Review by TravisCombs

"Easily outdone by the Tony Hawk series"

MTV Sports: Skateboarding featuring Andy Macdonald was a 2000 game developed by Darkblack and published by THQ. The game was part of a series of MTV-branded titles that focused on combining extreme sports gameplay with popular rock music of the time. This particular title attempted to reach the standard of skateboarding games preceded by Tony Hawk's Pro Skater (also referred to as THPS) but didn't quite make the grade.

In the sense that many first-person shooters in the ‘90s were referred to as “Doom clones” and many modern sandbox titles are considered “GTA clones”, this game can be considered a “THPS” clone. It's generally accepted that the THPS series has set the bar for skateboarding games (and extreme sports games in general). As such, this review is going to have multiple references and comparisons to the THPS series. If you haven't played any of the Tony Hawk games… go ahead and quit reading this review, and go grab the first two titles for Dreamcast. For everyone else, read on.

Sound - 7/10

In a somewhat unorthodox manner, I'm going to start this review by talking about sound. The main reason for this is that this is an MTV-branded title, where music was a major focus of the game.

One of the strongest aspects of the game is the soundtrack. The game's soundtrack consists of ten songs (a song each from ten bands). It features highlights such as “Rock Superstar” by Cypress Hill, “Sugar” by System of a Down, and “I'm Down” by Goldfinger. While licensed music is undoubtedly an acquired taste that will vary from person to person, most fans of the THPS soundtracks will feel right at home. However, unlike the THPS soundtracks which never seem to get old no matter how many times I play through the games, the songs here give me a headache after about my third listen.

There are a couple of quirks with the soundtrack. One of them is the game's focus on allowing you to pick a song prior to the start of each level, rather than the game automatically playing the tracks in a sequential or random order. On one hand, this sounds like a welcome feature. But, you'll realize that the same song will loop over and over again until the level is complete or until you quit. Depending on the game mode, you might play a level for ten minutes and hear the same song loop 3-4 times because the game doesn't use a playlist when you select a specific song. This gets especially annoying when you go to restart a level from the pause menu, where the song you selected will start over as well.

Thankfully, the game will let you change the song in the middle of a level via the pause menu, although this disrupts the flow of the game. There also is a randomize option which will vary the songs and avoid looping a single track repeatedly, but this defeats the entire purpose of emphasizing the player selecting the track.

Another less-aggravating quirk is the censorship of the soundtrack. Being an “Everyone” rated title (prior to the introduction of the “Everyone 10+” rating) and unlike the “Teen” ratings of the Tony Hawk series, the music is censored for more than profanity. For example, in the song “Sugar”, some of the censored words include “mushroom” and “Russian”.

Moving on the sound effects, the game quickly takes a nosedive. One of the absolutely most annoying design flaws in the game is that a crowd will yell “Boo!” whenever you bail (or, for those unfamiliar with skateboarding terms, when you “crash”). Combined with the clunky controls that we'll discuss later, you'll hear “Boo!” about every ten seconds. Because of this, I find the game is only truly acceptable to play if I turn the sound effects volume way down and turn the music volume way up (although this just contributes to the soundtrack getting old faster). As far as environmental sounds, they're not the worst, but they're not great. Skating around and grinding can sound a little rough. The grunting from your skater bailing will get annoying quickly. Again, turning the sound effects volume down will fix these issues.

Gameplay - 3/10

It doesn't take a genius to realize that gameplay determines a game's worthiness, and MTV Sports: Skateboarding is nothing to write home about. Unlike THPS which has a “Career” mode that allows you to do various goals within a level to progress and unlock more goals, the closest MTV Sports: Skateboarding offers is a “Lifestyle” mode. In this mode, you take a random fake skater (with equally fake names, like “Billy J. Jimbob”) and play in competition after competition. They're a lot like the competitions in the THPS series, although in this game you're not exactly competing against other skaters, but rather trying to achieve a certain score as determined by the “judges”. Achieve the score and you'll unlock the next level. Occasionally a level will require you to do something more than surpassing an average score, such as collecting a couple of photo icons, but this is nothing compared to the goals found in THPS.

One of the other modes in the game is “MTV Hunt” which involves you skating around the level picking up floating MTV icons. This is similar to the concept of collecting S-K-A-T-E in THPS, but the level will only require you to pick up a specific percentage of the icons (for example, it might require you to collect ten and the level may have 20 floating around). In addition, you will actually lose some icons if you bail, and will have to recollect them. Lastly, you have a ridiculous amount of time to do it. The first level gives you six minutes to complete it, compared to the two-minute runs in THPS.

