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Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam

Hands-on: Skateboard racing with a Tony Hawk's twist - CVG's exclusive hands-on

How many Tony Hawk's games have there been now? About 50, it seems. And despite each one being improved graphically, it uses the exact same free-roam skating mechanic each time. Until now.

Downhill Jam is the first Tony Hawk's game to truly change the formula. Instead of skating around open areas performing mission objectives, just like in all the other Hawk's games, THDJ has you racing through downhill courses, pulling tricks as you go to earn boost power for extra speed.

As well as standard races to the finish line, the game also packs a number of different scenarios. We didn't get to see every challenge scenario in the game, but there were a fair few. Trick runs have you pulling stunts to earn the most points you can on a specified course.

Takedown challenges have you doing your best to slam into innocent members of the public who are idling on the course. Grind Time challenges you to spend as much time as possible grinding on bits of the scenery. And there's plenty of stuff in the environment to grind on.

It's easy to get the wrong idea of THDJ. Yes, you're racing down courses instead of skating in free-roaming environments but that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of secret areas and awesome grind rails to find and explore.

These courses are HUGE. They're so wide, and packed so full of secret routes that you'll play them a dozen times and still not find every route through. The mix of mostly urban environments (set in Hong Kong, San Francisco, Rio de Janeiro, Maccu Piccu and good old Edinburgh) are packed with out-of-the-way ramps and cheeky grind poles that'll take you away from the normal route through the streets, to secret paths over roofs, through buildings and into hidden tunnels.

Even more interesting is the control system that Activision has chosen for the Wii. Instead of using the Nunchuk to replicate the same analogue stick configuration on other consoles, THDJ instead uses just the Wii Remote, held horizontally, like with Excite Truck.

You steer your skater by tilting the remote left and right like a steering wheel, and hold the 2 button to duck down into a faster, more aerodynamic position. Releasing the 2 button makes your skater jump (or ollie, as skater types will have us call it). When in the air, you hold the 1 button and tap directions on the D-pad to perform various stunts.

It's takes a while to get the hang of it, because Hawk's games on other consoles use the D-pad for both steering and pulling stunts. This meant that after pulling a few tricks and landing, we often tried to turn with the D-pad, temporarily forgetting about the tilting wizardry.

One thing Tony Hawk's newbies will be glad to hear is that landing has been made easier, so your skater won't bail if you land your board just slightly out of angle. But it's not been tamed to the point where there's no skill to it so don't worry, Tony veterans.

We were worried that the racing theme of THDJ would take away much of the depth of the game with an over-simplified formula. But that's fortunately not the case. There still remains the need, and potential, to discover your own grind routes, just as you do with the traditional games of past. And the variety of gameplay modes and stunts means there's plenty to get through.

The most hardcore of Tony fans might prefer to opt for the more traditional Tony Hawk's Project 8 on Xbox 360, which is looking very good, we must say. But Downhill Jam is shaping up to be good fun.

It's a confirmed Wii launch title, so look out for it on shelves on December 8.

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