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Platform

DS

 

Genre

Extreme Sports

 

Publisher

Activision

 

Developer

Vicarious Visions

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Released

November 2005

 

- Excellent cel shaded graphics

- Tight controls and smooth gameplay

- Internet play

 

 

- Some of the touch screen tricks are a bit hard to pull off

- Internet play is somewhat limited

 

 

Review: Ultimate Spider-Man (DS)

Review: Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (DS)

Review: Tony Hawk's Underground 2 (PS2)

 

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Tony Hawk's American Sk8land

Score: 8.3 / 10

 

The DS has provided some excellent gaming experiences lately, but there's one area where it fails to the PSP: console ports. Even though the DS is full of unique and original titles, its console ports, like Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and Burnout Legends have been strikingly subpar. Therefore, it's something of a pleasant surprise than Tony Hawk completely breaks free of this stigma to create a game comparable to its big brothers, without having to compromise.

 

tony hawk's american sk8land          tony hawk's american sk8land

 

Unlike the PSP Tony Hawk released earlier this year, Tony Hawk's American Sk8land is an original title -- it shares some locations with the recent American Wasteland console game but is otherwise unique (it's completely different from the GBA title of the same name).  This version uses the gorgeous cel-shaded 3D engine used in Vicarious Visions other recent DS game, Ultimate Spider-Man. Not only is it incredibly smooth, it gives the game a completely distinct look and feel that sets it apart from the rest of series. While it's not quite as stylish as Jet Grind Radio, it comes pretty close, and is easily one of the best looking DS games currently available.

 

The game's bright atmosphere fits perfectly with the cartoonish storytelling. All of the cutscenes are told through comic book stills that bounce around the screen like cardboard cut-outs, telling the story of how you and a bunch of skateboarding champions (Tony Hawk included, obviously) band together to save American Skateland, a rundown park that had quite a bit of history back in its glory days. These story scenes are fully voiced, and even though they're a bit goofy, they complement the game's personality perfectly.

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Each level has your character skateboarding around some area of Los Angeles, talking to people and completing goals to get some cash. After completing a certain number, you'll be allowed to move onto the next. Although it lacks the free-roaming world of American Wasteland, you can visit old levels either by taking marked exits or simply choosing from a menu. You don't even need to skate around the levels looking for people, 

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if you don't want to - it's easy enough just to pause the game and pick up your next task. The Kids mode will remind you of how to pull off certain tricks, and make gameplay a bit easier in general. It's incredibly user-friendly, and it's easy to pick up even if the skateboard lingo sounds confusing. If you're not up to the story mode, or if you've already beaten it (which won't take long - it's pretty easy), there's a Classic mode that lets you play with the rules of the earlier games. There's even a Legacy Camera that lets you play the game like the GBA Tony Hawk games, although the view tends to get stuck behind obstacles, and it's more confusing than useful.

 

Surprisingly, the controls are excellent with the digital pad. While you can no longer get off your skateboard (which is actually a plus, depending on who you talk to), the trick system feels like most recent Tony Hawk games.  All of the action takes place on the top screen, the bottom screen shows the map of the level. Pulling off tricks increased your Special Meter, which allows you to enter Focus mode (which slows down time) or pull of special tricks, which are selectable at the Skateshop. Both of these are activated by icons on the touch screen, which feels a bit cumbersome when you're trying to pull off some long combos.  Still, it's forgivable because the DS just doesn't have enough buttons to pull off this functionality. There's also the Freak Out option -- if you wipe out in the middle of a trick, you can try to touch fluctuating energy bars to try to salvage some points out of your failed attempt.

 

tony hawk's american sk8land          tony hawk's american sk8land

 

There are good amount of customization options specific to the DS version as well. You can decorate your skateboard, create graffiti tags or record short voice clips for whenever you succeed or fail at something. The character creation mode is a bit limited compared to other games, but the models aren't that detailed to begin with. You can use your cash to buy various obstacles for the Skateland, although you don=t have any real control in where to put anything.

 

American Skateland is also one of the first DS to take advance of Internet wi-fi play. There are a few different game modes, ranging from a standard Free Skate mode to various Trick and Combo goals. Only two players can play at once, which is a little disappointing, especially considering how big some of the levels can be. Multiplayer in Tony Hawk certainly isn't quite as important as it is in Mario Kart or Animal Crossing, as you're really only trying to outskate each other for points, but hopefully this will signify the beginning of Internet play for all DS titles.

 

There's also a soundtrack completed with licensed songs, although there's only thirteen in total. It's the usual juvenile rock you hear in Tony Hawk games (one of them is called  I Like Dirt, if that gives any indication) but it shows that Activision was concerned with giving the DS an experience similar to the console games -- unlike, say, the DS version of Burnout Legends.

 

American Sk8land is the perfect kind of portable title -- while it's based off a console game, the unique visual style alone makes it worthwhile to own both. Coupled with the Wi-Fi game, you have one of the best extreme sports game available on any portable platform.

 

- Kurt Kalata

(January 1, 2006)

 

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