Get Ready to Race
The first thing I thought when I popped in the disc was oh, it's like Tony Hawk the Animated Series in terms of graphical styling. I am aware of the SSX comparisons, and Downhill Jam really does remind me of SSX 3--which is certainly not a bad thing.
Right off the bat, you can play as Tony Hawk, Gunnar (a muscular Norwegian), Kyla (a hip-hop diva), and MacKenzie(decidely British); and everyone has different attributes, differing from SSX in a positive way. True to form, you can also create your own skater. There is a brief but ample tutorial at the beginning that gets you comfortable with the controls. You'll learn you must tilt the Wiimote to steer, much like Excite Truck. Hold down "2" to speed up and release it to Ollie. Press "2" again for a grab trick or press "1" for a flip. Pressing the D-pad before any of these results in a trick variation. The result is an easy to use control scheme that lets you jump right into the action, but still save some special moves for you to really master.
You'll find unlockable skaters, boards, outfits, artwork, videos, and sound bytes, as you would expect in a Tony Hawk game. As you progress through the game, you will "rank up," which unlocks new events for you to conquer. Each even you win results in points for you character's rank. The system is fair and challenging. For instance, if there is an event you have a tough time on, you can reply a previous event for a better rank (and high score) and earn yourself a few more points.
The events you'll find throughout Downhill Jam are surprisingly varied. You'll encountered races, slalom courses, trick challenges, elimination rounds, in addition to special events like distance grinding and damage value (cause the most monetary destruction). The racing conveys a sense of speed, not quite as fast as SSX: On Tour--you are on a skateboard after all and not a snowboard--but fast enough to make you feel as if you're really crusing. Shortcuts abound in each of the tracks, which adds a little extra challenge to mastering each track.
Environments are somewhat interactive, in that you must avoid or grind on vehicles driving down the roads or you'll crash. (Just shake the controller to get yourself back on your board.) You can hit people (and other skaters) to get a huge bonus for your boost meter (which you trigger by shaking the controller or pressing "B"). You can also destroy trash cans, benches, fruit stands, and other things if you skate into them or do tricks on them. You can grind on power lines and the edges of buildings (by the way, just Ollie and hold "1" to grind, tilting the Wiimote to retain your balance).
To tie the events together, one character gets interviewed between each event. It's light-hearted humor, but it's also skippable if you don't care for it. The quality of voiceovers and animation is very high, with several other real skaters, as well as Tony Hawk lending their voices and personalities to the characters.
The mulitplayer component adds another layer to the game, offering up to four-player split-screen competition. It's not all head-to-head racing, however. Downhill Jam offers up a variety of mini-events to battle against your friends. The standard races and slalom events are there, of course, but you will also find elimination, destruction, and trick events. The mini-events can be played one at a time or as part of a larger series--fostering a tournament atmosphere.
After getting about 79% through the game, I am left with this impression: "It's like SSX 3 on wheels." So, if you like the SSX games, Downhill Jam will appeal to you. If you like everything Tony Hawk before American Wasteland, Downhill Jam might not do it for you. This is purely a racing game where you do tricks in order to build up your boost meter so you can race faster.