Tony Hawk's American Sk8land (Game Boy Advance) Review

By Barry Lewis 09.12.2005

The Tony Hawk series is quite possibly the most rehashed franchise out-with the Mario Party or EA Sports titles. Each Christmas you would be a fool to bet against the main man of skating turning up in stores and under trees throughout the country. But this obviously equates to people buying them, and in-turn they must be good, right? Sadly our industry doesn't quite work that way, but is this game a hit or a miss...

After the resounding success of Tony Hawk Pro Skater on home consoles the decision was made to move the next instalment onto the Game Boy Advance. Since then the little wonder has received every single console version, developed by Vicarious Visions, but in a naturally smaller form. Keen to take advantage of a new platform, Activision broke from tradition and announced a Tony Hawk game for the GBA and Nintendo DS, one that didn't try to emulate the latest console iteration. Things looked good for the DS, the increased power afforded true three-dimensional display, as well as the ability to develop the first ever cel-shaded handheld game. But while VV dreamed of how they could improve the series on newer Hardware and with an online service, some head scratching was in order for the GBA version.

To remain true to the name, Tony Hawk's American Sk8land, the game had to now emulate another bigger brother, one with a tough to employ graphical technique. Speculation was rife when the DS was released surrounding the ability to employ the cel-shaded approach, and we now know the answer to that, but how on earth could the little stalwart manage such a feat? The truth here is it didn't, instead the team simply just drew a black line around the skaters and scenery, thus giving off the impersonation of a cel-shaded engine without running one. This rather clever idea works a treat, and a potential hurdle is easily avoided. Very rarely this odd graphical trick will work to your undoing, simple textures, or lack thereof, can sometimes lead to you either missing a certain path or seeing one that isn't there. But as a package American Sk8land is impressive stuff for the little handheld. Character animations are solid and the pseudo 3D environment is much preferred to the guaranteed-to-be terrible attempts at a 3D engine on the GBA. It is just a shame so many developers are opting for the latter these days...

Screenshot for Tony Hawk's American Sk8land on Game Boy Advance

Another Hardware limitation that this game could have suffered from, especially with the new breed of portables doing the rounds, was the music. Surprisingly the little mono speaker actually packs a solid punch, with the generic skater tunes found in the Tony Hawk series all there and present, though small in number. Naturally you won't be rushing off to dust down a tape deck and grab them for casual listening, but they compliment the game well and sound pretty top notch. Some of the SFX samples can start grating after a while, but that could be down to our stunning ability to hit walls. But really it would be harsh to criticise a developer for our faults, and there really is some impressive work to be found. Most notably the little sound effect of the wheel spinning after an ollie makes an appearance, and other effects such as the wheel-on-concrete or wheel-on-rail are incredibly realistic.

While American Sk8land would have been even better on more enhanced Hardware, Vicarious Visions has really built up experience working on so many titles for the platform. With both graphics and sound at the upper end of performance, it is a little inconsiderate to yet-again mention aforementioned limits, but that's our job really. The Tony Hawk series is well known for exploration and scenery, and it's here that the slight problems can arise. When traversing a city you can often find the display to be purely a road, and learning your way around a locale can be quite difficult with this in consideration. It really is the better of two evils it must be noted, with this being much preferred to a pixelated and shaky three-dimensional engine.

Screenshot for Tony Hawk's American Sk8land on Game Boy Advance

Technical details aside you have two main single player game modes to choose from, Story and Classic. Story mode begins with the allocation of a very rudimentary avatar to pose as you during gameplay. As your character begins life as a skater, with a handy twist of fate, Tony Hawk visits your (not very complex) local skate park to promote safety. He gives you basic tips on how to play the game in the form of goals; ollie over the rail by pressing B, grind the rail with A, grab with R and so on. After completing these goals you then move on to your first city location. Instead of being a performing monkey for Tony Hawk you now have to explore the city. As you grind your way through the area some people sport a red ring around them, just like Hawk at the Skate Park. By speaking to these people you can obtain further goals, and as you complete these goals, such as scoring a certain point trick or finding an item, you build up your skaters skill or board/clothing range.

The game doesn't really get much deeper than this, but many tasks in the first region are far too hard, meaning that you will complete a certain amount, Tony Hawk appears to test you, and you then move on to the next region. Amidst the region-swapping goal-beating fun there is also a side quest, as you meet various characters a new mission to restore Tony Hawk's now dilapidated original skate factory begins. Much like the main missions you need to search for certain characters, and by helping them find items or transport items, you can acquire key services needed to restore the building. Deep probably isn't the word for American Sk8land, but the gameplay is surprisingly good, much like a classic Pro Skater game. The controls are tight and responsive with the only real complaint coming from the lack of buttons. You see a skating game really requires 4 actions at the minimum, grab, flip, jump and grind. Having to use the A/B and L/R combos at speed and length isn't the most practical situation, I think we can chalk this down as another slight Hardware limitation though.

Screenshot for Tony Hawk's American Sk8land on Game Boy Advance

Now then, Classic mode. If you've played a classic Tony Hawk game, this doesn't need a huge explanation. You can pick from any number of famous skaters and within a two-minute time limit you have to complete a number of listed tasks. These range from scoring a specific high score, with three increments of difficulty, to spelling out the words 'skate' or 'combo' by picking up the correct letters dotted around in hard to reach places. The latter word, combo, is a right expletive deleted. As the word may suggest you need to pick up all five characters within the same combo move, this results in a difficult chain of grinding, vert piping and manuals all at once. The aforementioned problem with regards to button configuration can really bite like a pitbull here.

Sadly the word problem has cropped up again, because Tony Hawk American Sk8land on the GBA really is a damn fine game. Graphically lovely, some excellent sound quality and some great gameplay when things aren't getting in your way. Some could even argue that with the raw ethics of THAS, and the rather abstract console versions, this is how the game should be done. Sadly while the game is so close to jumping out at you and demanding your time, there is always a little Hardware niggle that creeps up, and level design can be a bit poor in places. It's certainly well worth your play if you come across a copy, and if the GBA is your only platform you could do much worse than grabbing this.

Screenshot for Tony Hawk's American Sk8land on Game Boy Advance

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

In all honesty we didn't think Tony Hawk's American Sk8land on the GBA would be much fun, but it really is. Sporting a sexy graphical style, some mightily impressive music / sound samples and gameplay as good as it was back in the day. Certainly not a title to immediately eBay if Santa brings you a copy this year, and kudos to Vicarious Visions for some top work on a little system.

Developer

Vicarious Visions

Publisher

Activision

Genre

Sport

Players

2

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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