Review by discoinferno84

"California Love..."

You're standing on the top of a wooden ramp, overlooking the vast concrete wasteland that makes up the local skate park. You've been perfecting your mad skills for years, and your trusty skateboard is almost like an extra limb. You're about to perform a stunt that will either win you fame and recognition, or leave you crippled and sprawled in the dirt. This is your big moment, the one chance that will boost or doom your career as professional skater. When you finally take in a deep breath and roll down that fateful ramp to your supposed success, only your ability with your board will keep you from falling flat on your face and reeling in humiliation. Not only is your career hanging in the balance, but your personal safety as well. Do you really think you're ready to make that jump from local skate punk to sports icon?

In case you don't like the idea of risking your neck for attaining skateboarding glory, Tony Hawk's American Sk8land offers a decent alternative to the real thing. Going along with the trend of past Tony Hawk games, you play as an up and coming skateboarding star in the Midwest. After seeing your incredible boarding skills, Mr. Hawk takes you into his fold as his new protoge. You're whisked away to California, where there are other skateboarders and contests aplenty. In between all the nifty tricks and bloody injuries, you learn of American Sk8land, a legendary skate park that has fallen into disrepair. With nothing more than pure nostalgia fueling his every action, Tony Hawk vows to refurbish the rundown park and revamp the entire West Coast skateboarding scene. However, not even a star as famous as he could undertake such a task by himself; you're going to play a vital role in his latest publicity stunt.

Your travels will take you deep into the stereotypical neighborhoods of California, from the star-studded boulevards of Hollywood to the glitz and glamour of Beverly Hills. Along the way, you'll meet up with a wide variety of people who seem content with dishing out small fortunes to see your perform basic skateboarding tricks. You'll get to grind along building roofs to scare away pigeons, pick of trash and clothes, deliver items, do a set amount of combos, and plenty of other strange tasks. Not only will you have to contend with the demands of your adoring fans, but you'll have to deal with a few glitches and awkward camera angles as well. Sometimes your view will be blocked by a building or object, and other times you'll roll straight through platforms and obstacles. Should you triumph over these problems, you'll be granted some cash that can be used to purchase new equipment for the new American Sk8land. Once you've satisfied enough curious bystanders and amassed a small fortune, you'll be transported to the next area and begin the process anew, but with a slightly higher difficulty. While the majority of the early tasks slightly lack in challenge, many of the later ones will give you a better run for your money.

However, not all of this game is fulfilling Tony Hawk's hopes and dreams. Should you want to take a break from resurrecting the skate park, Classic Mode allows you to step into the shoes of Tony Hawk, Daewon Song, Rodney Mullen, and a few other professional skaters. You'll be granted access to the various levels and presented with set goals and objectives, like collecting highlighted letters, attaining huge score combos, and other tasks that come standard with all preceding Tony Hawk games. Should you feel the need to break free of all objectives, the Free Skate Mode allows you to wander through the levels aimlessly, letting you perfect your boarding skills and becoming accustomed to the layout of the land. While these modes are really nothing more than bare versions of the main Story Mode, they do offer plenty of chances for some much-needed practice.

However, Tony Hawk's first foray onto the DS doesn't end with the typical gaming modes and concepts. The game utilizes Touch Screen well, allowing you to tap certain icons to perform special tricks in the midst of your skating sessions. There's also the Focus Mode, which basically turns the game into a slow motion Matrix scene for a few moments. While such an idea would have been cool, it is poorly implemented. Focus Mode lasts only as long as you keep your tiny Special Meter full; once it's emptied after mere seconds, you'll lose the fancy special effects and likely mess up the trick combo you were trying to perform. Thankfully, the Touch Screen is put to better use with the wide variety of customization options left at your disposal. You'll be able to alter your board as you see fit, create graffiti tags, and edit American Sk8land with a decent variety of parts. Also, the game makes great use of the DS's WiFi capabilities. Should you get connected, you'll get your shot at gaming glory by attempting to break high score records with gamers around the world. While it's not as great as going to a real skate park and going mano a mano with other enthusiasts, it still proves entertaining.

Considering the graphical limitations of the DS, American Sk8land still manages to look decent. Everything from the giant Hollywood sign to the gritty streets of downtown are presented in all their cell-shaded glory. During your adventure, you'll get to skate through deserted alleyways downtown, grind along powerlines, dodge police cars, jump along building ledges, explore a remarkably faithful rendition of Alcatraz and plenty of other condensed levels. These levels are depicted in a wide variety of colors and detail, creating vivid levels for you to enjoy. Even the cutscenes between the Story Mode levels are done in excellent comic book style. Sadly, the in-game characters suffer from horribly grainy graphics and lack of any notable detail. You're allowed to choose among clothes and hairstyles for your character, but even such customization doesn't make up for the cruddy results. Thankfully, the game sports some limited voice acting and a decent soundtrack of punk rock music to keep you entertained as you try to revive the fallen skate park. Though the presentation is a mixed bag overall, it's far better than what all the other Tony Hawk handheld games have offered before it.

In truth, American Sk8land is a mixed bag as a whole. The story is light and entertaining, a brief distraction from the usual Tony Hawk game. It comes with the basic gameplay concepts and technical handling found in most skateboarding games. Such tried and true gameplay is marred by a few annoying glitches. The Touch Screen is both used and abused, offering a few poorly executed trick concepts and a slew of customization options for the creative artist in all of us. The online features allows gamers to put their skills to the test, awarding the best for recognition and bringing fans closer than ever before. While the areas are a far cry from the wide expanses of the levels in the console games, they are constructed well and stylish. Is this game bad? No, but there is room for improvement. Hopefully this game will make for a promising future for later handheld skateboarding games to come.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 12/23/05


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