Review by StingX2
The proof is in the playing
This is the third Vicarious Visions outing for the Nintendo DS, going in my expectations were high and easily met. Visions seems to go by the old rule of if its not broke, don't fix it. A lot from American Sk8land DS returns, along with new elements that don't bog down the gameplay.
The story in Tony Hawk isn't much to write home about. Tony Hawk one day sees a skate park under a highway run by you, random skater guy or girl, and encourages you to travel with him across the east coast to raise money for it and lure pro skaters. While not having a glamorous story, it's less offensive than Sk8land DS' loud and hokey story that plays out more like a 80s sitcom.
The graphics in Proving Ground is an ugly tale to tell and look at. The character models look like really misshaped mutants, it reminds me a lot of the playstation one models except not blurry. The stages though are actually very pretty when needed to be, and very gritty and ugly when the setting is called for. All the work seems to have gone into the level's looks and really I'd rather have that then ugly levels and beautiful character models. Those looking for great customized character models shall be disappointed, you'll be aiming more for trying to find something that isn't distracting to you while playing than gorgeous or lifelike.
The meat of the review is quite tasty this time. Proving Ground uses two main gameplay modes, Story mode which uses the system introduced in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4, and Classic mode which uses the system originally used in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 and perfected in the third installment.
Story mode consists of skating around a level and talking to colored NPCs to get a single goal, which is always on a time limit ranging from seconds to two minutes. Available Goals can be played in any order, and more unlock in a level as you keep finishing them. As I mentioned colored NPC's this game introduces a semi useless Goal Bar that appears at the top of the screen sometimes, showing whether you are a Neutral Skater (colored green for players that do all goals), a Career Skater (colored blue for players that like traditional hawk goals), and a Hardcore Skater (colored red for players who want to try new kinds of goals and like really hard goals).
While it certainly is an interesting concept its mostly pointless as it changes one line of dialogue in the game, and summons different pro skaters to be the end level goal giver. In fact the game encourages you to do both kinds of goals as different pro skaters (career and hardcore types) unlock different moves occasionally. Going completely hardcore can have you miss out on Focus Mode, and going completely career can have you miss the Bert Slide. The Bert slide is an out of control hard turn to the left or right that will keep going as long as you hold the L button and a directional key, its used minimally in the game but is useful when speed is needed. Speaking of speed this game introduces the Aggro Kick, which is where the skater self propels himself for a speed boost and even bigger one if used thrice in succession using the Y button.
In terms of goal types Proving Ground offers a variety: a variation of red light/green light, touch screen controlled goals, style competitions, 1 vs. 2 high score competitions, following a cameraman and doing tricks, performing for the camera in only a few seconds, and many more. Also new to the DS games are little spray cans that can activate simple goals like manualing to a marker of difficulty, jumping high, or grinding for a long time. The game offers enough variety and mixes it up to the point it doesn't feel like a grind as it did at times in American Sk8land.
As well to having lots of goal types, each goal has three levels of difficulty: AM (default), Pro (challenging), and Sick (Insane...seriously). Each story mode goal requires only an AM rank to pass but those wanting 100% will have to brave the harder pro rank challenges and the sometimes seemingly impossible Sick rank challenges.
Returning from American Sk8land is the skate park, where at the end of every chapter you can add a piece to it for a cost of some of the cash you've earned. This doesn't add much to the game this time but does make some tasks at the end of the game easier or harder depending on what you bought.
Aside from those new things, veterans can look forward to grinding, lip tricks, flips, and grabs. One thing you won't see is grabbing onto the back of cars in this game, there are some cars in game but none in motion.
The controls are really not a problem in this game, with menus to check certain commands if you forget and most goals in story mode that require certain commands kindly tell you them. The touch screen is used primarily as shortcuts to up to 3 specials for manuals, grinds, and tricks each. It is also home of the Focus button which looks like a clock with an eye in the center. This button slows down time for a short period letting you save yourself from the balance meter (used in grinding, manuals and lips) or making a combo line easier (a series of tricks without stopping). Though I must say its nearly impossible to figure out when the focus time is going to expire which means you always have to be ready for an out of control balance meter or a sudden speed up in gameplay. Finally there is the introduction of stylus controlled tricks, these simply involve making a stroke to the right or left or a circle. Although not used much they work without any problems.
I'm not used to games making great use of vocal soundtracks, Madden 2005 and 2006 for DS both have a pretty good but not great rendition of one of the console songs from the 2005 game but its the only song in the game.
Proving Ground has around 9-12 songs and each are really catchy. It may be scientifically impossible not to start to sing along to these songs! Each song is clear, no scratchy sound effects and no skipping. I really don't know how Vicarious Visions made it sound this good.
In closing Tony Hawk's Proving Ground is an excellent if not cruel game. Getting 100% in this title is no light hearted manner its a vicious quest with its insane goals. That being said the game IS beatable even by the average Tony Hawk player like me. It's a game that will keep you interested and playing for many hours than you'd first think.
+ Original Goals
+ Levels bigger than Sk8land DS
+ Story is long, lasted me 7 hours
+ Game is very challenging
+ Controls are fine
+ Audio still impresses me, not used to vocal ds soundtracks
- Character models suck
- Skaters lounge is just a non interactive trophy room
- Classic Mode is pretty easy this time, was hard in Sk8land DS
- Some goals are pure evil
- Focus meter has no visible time limit
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Tony Hawk's Proving Ground (US, 10/15/07)
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