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Tony Hawks: Ride

Hands... erm, feet-on preview

When the Wii first launched a spate of comical videos showing punters smashing expensive TV sets with sweaty and slippery Wii Remotes hit the net. This coming Christmas a new batch of videos is likely to appear, although it'll be heads, not controllers, hurtling through screens the world over.

As you can probably tell, our first test with Ride wasn't overly impressive. (Neither were the second and third for that matter.) It's a game with plenty of options but little soul, and a title so preoccupied with beating Skate for the most realistic skateboarding sim award it's forgotten its roots completely.

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Critically, it's a title where the peripheral appears to be a hindrance, not an aid, to its fiction. The board quality itself is hard to fault. It's shorter than a real deck to cut down travel time from nose to tail, but wider to aid the balance of those of you with two left feet. There's a meaty start button on the side which is perfectly placed to be kicked with your toes and solid grip tape to keep feet firmly rooted to the spot.

Initially the sensor bars seemed unresponsive but we soon found this to be a problem with the software not the hardware - grab actions are only registered when you've gained enough air. Sure enough, on the bigger leaps a hand waving in front of a sensor triggered the intended trick. And a handy tip for those less enthusiastic about back-bending action: a foot wave over the bars is just as effective.

The problem, however, is that the board even exists. If the sample levels are indicative of the complete product the game is predominantly Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam with feet controls and visuals not far removed from its Nintendo counterpart.

Six cities ranging from New York and Tokyo to Barcelona and Frankfurt make up the Road Trip career mode. Each location then houses three or four sub areas with four modes a piece: Skate Run, Trick, Challenge Mode and Free Skate. The first is a glorified time trial, the third a succession of 'ollie these objects while performing a specific trick' instructions. The other two simply play out exactly as you'd expect.

Play on Casual mode and the game doesn't hold your hand so much as muffle you in bubble wrap and nudge you down a fixed path, leaving you the sole task of ollieing when instructed, pulling the odd trick and little else. The step up in difficulty to Confident raises the bar ever so slightly. It adds navigation by board tilting, although an auto-correct soon kicks in if you're on course to collide with a wall. Think of it as ten pin bowling with the bumpers activated - cheating may be sanctioned but it's still cheating.

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If Ride shines it'll be in Hardcore mode, where all auto-correct safety features are switched off. Movement is as free as it can be while still being channelled down a fairly restrictive downhill path, the very antithesis of what made Skate's sedate quest for perfection so gripping. In addition to the tested downhill and vert ramp courses open-plan skate parks are promised, so it'll be interesting to see whether these areas are capable of recapturing some of the magic so annoyingly absent from the on-rails modes.

As with other peripheral-powered games the team has thought about different forms of party play. Eight player board-swap games are on the menu for local gatherings (it'd be wise to keep them alcohol-free until a less dangerous game is loaded up) while four-player online modes are supported for people without a giant room spare to flail about in with guests. Conversation is an issue though - unless you own a wireless headset you'll be unable to communicate with fellow players thanks to the (perfectly understandable) lack of a headset jack in the deck.

The new direction of Ride has raised eyebrows since its first announcement and, we'll admit, we're still unconvinced. As a caveat we'll add that a 20 minute playtest isn't enough to pass any meaningful verdict at this point. Hours of practice are needed before Ride can be mastered - the real test is whether or not the gimmick will have worn thin before then. Instant prediction says yes.

At the moment, it feels like ill-conceived, expensive peripheral action, and looks unlikely to thrill for any great length of time. Things might well get better once board usage is mastered, but an initial test proved to be both clumsy and awkward. A high price is definitely not what Ride needs.

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