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Reviewed: Tony Hawk's Underground 2
Producer: Activision
Required System: Gameboy Advance
Overall Rating:
Author: Michael Ahlf
Date: November 1st, 2004

The Tony Hawk series of games has been a hot commodity on consoles since the very first Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. When the Gameboy Advance hit markets, Activision saw an opportunity - a mobile system that could theoretically handle some version of the Tony Hawk games.

The results were messy at best. The first few attempts saw levels imported to the game straight from the original consoles, and kludgy controls. Motion wasn't slowed down enough, resulting in fuzzy graphics during high-speed maneuvers. In all, though they sold well, the mobile games couldn't hold up to the main console titles.

Activision's not there yet, but as the fifth GBA title in the series Tony Hawk's Underground 2 finally shows some promise. With changes made, better level design, and the new "focus" ability it's playable and fun.

The first thing gamers will notice about THUG2 for the GBA is that the action is significantly slowed down - no more lightning speed at the touch of a button. On consoles, fast is usually good, but on the GBA it's not; the screen can't handle full-screen motion past a certain point, resulting in blurs. The slowed-down action also makes it a little easier to do multiple maneuvers involving tapping the L and R buttons, which is important for gamers with the Gameboy Advance SP and its smaller form factor.

The level design has been significantly improved, and the camera angle tweaked. It's still in the good old 3/4 perspective (the GBA just can't handle a rotational persepective, I guess) but the angle has been altered slightly. Ramps angled to the bottom right corner of the screen can still become invisible if they've got a wall or ramp next to them, but there are significantly less areas than previous Tony Hawk titles for the GBA that allow that to happen. More polygons have been reserved for the maps as well, but a tradeoff had to be made; people in the game are now a blocky collection of approximately 15-20 polygons each with a texture overlay. It's not bad at a distance, but the between-level cutscenes are horrible.

The move list hasn't changed much at all; flip tricks, grab tricks, special tricks, manuals, and grinds are the order of the day. The Natas Spin, new to the series entirely, has been placed in and is actually easier to pull off in this version than on the console side. Temper tantrums as in the console edition have been added also; instead of a massive button tap, it's a button sequence, and instead of letting players use the tantrum to start a combo (difficult, but possible, to do in the console editions) a succesful tantrum returns approximately 1/2 of the lost combo's points.

Challenges are expanded, but it's not all good. This version is much more nonlinear than the last THUG for GBA - that's a good thing. It allows players to wander around and talk to characters to get goals. Once a goal is open, it stays open; quite a few times, I gave up on a goal, only to find myself completing it at the same time as another goal by accident. In addition, the designers have added extra characters ("teammates" like in the console version) and "team challenges". The extra characters are good, but the "team challenges" too often resolve around doing the same exact thing with the created player and then a teammate. On the console versions where the characters have some differences (especially the secret guests) it's a good thing, but on the GBA it's more make-work that players will get tired of doing.

In terms of music and sound, the game is unfortunately garbage; I found myself existing better by turning the music off and just playing. Where the console versions have a well-pedigreed soundtrack of 50 songs (including a Frank Sinatra track), the GBA version has short clips out of some of the tunes that just aren't fun to listen to. Frankly, MIDI versions of the tracks would have been preferable to the bad 8-bit mini-recordings GBA players who buy this title will be subjected to. The sound effects are likewise pretty simple; "oof", "ow", "thud", "clack" and the nails-on-chalkboard sound that is the "grinding" noise; repeat until you just turn the sound off and play without it.

On the positive side, there's the new usage of the Special meter: the "Focus" maneuver. Focus allows players to slow down the action even further, for proper timing during especially hard maneuvers. This allows for some really odd, wierd combos and finishing off maneuvers with impressive tricks.

There's also the new stat point system. Rather than simply gain stat points for advancing a level, stat points come from things the player does. Want more air? Do multiple grab tricks in a combo. More grind? Prove you can handle it by grinding a length of time or doing multiple grind tricks. It's not a bad concept, but getting the higher options usually involves using the Focus maneuver to get it down properly.

Is the game golden, wonderful, superb? Of course not. I can't justify giving it more than 3 stars. Still, it's the best Tony Hawk for the GBA yet. Pick it up if you want mobile Tony Hawk gaming, just remember to turn the sound off.

Added:  Tuesday, November 02, 2004
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 1/2

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