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Tony Hawk's American Sk8land (DS) artwork

Tony Hawk's American Sk8land (DS) review

" Are you obsessed with Hollywood and it's supposed movie-star lifestyle? Do you skateboard? Does the phrase "California Uber Alles" make you happy? How about "Deutschland Uber Alles"? If you answered yes to all of these questions, then you're most certainly looking at the right game. However if you find liberal conspiracy music about California being fascist disheartening in a Skateboarding game, perhaps THAS is too much for you. "

Are you obsessed with Hollywood and it's supposed movie-star lifestyle? Do you skateboard? Does the phrase "California Uber Alles" make you happy? How about "Deutschland Uber Alles"? If you answered yes to all of these questions, then you're most certainly looking at the right game. However if you find liberal conspiracy music about California being fascist disheartening in a Skateboarding game, perhaps THAS is too much for you.

A testament to the way Video Games can potentially shape society; since the original THPS was released, we've seen a national obsession with skateboarding grow sporadically. In light of Neversoft's continuous efforts to produce a Pro Skater game ever year, we find a series which has evolved from a game that featured so few tricks and variations that it ran stale in a matter of days mature into an ultra-unrealistic skater's dream. Now that this series has appeared on just about every console it's had the chance to make a showing on, other developers would be hard pressed to make an extreme sports game, let-alone a skateboarding game! Other companies have tried, and the only success found in the last five years has been bitter-sweet at best. What struck some gamers as hideous and unbearable, the 2D GBC games, and the isometric GBA games still fared well commercially, and critically. So after seeing Tony Hawk launch with the Game Boy Advance, he seems right at home on the DS.

Fully decked out with stylish surprises around every corner-everything has changed since you last played a game from the series. Well, that is, unless you've played American Wasteland which truly isn't that far off from Sk8land. They both have the same levels, characters, tricks, and many of the same goals. What truly sets it apart though, is the fact that Neversoft went out on a limb just for the DS, and made Sk8land into a more innovative experience, rather than just another remake.

Until just recently, my DS had been looking pretty pathetic. The only play time it received for nearly a month prior to Sk8land was the occasional visit to my ugly Chihuahua in Nintendogs. But other than that, I had little use for my touch-screen, only owning a few games that utilized the feature well. But now, I've found a more sensible answer to my touch-screen woe; balance. American Sk8land uses the touch-screen for a map, for special tricks, going into slow motion, and also allows your character to "freak out", all at the tap of a stylus.

Throughout the game's seven California-inspired levels, you'll be surrounded with many unlikely characters who are all willing to pay from a minimum of $250 dollars-to-upwards of $1000 dollars, usually just to watch you skate. With this inspiration, I got the idea that I could be a pro-skater. Unfortunately, upon stepping on the skateboard I found out just how unrealistic Tony Hawk's American Sk8land is. I couldn't do a Japan Air 900, I couldn't ollie onto roofs, and my kickflip was non-existant. My character in Sk8land however, does multiple backflips, massive combos, and has no sense of gravity whatsoever.

Divided between Story mode, and Classic mode, there's something for everyone. In story mode you work alongside your buddy Mindy (poor voice-overs), and Tony Hawk to build the ultimate skatepark. Within about three hours, you'll start out a newbie to the skating world, and progress all the way to Tony Alva status. I know that doesn't sound very reasonable, but THAS is still a refreshing game complimenting Wasteland. The classic mode does everything the first four Tony Hawk games did. You rack up scores, hit objects, and grind the right rails to complete a list of goals, for the same seven levels found on Story. This adds on only a few more hours, giving you at least another reason to play the game as you might need one after you've done everything there is to do in Story mode.

Classic mode is instantly brought into the limelight as you sign on Wi-Fi, and find that you can download new goals that Vicarious Visions promises to add occasionally. THAS in some places even out-classes Nintendo's premiere Wi-Fi games-in terms of simplicity, access, and menu layout. The online play isn't shabby either. It's too bad that only two skaters can compete at once. You only see the other guy a couple times, or not at all, when playing any of the online variations (where's H-O-R-S-E?). The levels are so big, and made with so many places to go-that it truly is impossible to keep an active skater in your sight for more than a couple seconds. Besides, the competition is pretty tough, and you should be preoccupied with beating your opponent's score anyway.

The art direction taken here is something never before seen in the Tony Hawk world. The cell-shading lends itself as well to skateboarding as it did to Jet Grind Radio's futuristic aggressive inline formula. So the game certainly is visually competent, and it's not too "kiddy" looking either. The style itself still very closely resembles that of American Wasteland, which allows for Sk8land to copy that game in a lot of ways in the process, losing only a few levels, and the annoying sequences where you had to get off your skateboard. However, your skateboard seems suspiciously disproportionate, looking a little larger than it should.

Surprisingly, THAS can be smart. Smart in that the dialogue is often witty at all the right times, and the developers know they've over-exaggerated everything. For example, the billboard at the gas station informs the gamer that gas in LA costs "an arm, and a leg". One of your missions will be to fly up a quarter-pipe onto a rail that's connected to a building which harvests six pigeons (you're supposed to knock all six pigeons off). But of course, that's not enough for Neversoft. You have to knock all six off in a combo, or it won't work. Things like this are everywhere in the game, and up until the last level, you're still learning tricks and mechanics that will prove helpful in Classic mode, later on.

What will keep you coming back to THAS? The online play should be an indicator that this game has a lot of replay-value. The DS's capabilities are finally being shown in spades, there are a couple other things you can do on THAS, that you've never been able to do in any THPS or THUG game. You can record your voice for both gaps, and bails. This makes the game call out your 2-seconds-or-so recording every time you gap something, or fall off of your board. The touch-screen also allows for more customization, than you'd think possible. You can now design your board with your stylus. It's pretty neat to go online and check out the variety of things people have created.

If you've played every Tony Hawk game before Sk8land, you may just find it to be more of the same. It does follow the series well, while at the same time innovating in ways that other companies (like EA) wouldn't dream of. If you still haven't found a game that effectively uses your touch-screen, then THAS might be your best bet. If you're looking for a skateboarding game on a handheld though, Tony Hawk is an obvious purchase, as it is your only option.

Calvin's avatar
Community review by Calvin (August 25, 2006)

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