There's also a free-skate mode and a high-score mode, which are pretty self-explanatory. There's a mode called “Survival” in which you have a timer, which initially has a small amount of time remaining but will grow based on what tricks you do. If you manage to master the controls of the game, this mode can seemingly last forever. I get bored before I ever manage to run out of time. Lastly, there's a stunt mode which places you in custom levels and requires you to complete specific tasks, such as getting a certain score while jumping off a ramp.

The game doesn't feel anywhere near as arcade-like as THPS. This isn't because the game attempts to be realistic; it just fails at nailing the perfection of THPS. This game is genuinely frustrating to play. For one, it's much slower-paced. It also has clunky controls. When you're doing a vert trick, you must use the trigger buttons to rotate (not the D-Pad or analog stick) and you must “complete” the trick and let go of the buttons prior to landing. If you're still holding the buttons as you land the trick, you'll bail. Grinding is overly complicated and isn't even worth attempting, in my opinion. You have to have the right amount of air and time your input just right, or else you'll just run into the railing and bail. Furthermore, you have to use the trigger buttons to balance while grinding (again, no D-Pad or analog stick). This will be confusing to players familiar with THPS. If you exit out of a grind early from an ollie (or jump) and land on the rail again, you'll bail. There's also no concept of transferring out of a bowl by holding “Up”, so your best bet is to grind the ledge to get out. But, by attempting to grind, there's almost a guarantee you'll bail, because you have to have the angle and timing just right.

The game also seems to favor vert skating far more than street skating. Quite a few vert tricks can land massive points (some over 50,000) for every successful attempt, whereas grinding a ledge might land you something as little as 1,000 points and doing a flip trick like a kickflip will land you equally as few points. That is, if you can manage to land a kickflip; doing a flip trick while skating on the ground is quite an awkward maneuver. You have to ollie first, and perform the trick while already in the air, but by the time you can pull the trick off, you're halfway down to landing. Combined with the fact that combos are practically non-existent, street skaters will have a tremendously difficult time hitting high scores.

One quite nice feature of the game is the fact that it contains plenty of grab tricks. It makes use of doubling-up on the D-Pad for tricks, so hitting “Up+B” will produce a different trick than “Up, Up+B” and so forth for all eight directions of the D-Pad. Some of these vert tricks are quite awesome, like the Christ Air and Dark Air. Unfortunately, the game doesn't include any sort of special tricks and it seems limited on grinds.

Graphics - 4/10

MTV Sports: Skateboarding on Dreamcast was a port of the PlayStation version, and while I haven't played the PSX edition, I think it's safe to assume they probably didn't do much to enhance the graphics on the newer system. Fans of THPS will likely be caught off-guard by its different visuals. The camera's positioning from the skater is a little more zoomed out than in Tony Hawk and the environments don't look anywhere near as detailed. The skaters look like a bunch of mashed up polygons, very similar to a majority of PSX titles. Frame rate doesn't seem too bad, but it can be hard to gauge considering the overall slow pace of the game. On the plus side, a number of animations of vert tricks are quite impressive, such as the Airwalk. On the other hand, far too many tricks look exactly the same, and you really can't tell the difference between them other than the fact they have a different name.

Replay Value - 2/10

Honestly, this game is hardly worth the time to play, let alone replay. Unlike THPS, which I seem to always be able to pick up and play through in a sitting, this game feels like a chore to play. I can't imagine most people will continue to play past the first few levels. When the major mode of your game simply involves skating around to get a certain score from judges, level after level, there's no variety and little incentive to keep playing. The other modes are there to provide some variation in gameplay, but when your secondary modes are free-skate, high score, and survival, these are essentially just endless modes that are objectiveless. There is a multiplayer component, which I haven't tried, but I can't imagine you'd be able to convince a friend to play this with you. On a side note, the game lacks any “extra” features such as Create-a-Skater or a Park Editor.

Final Thoughts

As much as I love extreme sports games and want to recommend this, it just falls short of being a memorable game. Knowing that there are other titles out there, like any of the classics in the THPS series, it's hard to justify spending time with this one. Yes, I'm aware that I referenced Tony Hawk about a million times in this review, but I warned you at the beginning! I suppose if you're like me and you've played Tony Hawk to death, this game might provide a change of pace while theoretically providing similar gameplay, but for anyone else, it's probably best to just stay clear.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.0 - Poor

Originally Posted: 05/17/13

Game Release: MTV Sports: Skateboarding Featuring Andy Macdonald (US, 11/09/00)

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