony Hawk hit rock bottom. You have to remember that this came out before Proving Ground, Motion and two separate installments using a gimmicky fake plastic skateboard. This was a time when Activision still had to put the full game on a disc and not hide most of the content as an unruly download. Tony had made a few stumbles up until that point, but there were no broken bones. Now that I've seen the bottom, I come out of this replay thinking that Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam isn't half bad.


"The good news is that every course has multiple hidden paths and plenty of rails to grind to let you pick up speed. This means that while you may miss some shortcuts the first few times through the level, the more you play the courses the better chance you'll have of actually discovering all of the secrets hidden in these locations."

I gloss over it quickly in my review, but it's worth pointing out that the level designs are actually pretty good. There are a lot of things to grind and trick on, and some of the hidden paths are a lot of fun discover. It's also varied, not unlike a traditional Tony Hawk game. They go all over the world and I was generally into the variety of locations. But as I point out in my original review, the problem is that you'll end up having to replay these stages a few too many times. For as well designed as some of these courses are, Downhill Jam could stand to use a few more levels.

"One of the biggest problems has to do with the trick system. Since this game moves so much faster than other Tony Hawk titles, you'll only have a chance to do stunts when you're making large jumps or grinding. This means that when you actually do have a major jump you have to pull off as many tricks as you can in order to receive a good score and a multiplier. That's all fine and dandy, but there's a serious lack of tricks to pull off in this game, and it all happens so fast that it's difficult to see what you were able to do."

I'll admit that the trick system isn't as good as it could have been, but I'm probably making too much of it in this 2007 review. This, after all, more of a racing game, though there are certainly events where racking up the most points is all that matters. I found that the simple approach worked for me and probably even made the game more exciting. Downhill Jam isn't about watching fake skateboarders pull off epic tricks, it's about speeding to the bottom of a hill and earning a few extra points along the way. The trick system could be better, but I was too hard on the Hawkman.

"That brings up my other complaint; the other characters in this game are cutthroat from the very beginning. Because the races are so short (usually only a couple minutes in length) you won't have a lot of time to get away from the pack and cement your lead. Instead you'll be fighting for first the entire time, which sounds like it would lead to some exciting races but in actuality it only makes the last few seconds more stressful and frustrating."


This is the first time in this entire series where I aggressively disagreed with one of my older reviews. I'll certainly agree that there are some difficult stages, but I didn't find the competition to be as cutthroat this time around. If anything, I found the combat element to be a little too easy. And once I started using the hidden paths, I found that I usually had no problem getting out ahead of the pack and coming in first. There are definitely frustrating moments, but that's true of all extreme sports games.

On a somewhat related note, I found the load times to be the most frustrating thing about Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam. If you're a perfectionist that always wants gold, then prepare to get used to seeing the loading screen. That's a shame, especially given how small most of the levels are. If this were a modern game, you would just snap to the top of the hill without even resetting the music. No such luck on the PlayStation 2.

"As I sat here playing Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam I couldn't help but feel like everything in this game was done better by the SSX series. If you can ignore the difference between a snowboard and a skateboard you'll find that these two games are practically identical. And while that should be a good thing, I couldn't help but feel like SSX has done a better job of combining tricks, racing and an open world."

When it comes right down to it, this is the problem. Practically every aspect of this game was done better by the SSX series, so people should probably play those instead. But there is one thing my review is forgetting about, and that's the locations found in Downhill Jam. You can't grind down the highway or trick off of a bunch of boats in SSX, and these more relatable locations helps make this game stand out.

It also helps that this formula is a lot of fun, no matter if it's on snow or concrete. SSX will always be the better game, but I had a genuinely great time revisiting Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam. Had Activision given this series another couple shots, there's a chance it could have rivaled SSX. Oh, what could have been.
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