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JadeDragon's game reviews and playing tips: Sony PSP games
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Tony Hawk's Underground 2 Remix

Reviewed May 2005 by Tony Peak

Publisher: Activision
Developer: Shaba Studios
Release Date: March, 2005
ESRB Rating: "T" for Teen
Genre: Sports
Price: $49.99

In late 1999 the name Tony Hawk exploded onto the gaming scene with Neversoft's Tony Hawk's Pro Skater (THPS). Already almost synonymous with the popular image of pro skateboarding, the game helped to push Tony Hawk's public image further than ever. It was a game that, even if you knew nothing about extreme sports, anyone could enjoy playing and watching on its merits as a game alone.

Fast forward a few years and the Tony Hawk series has become quite a success for Neversoft and Activision on multiple consoles and handhelds. The Tony Hawk's Underground (THUG) series has replaced the Pro Skater series, with the main difference being a story mode and some extra variety in the levels and series' direction. Now Tony Hawk's Underground 2 has come to the PSP, but does it make the transition and does it still hold up?

Gameplay

In THUG fashion, story mode puts you in the shoes of a newbie skater. This time around however things are set to an MTV-like reality show of sorts where you and a bunch of skateboarding pros go on a "World Destruction Tour". During this tour you'll get various goals to complete, such as finding a celebrity, breaking some windows, or tagging some walls. In many ways it's unfortunately less like skateboarding and more like a platformer on a skateboard. There are some good improvements though, like stat increases for meeting specific challenges such as grinding for an amount of time, or getting a large air combo. These make a lot of sense and work very well.

The main problems with this mode are simply that the story is bad, the goals are not very fun to complete, and it doesn't focus much on the skateboarding anymore. Throwing objects at pedestrians or finding Steve-O just doesn't get me going the same way as making a new high score or pulling off a great combo. The control on foot is really quite frustrating, and there's no analog control at all on your board, but digital works well enough. The MTV-like storyline is just hard to put up with at times, it's so far over the top and out of touch that I really just wonder why they took such a mass appeal game and centered it squarely at the MTV crowd.

Thankfully THUG2 also includes "Classic Mode", which is basically the heart of the classic Tony Hawk Pro Skater games. You get a short time limit with various goals to complete, such as a 100,000 score, completing a grind, or collecting the word combo. Completing enough goals lets you move on to the next level in a branching path, giving some good replay. While the series unfortunately no longer focuses much on skate parks, the cities work very well for classic mode. Most importantly, your moves have seen some good improvements since the THPS days, especially in grinding, wall riding, manual, and linking combos together.

Graphics

THUG2 still looks very good overall, and the graphics generally work in the game's favor. The actual gameplay graphics tend to look better than the cut scenes however, since using actual famous skateboarders makes it that much easier for the human eye to spot irregularities than when you're flying around on a skateboard. The levels definitely benefit from the PSP's texture filtering and smaller screen resolution, and everything animates quite fluidly overall.

There are a few things that bug me, such as some occasional tearing in the levels and other little anomalies. I'm really not a fan of how the levels seem extremely open, but if you go down the wrong road too far suddenly you're thrust back into the playing field. It's quite hard to tell where the levels end sometimes, and leads to making the same mistake multiple times.

Sound

The low point of the game in my opinion, even lower than the story, is the music. The soundtrack basically consists of a general mishmash of punk rock, rap, oldies and alternative as recorded off the AM radio one day. It's almost incomprehensible how some of these titles wound up in the same soundtrack, and sadly the selection isn't very good to begin with. While there are a few good tracks, more often than not the songs are either horribly out of place, or generally sound like amplified white noise recorded through a microphone underwater. Extremely few fit the theme what so ever.

Conclusion

The only way I can see someone getting the maximum enjoyment out of this game is if you're a part of the MTV crowd. If you watch MTV on a daily basis, like reality shows, extreme sports, and think Steve-O as a guest appearance is a good idea, this is your game. You may even like the soundtrack, except maybe for a few oldies.

For everyone else, there is still classic Tony Hawk fun to be had here. Classic Mode still captures some of the fun of THPS 1-3, and Story Mode is tolerable at least once. Classic mode is almost undoubtedly where you'll spend your time, and thankfully the game does offer a fairly large amount of levels and goals. The game is retailing for $49.99, a large amount higher than its currently $29.99 console siblings on GameCube/Xbox/PS2, and a whopping 5x higher than the $9.99 PC version.

While portability, 4 exclusive levels, and 4 person wireless play are all well and good, I'd recommend waiting for a price drop and playing it on your PC or console of choice instead for the better control and extra buttons.

Playing Hints and Tips

- While air tricks are great, grinding is a lot of fun and can net some big scores. Double tap Triangle, Circle, or Square while grinding to switch it up a bit, and switch between them a lot.

- After a grind, manual when you hit the ground by pressing up then down quickly before you land. This will continue your combo. You can also do a revert when you land an air trick for the same effect.

- Switch up your tricks, or else you'll score less and less points each time. For every trick in the combo, your bonus multiplier increases. Try to mix in some lip tricks, grinds, flips, and even grabs. Don't forget about wallrides and sticker slaps to keep it going at a dead end.

- In story mode, try to build up your stats on the training level so that you'll be set for the story's goals.

Screen Shots

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Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):

Graphics

While the graphics look pretty clean and good, they are rather standard affair. The cut scenes don't fair too well, and generally things look a bit dated compared to the other PSP launch titles. The animation and camera is pretty good though, and little touches like the ability to import your face in the game are greatly appreciated.

Sound

It's a shame you can import your own face, but not your own soundtrack. I'll admit I'm not quite the target audience, but I feel there are enough sub par tracks and odd choices here that even if you do like some of it, you won't like the rest. The music really doesn't carry the Tony Hawk Pro Skater theme.

Fun Meter

For all my misgivings about the story mode, classic mode is still a good deal of fun. It's frustrating at times, but mastering the moves has always been a THPS staple. The story mode is tolerable at best and adds some longevity, even if the story itself is pretty bad.

Addictivity

If you do get into the game, there're a lot of options to keep you going. Classic and Story mode each have a great amount of goals and secrets. There're 16 levels, 13 multiplayer mini-game modes, and an impressive amount of customizable options. Create-a-Skater, a-Graphic, a-Goal, and a-Trick mode are all very welcomed. Unfortunately, if you've already played the console or PC version, you've played the majority of the game.

Total Score= 3.75 Dragons, 75%



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