The extreme sports genre has become more and more crowded over the past few years. Everyone and their brother seem to be bringing a title to market, all usually with the same disappointing results. However the one franchise that manages to keep it fresh is Tony Hawk, and with good reason this series single-handedly introduced the gaming world to extreme sports. With roots dating back to the original Playstation the long-standing series has won several awards and somehow managed to bring something new to the table with every iteration. Now with next-gen consoles making their debut it is time for Tony to step up, and step up he does with his latest outing for Nintendo’s handheld DS with the revolutionary American Sk8land.
While we have seen previous Tony games on handheld consoles none of them really stood out. Sure the PSP version was fantastic, but it was really a stripped down port of THUG 2. This time developer Vicarious Visions has taken a whole new approach starting with the slick cel-shaded visuals. That is right gamers the DS version of Tony Hawk features an almost cartoon like appearance that will instantly grab your attention. The animations are smooth and the level of detail is simply amazing for a DS game. The style reminds me a lot of Sega’s Jet Set Radio series and really shows off what the DS 3D engine can do, you will be amazed seeing this game run at a blistering 60fps with no drop in frame rate whatsoever.
Although Sk8land is not a direct port of its console brother it does share some similarities with it. For instance you are still skating around the L.A. streets trying to collect pieces to rebuild a classic skate park. The layout is also familiar to anyone who has played the any of the console version with your character completing goals to collect items, money, and of course meet new people to aid you on your journey. The game is separated into five different areas that you will need to accomplish goals throughout in order to collect enough money in your account to build the sixth and final skatepark.
Probably the biggest surprise of Sk8land is how well it plays on the DS system. Seeing as how the DS has a very similar layout to the original PS controller just about every move is still executable in the game. Of course some things have had to go such as being able to hop off your board which makes graffiti tagging a bitch, but you will learn to forgive such small annoyances when you realize just how great this version plays. The developers have also made great use of the touch screen for several functions including your freak out meter, when you wreck three bars will start moving on the screen and you touch them at the highest point to gain a better freak out bonus. The screen can also be utilized for a virtual button and even the slow-motion focus mode. Overall developer Vicarious Vision has done an amazing job integrating the touch screen into the game play without making it feel gimmicky.
The single-player campaign of Sk8land may be a bit on the short and easy side, but fear not extreme sports fans there is plenty to come back for in this micro version of Tony Hawk. For starters each of the six parks can also be used to play the infamous Classic Mode, which has you skating through each level achieving several goals in a set time limit. Then of course you have the highly publicized WiFi multi-player mode for online gaming via your wireless internet connection. Being one of only a couple games to support it right now, this feature is certainly appreciated. You can also use this mode to upload custom tags, decks, and other items for others to view on AmericanSk8land.com for all others to marvel at their creations. You can also download new challenges and other content to extend the life of your handheld game; it feels almost like there was more work put into the DS version than its console brethren.
It is finally nice to see someone take a different approach to the seemingly rinse and repeat formula that Tony Hawk fans are accustomed to. While there are some problems here and there the overall package is an amazing edition to all DS owners library. With the addition of true online play, content download, and some creative touch screen use this is certainly one of the better games available right now for Nintendo’s handheld wonder. If you are a fan of the series looking for a fresh idea or simply a DS owner finally getting tired of Mario Kart give this game a whirl, I guarantee you will not be disappointed.