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Game Review

After releasing eight Tony Hawk games, the creative team over at Activision has decided to ollie up to tweens who probably haven't played the skateboarding series before. (An ollie is when a skateboarder pops his board up into the air by kicking down on its tail.) Since Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam doesn't try any of the hard tricks found in previous games, it becomes a kind of Hawk-lite experiment. It's an E10+ game that eases back on the language, sexuality and rebel attitude of the past T-rated skating fare and focuses on fast, downhill racing.

One- or two-player gameplay still includes performing midair skateboard grabs and flips, but the jumping and grinding trick system is now much easier to pick up. (Grinding means sliding the board along an edge such as a curb, bench or rail.) Mashing out a few button combos and steering clear of obstacles and other skaters is pretty much all you need to worry about. You can kick another player off his board during the race, but that kind of foul play really isn't a huge part of the action.

Meet Jynx, Crash and Gunnar
The goal of the game is simple: You work out your personal menu of tricks and high-flying jumps, master the tracks, find the shortcuts, and try to get to the bottom of each course first. To help you get there faster, you're given a boost meter (called a zone bone) that fills up with each grind, flip or jump you perform, and delivers a turbo blast of speed when you need it.

It's that overall visceral sense of frenzied speed that keeps the game's fun-factor high. As you gain wins and points, you unlock new characters, fresh tracks (from the swooping hills of San Francisco to the precipice drops of Machu Picchu) and special items that supercharge your boarding skills.

Unlike past games, there's no real storyline, but the characters of Downhill Jam add some, well, character to the races. You get to choose which broadly animated teen will represent you on the track. Your choices range from such typical skater types as Crash (a try-anything daredevil who crows about his past broken bones) to the gothic, darkly-clad Jynx (a sky-is-falling-type girl) to Norwegian Gunnar (a Schwarzenegger-style muscleman). They each have unique areas of skill and skateboarding specialty (jumps, tricks, speed) and colorful personalities.

The races begin with each skateboarder telling us a little bit about themselves, their experience or their boarding philosophy. For instance, Tiffany, an aspiring runway model, tells us, "I'm just so tired of people assuming that just because I look and dress and smell a certain way, that I have no business being a skateboarder." She skates with that same kind of delicate flair.

Nice Nosegrab!
Some of the characters can be a little too colorful, of course. Jynx says of the braggart Crash, for instance, "The guy only pretends to like pain because he sucks at skating so bad." She and other girl racers also wear midriff-baring outfits and some short skirts that would (should) raise an animated eyebrow or two.

Violence shows up in the form of crashes and tumbles, but the blood and resulting profanity of other Tony Hawk titles has been left out. Heavy music from such problematic groups as White Zombie and Motorhead screams along with your races, but it steers clear of the foul language, too, with alternate lyrics inserted in some cases. (The options screen allows you to create your own playlist from among the 40 tunes included or turn the music off altogether.)

When all the nosegrabs and 360s are done (and even novices no longer need their Skater-to-English dictionaries), some fans of the original attitude-laden, in-your-face series will likely complain that Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam is too soft and simple for their tastes. I'm not one of them. This soft and simple game lets young wannabe virtual skateboarders get stoked (that means excited) about jumping up on their first deck (umm, skateboard) without anybody getting slammed (yep, that equals hurt) by content that's hyper-hinky, er, haggard ... uh, bad.

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Plot Summary

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Profanity/Violence

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Episode Reviews

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