Sunday, September 20, 2015

Tony Hawk's American Sk8land (DS) Retro Review

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 releases at the end of the month. However, the previews and screenshots aren't looking too hot. Instead, let's look back at when the Tony Hawk franchise saw better days with Tony Hawk's American Sk8land for the Nintendo DS. Here is my review.

I'm a little l8 to this sk8 party.


With Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 releasing at the end of the month, it seemed like a good time to think about the better days of the once mighty extreme sports franchise. I'm talking pre-Tony Hawk's Ride here. If Pro Skater 5 fails to light the charts on fire or do well critically, this will probably be the last we see of the franchise for a while. Still, we can do like I'm doing and look back on some of the more excellent titles within the series, such Tony Hawk's American Sk8land, a terrific transposition of the console gameplay to a much less powerful handheld device, the Nintendo DS. It's a game that ends up being a blast to play and more than worthy of the Tony Hawk name.

The story mode of American Sk8land follows you, a custom create-a-skater, across seven unique levels. The customization options for your create-a-skater aren't too large, definitely compared to the console Tony Hawk games, but what is there is serviceable enough. There are a handful of head, body, and leg parts to utilize, and these can have their colors altered as well. You can also custom create patterns like the ones on your skateboard as well as custom graffiti, too, performed by standing still and pressing the A button to spray paint.

Anyway, a famous Los Angeles skate park is doomed unless you and your friends, a comic book drawing girl and Tony Hawk, generate enough money to update and upgrade it. Throughout each free-roaming level are NPCs that ask of certain tasks of you, such as performing a long grind from one area of the level to another, collecting objects for them, and performing sets of tricks in one combo, for starters.

Each completed task from an NPC rewards you with cold, hard cash. Earn enough money in a level and one of many professional skaters arrive, such as Rodney Mullen, Ryan Sheckler, and more. Complete their task, which is generally harder than anything previously seen by the other NPCs, and you earn even more money, as well as the ability to head to the next level. You can then use the money you earned to purchase one of three new pieces for your skate park.

In any good Tony Hawk game worth its weight in ollies, American Sk8land offers a classic mode, becoming of traditional, old-school games in the series. Each run you do lasts two minutes, and in those two minutes you try to complete as many of the goals in the level as possible. This includes things like beating a high score, performing a combo worth so many points, finding the usually trickily located secret tape, performing a trick on a specific object or gap, among many other types of goals. Complete enough goals and you earn the ability to head to the next level.

There is great longevity in the classic mode because each time you beat the game as a new skater (your create-a-skater included), you earn an unlockable cheat that can help you get even higher scores. These are things like perfect balance on manuals and grinds to goofier cheats like having each skater devised up of crude, polygonal crates.

The Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection is no more. Thus, online play is no longer available, but there's still enough for solo players to go through that American Sk8land is worth its low asking price. Sure, it was nice to skate in open world areas with friends and strangers around the world, but if you have buddies locally, you can still skate around expansive areas, participating in different games together.

American Sk8land surprising controls really well on the Nintendo DS, despite lacking a similar amount of buttons and triggers to what its big console brothers have. Touch screen use is minimal. It's mostly used for a new mechanic called "Freak Out", where if you bail a trick worth a sizable amount of points, you can tap three rising and falling bars. The fuller the bars are, the more your skater freaks out, earning you more points. You also use the touch screen to enter a temporary slow motion mode that enables you to pull off tricks and jumps with extra precision. Finally, some special moves are performed by touching their icons on the right side of the touch screen.

Something that I miss in American Sk8land that was present in past Tony Hawk games as of Tony Hawk's Underground is the ability to hop off your board and walk around. Now, this wasn't just to continue a combo, but it also allowed you to move with more precision around levels. In American Sk8land, I constantly struggled to do U-turns, usually smacking into a wall, thus making my skater look like he was the ball in a game of Pong. It was highly frustrating to want to go in one direction, yet bouncing off or smacking into walls made my skater go in the opposite desired direction.

American Sk8land runs rather well on the Nintendo DS hardware. The visual style shies away from the home console, realistic look for a more cel-shaded, cartoon appearance. This was a nice decision, as the game would have looked horrid if it went for a realistic style. The game features cutscenes throughout the story that are fully voiced and well done. They have a comic book-like appearance, quite similar to the stuff that your friend in the story draws. Finally, the music is a selection of great-sounding songs from the American Wasteland soundtrack, offering a different track each time you start a new run in classic mode, and offering a playlist in story mode.

Tony Hawk's American Sk8land was the first Nintendo DS entry of the series, and it was the first on a Nintendo handheld that didn't have an isometric view, although you can actually use that view in this game under the options menu! The game uses the Nintendo DS's features to great effect, and the transition from a console to the DS sees little in the way of compromises. This game could have bailed badly, but instead, American Sk8land shreds with the best of them.

[SPC Says: B]

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