Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam takes the Tony Hawk trick mechanics and places them into a downhill racing game, complete with fast-moving courses and plenty of shortcuts. It's a definite departure for the series, but so far, it seems like an interesting change of pace from the goal-oriented Tony Hawk you're used to seeing.
Downhill Jam on the DS has a similar look to Tony Hawk's American Sk8land, the first Tony Hawk game to appear on the handheld, though the downhill nature and high speed of the game means that the levels are structured much differently. These race courses are full of big downhill lines, and since the focus is on getting there quickly, the trick system has been softened up a bit. Instead of having to keep one continuous combo going, now a counter appears whenever you stop doing tricks. When that counter runs out, the combo ends. So you can work a little flat ground in without having to continually manual, but not so much that you'll be easily able to combo your way through the entire course.
The other change for the trick system is that most any trick can be held, even flip tricks. If you do a kickflip and keep the button held down, the board will keep spinning until you let go. Since you'll be bombing off of huge ramps and seeing a whole lot of hang time, this seems like a cool addition. Doing tricks earns you some turbo boost, which you can unleash at any time by holding down the Y button while skating.
The gameplay in Downhill Jam is definitely fast-paced. The developers at Vicarious Visions have made it a little harder to wreck, instead instituting what they call "soft bails." If you sort of mess up a trick or land at a slightly wrong angle that, in previous games, would have put you flat on your face, you'll instead pull off a wobbly landing that costs you some speed but still keeps you moving along the course.
Races take place against three other skaters, and there's more to do than just win the race. Each level will have subchallenges to complete that open up medal challenges. These give you alternate goals to achieve instead of or in addition to winning the race. Completing goals will earn you cash that you can spend on skater customization.
Sk8land had some pretty popular skater-customization options, and Downhill Jam looks to be blowing this aspect of the game out a little more. You can get in and design the look of your shirt, pants, and board. You can also still record a couple of custom sound effects that will play when you hit gaps, bail, and so on. This stuff comes into play online, where you'll obviously want to look better than the other guys. Up to four players can play online, and the game will contain voice chat that works during the actual game, not just in some kind of prematch lobby. The online mode will also be used to store replays. You'll be able to download another player's best runs and compete against them as ghost racers.
Our brief look at the game left us wanting to see a little more of it. Considering what a cool game American Sk8land was on the DS, it'll be interesting to see how Downhill Jam comes together. Look for Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam to hit store shelves later this year.