Tony Hawk’s American Sk8Land Review

Tony Hawk’s American Sk8land is the latest Tony Hawk game to grace the Game Boy Advance.  Following in the steps of Tony Hawk’s Underground 1 and 2, the game has more of a mission-based gameplay along with keeping the classic mode from the older Tony Hawk games.  For the first time, though, the handheld games are significantly different from the console versions.  This time the goal is to rebuild an old skate park appropriately named ‘Sk8land’.

While I’ve personally liked the Tony Hawk games, I’ve never been that good at them, and have never played any of the console ones, so I really didn’t know what to expect other than the basics.  Let’s see what the game is like and see if it’s any fun while we’re at it.

Having seen what the GBA is capable of, I was hoping for crisp and clean graphics that would be easy to understand including an in-game map of the area, clearly defined areas and limits…basically anything I would want in any game, scaled down for the GBA.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.  While the graphics themselves were rather passable, the characters appeared rather crudely drawn and detailed close-up.  While actually skating, you could see basic details including arms and legs and what clothing they had on, but nothing close up.  The lack of detail on just about everything was distressing.  Even when something had fine detail, such as a bit of graffiti on the Hollywood sign, it was hard to tell exactly what it was.

This extends to the character animation, which does nothing but repeat itself.  When you crash, it shows the same animation each time, without fail.  Repetition carries itself over in other ways, also.  Buildings tend to look the same, it’s hard to tell one section of street from another at times and people all tend to blend together.

There’s also an odd flashing phenomenon involving fences.  I’m not sure if it’s the graphics for the fence itself or just the movement causing it, but it appears as though the fences flash when you get close.  As far as level limits, they simply don’t exist.  The only way you can tell that you’re going off the course is either a complete lack of detail or by bouncing your character on an invisible wall at that spot. 

To be honest, it feels more like a GBA launch title than one in 2005.

The music in Tony Hawk’s American Sk8land is bland, generic rock music.  It seems to be looped to keep the sample size small, which means the music repeats itself over and over.  It’s almost brain-numbing in that respect.  There’s not a lot of variety in the actual music itself, much less any of the other accompanying sounds.

Your skater will make the same grunt no matter what they hit, how they hit it or what.  It’s pretty odd that bouncing into an invisible wall or a rope causes the same sound from the skater’s mouth that crashing from three stories up does.  The skateboards and surfaces all sound the same also and really don’t sound that natural to begin with.

While the game does use a small amount of character voice, it’s limited to Tony Hawk or someone else basically saying ‘Hey!’ or ‘Whoa!’  The GBA is capable of much more and it almost feels like someone decided that the sound just didn’t matter.

Tony Hawk’s American Sk8land has pretty basic controls to begin with.  B handles jumping or ollies as well as no complies.  The A button takes care of grinding, lip tricks, wallrides, the Natas Spin and wall plants.  L handles flip tricks and nollies, while R handles grab tricks, reverts, the new bert slide and the ability to switch your stance.  A combination of L and R while in the air will perform a spine transfer, and you can press A twice while in the air to go into running mode.

Everything else is a combination of directional buttons along with the aforementioned key presses.  The problem with this is a combination of it being really hard to tell where you are in relation to other objects, making grind tricks difficult, for example, and the concept that at times the game can register a double-tapped A button very easily, dropping you into running mode instead of a grind trick. 

A combination of these factors can make performing the tricks extremely hard, which makes making goals hard as well.  Part of the blame can be laid upon the graphics, but a large amount of the blame goes directly to the controls.  It’s almost like they’ve tried too hard to cram too much into only 4 buttons as opposed to the eight or more on a console, and things suffer due to that decision.  It almost would have been better, if harder to code, to make tricks context-specific to where you’re at with your skateboard at the time. 

First, let’s deal with the story, what there is of it, in Tony Hawk’s American Sk8land.  Here’s the gist of the story:  You’re a budding skater who meets Tony Hawk as he’s doing a skate show.  He sees you skate, and thinks you have some small talent.  So he decides to invite you on his bus for a trip to Los Angeles.  Once there, Tony has to go, so he tells you to skate around.  You meet a skater girl while there, and end up finding both Tony and an old skate park.  At this point, Tony vanishes again after telling you that maybe if you become a good enough skater you can find a way to rebuild the old skate park.

After this, it’s basically a lot of goals strung together about as loosely as the plot itself as you perform this goal or that to slowly rebuild the skate park into what it was ten or fifteen years ago.  The problem with the concept is that, besides the fact that it dosen’t make any sense at all, it’s not much fun.

Part of the problem is that the game has tried to be so big, and the maps so expansive, that it’s nearly impossible to find your way around each map.  There is no in-game map, so you can’t tell where you’re supposed to go.  Even if you know where to go, the tricks you’re told to perform don’t necessarily have to be done where you’re told to do them.  In one case you’re told to do a spine transfer over a theater sign.  However, if you do the spine transfer anywhere else, the game accepts that and considers you having passed that goal.  In another case, however, you have to grind the Hollywood sign.  Problem is, there’s only one way to get to the sign and it takes nearly three minutes of skating to get to it.  If you fail to make the grind and fall off the side of where it’s at, you have to skate all the way across the map back to it. 

When you consider a game to be the sum of its parts, and the parts are mildly frustrating to annoying and simply not a lot of fun, it makes the entire game that way.  It just feels like the developers had to make this game because of their contract and pushed it out the door.  While this probably isn’t true, you can’t escape the feeling that the game just doesn’t have a lot of heart in it.

Character customization, at least at the beginning, is very minimal.  You have a choice between male or female skaters, being regular or goofy footed, four hair colors with one hair style, and six skin tones.  That’s it.  You can’t change clothes at all when you’re creating your character, you have to earn every bit of clothing to wear.  In these days of character customization in every game out there, or so it seems, this is really not acceptable, GBA title or not.

The game does come with five multiplayer modes with both Hotseat and Linkplay modes used, depending on the mode.  The first mode is Trick Attack which is where you try to gain the most points in a certain amount of time.  Both hotseat and link modes are avaialble for this mode.  The second mode is H.O.R.S.E., where the object is to get a bigger combo than the other player.  The first person to lose five times loses the game.  H.O.R.S.E. is a hotseat-mode game.

King of the Hill uses linkplay only, where the ojbect is to find the crown and keep it by not getting tagged and not bailing.  Basically, whoever holds onto the crown longest wins.  Another linkplay game is Tag mode, which is about the same other than there’s no crown and no penalty for bailing.  Whoever is ‘it’ longest wins.  Last is another linkplay game, Scavenger.  The object here is to see who can accomplish the old-school goals from Classic mode the fastest.  Whoever completes a goal first gets credit for it, and the one with the most completed within a set time limit wins.  Each of these modes are two player only.

To be honest, there’s really not much reason to play this game unless you really like Tony Hawk or you don’t own any other system to play games on.  The game simply isn’t fun enough to keep messing with longer than necessary.  Even the multiplayer modes aren’t really fun enough to keep going for very long with the controls as wonky as they can be at times.

All in all, unless you get this game extremely cheap, there’s not much point in purchasing it.  Every other version of the game is superior to this one, and it shows in the first ten minutes of game play.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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