Tony Hawk's Proving GroundESRB:
Platform: Nintendo DS , DSI
Developer - Vicarious Visions
Publisher - Activision
It is hard to believe the Tony Hawk franchise has been around for nearly ten years. During this time it has seen its share of ups and downs. Nevertheless the franchise has always remained the premiere skate boarding video game on the market. Activision stated that this year’s version, aptly titled Tony Hawk's Proving Ground, would be the largest and deepest Tony Hawk game yet. And after having recently played the Xbox 360 version there is no question Proving Ground delivers as advertised on the next-generation platform, but the question remains however whether Proving Ground would make not only a successful transition from console to handheld, but would it live up to Tony Hawk's previous DS games (American Sk8land and Downhill Jam) as well?
Overall, the visuals in Proving Ground for the DS are decent and much improved. The environments that are available for the DS look phenomenal as they are huge and really add to that grungy skate boarding atmosphere. The details in the buildings and the water reflections are very impressive. Sure, the landscapes and city environments are not as slick looking on the DS as they are on the Xbox 360, but overall it looks good and certainly rivals any other open-world game of sorts on the DS to date. Some of the skate parks are also equally impressive offering lots of variety for all Tony Hawk and skater fans out there. I was also impressed with how smooth the game ran as there was no real slow down at all. Last but not least, the menus are also worth mentioning. The menu's in the game are slick looking and also very easy to navigate. Interestingly enough they also seem to run smoother and quicker than they did in previous instalments of the franchise.
With the positive though there is some negative. The character models do suffer a bit and I am left with the impression that more could have been done in this area. The characters simply look a little misshaped with big arms and bony knees. Also, there really isn't much in the way of detail with the characters either. Granted the poor models may be due to the limitations of the machine, however we have seen much superior looking characters on the DS in recent years. Fortunately the character models are my only concern with regards to the visuals.
As with the Xbox 360 version, I was very impressed with the games audio. Proving Ground features arguably one of the best soundtracks I have heard in a DS game for quite some time. The game features ample tracks with popular bands such as Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, The Rolling Stones, and The Beastie Boys all having tracks in the game. All-in-all the track list is impressive and adds a lot of flavor to the game.
The in-game sounds are also very strong and on par with previous Tony Hawk games on the DS. Sounds such as the board rolling along, flipping and smacking the pavement are all bang-on. The Tony Hawk series has truly perfected all those sounds we have come to expect with skater games, even on a portable machine. Overall, Proving Ground is solid in the audio department and I really didn't have any significant concerns with it.
As far as the gameplay is concerned, Proving Ground is on par with other Tony Hawk games that have come out on the DS, and this is likely my biggest concern as it is still a little too much of the 'same old'. Don't get me wrong, by itself Proving Ground for the DS is fun game and anyone picking it up for the first time may very well be blown away with it. Yet, I am still left with this feeling that despite all the new features that the core gameplay is too similar. I think it's time for the franchise to take an extended holiday to give itself time to re-evaluate and come up with a new gameplan.
In many ways, Tony Hawk's Proving Ground is similar to its predecessors featuring a good mix of Tony Hawk's Sk8land and Downhill Jam. For instance, Proving Ground features the aggro kick, which works very well I might add. The aggro kick is a vital skill for gaining speed and clearing gaps as the skater propels himself for a speed boost. The boost becomes even larger if used three times in succession. Other changes from previous Tony Hawk games include the footplant (helps you go higher off the half-pipes) and a hold/endless point system (grab the board longer and get more points). Proving Ground also uses two main gameplay modes: Story mode uses the system introduced in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4, and Classic mode uses a system originally used in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1.
Story mode essentially consists of skating around a level and talking to various NPC’s in an effort to get a single goal, and you are timed while you do this. Available goals can be played in any order, and are unlocked in a level as you keep finishing them. As far as goal types are concerned, Proving Ground offers a variety of them to challenge your gaming skills. For instance, one goal has you following a camera man while you do tricks. Other goals include touch screen controlled tests. All in all they are a pretty good mix of challenges. These different goals in the game can be completed with an amateur, pro, or sick rating. An amateur rating is not much of a problem to obtain. In fact, most if not all of you will obtain this rating on the first try. The pro ratings are not too much more difficult either. Sick ratings on the other hand are seemingly impossible. Perhaps for the most hardcore Tony Hawk gamer this is not much of a problem, but the sick rating seemed almost out of reach for me.
As far as replay value is concerned, Proving Ground does have an online multiplayer component to the game. Although I did not spend nearly as much time in it as I should have what I did manage to play was really quite enjoyable and it was a surprisingly smooth experience.
Tony Hawk's Proving Ground is another solid addition to the franchise and is the best Tony Hawk game on the DS to date. It may not be incredibly ground breaking or innovative, but for fans of the franchise Proving Ground brings back some of the great aspects of the previous games with some new twists and turns. Overall Proving Ground for the DS is perfect for almost anyone including skate boarding fans and casual gamers on the go alike.