Activision's Tony Hawk franchise may not be quite ten years old yet, but by now I've reviewed at least a dozen iterations of the series across three handheld platforms. For nearly a decade now I've grinded my fair share of rails, collected hundreds of hidden tapes, linked thousands of moves together for billions of combo points. I'm very familiar with the franchise, and even after close to ten years of consistent playing I'm still a fan. But let's be honest: each year it gets more difficult to build excitement about a series that keeps coming back with the same old gameplay, and at this point, a third DS Tony Hawk series in the same amount of years
well, the game's going to have to really be special for me to be overwhelmed by awesomeness.
Point: Tony Hawk's Proving Ground continues the legacy of solid skateboarding, and this sequel is a really, really good game. This sequel takes what Vicarious Visions established in Tony Hawk's American Sk8land and the team's racing spin-off Downhill Jam and builds up a new experience with new parks, moves, challenges, and customizable options. The visuals may have changed, ditching the toonshading in favor of a more realistic art style to mimic the console game's grittiness, but surprisingly the imagery works well. The cel-shading of the past two games were clearly to work within the graphic limitations of the Nintendo DS, but the developers managed to make the Tony Hawk series look just as good with the texture work this time. And some of the park designs are pretty awesome, with killer grind lines that zip up into the rafters and over parked cars.
Point: Tony Hawk's Proving Ground is far more challenging than the first Tony Hawk DS game. American Sk8land was, admittedly, a quickly mastered Tony Hawk experience with challenges that were easy to accomplish or exploit. Proving Ground, however, ramps up the difficulty, but definitely not to the point where things could get overly frustrating. The game's structure matches that of the console version: each task has three ranks: Amateur, Pro, and Sick, and it'll take literally hours to complete some of the insane challenges designed for the Sick rankings. Granted, you can simply progress through the game's design by securing the Amateur ranking, but even some of those tasks are pretty tough to do, especially deeper in the progression. The encouragement to get the Pro and Sick rankings are more the game's Achievement system: the harder challenges reward money and objects for the Skater's Lounge, and if you hop online, people will see which ranking you've obtained in each challenge accomplished.
Point: The multiplayer experience has been fleshed out with tons of new elements. Tony Hawk's American Sk8land was the first third-party game to feature online support, but restrictions only enabled two player competitions and basic challenges. Thanks to the development tools from Downhill Jam, Vicarious gets four players going in Proving Ground as well as the cool-but-limited in-game voice chat engine
but you'll need Friend Codes in order to speak to them while connected. Link your cartridge to the game's website
and you can show off your progress and rank in the extensive leaderboards, as well as swap wall, board and clothing textures between other players. The Tony Hawk series remains one of the Nintendo DS system's most elaborate online experiences, and Proving Ground keeps this up with tons of new features. I dig a lot of the challenges like The Price is Wrong and Balloon Burst, but I still can't help feeling disappointed that my favorite - Graffiti Mode - still hasn't made the console-to-handheld crossover yet.
Point: You can skate around in a purple bunny suit. That automatically bumps the awesome meter up a notch.
Point: It's still Tony Hawk, take it or leave it. That's the game's real shortcoming, and our biggest complaint: we've done all this before. Many, many times. Sure the development team answered our qualms with the previous two games by toughening up the challenges, beefing up the multiplayer, and sharpening up the visuals. But it's still the same core game that we've been playing for years. Is that really enough for us to extol its virtues and exclaim "It's awesome! Go to the store and buy it now! Run, don't walk!" Sorry, no. We'll gladly take Proving Ground over the previous two games, no question. But by now we're sort of over the fact that we're getting a full-fledged Tony Hawk experience. That first impression was burned out of us back in 2005. Now we're sitting here going, "Yeah, it's still great. And
It's not for the lack of trying to make Tony Hawk different, because a lot of effort went into making this sequel stand out from its predecessor. The toon shading's gone, that's a given. The team's put in a new "Gesture Trick" system that initially sounds cool but ultimately is a waste of time since the challenge is simply to slash or circle the stylus as the game calls them out
it's so easy it's almost a joke. And some very DS-centric Tony Hawk features that Neversoft's put into its own console designs still haven't made it in, whether it's due to the shorter development cycle or limitations of the handheld hardware: Video editing would absolutely rule using the DS system's touch screen, but alas, it's not to be. We're still waiting for a true skate park designer on the handheld, too
the limited compromise in Proving Ground just doesn't cut it.
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