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JadeDragon's reviews and playing tips: Tapwave Zodiac games

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 by Semilogic, Price: $29.99. Available for sale on Tapwave's web site.
Reviewed March 2005 by Alex Lifschitz

One of the most anticipated titles for the Tapwave Zodiac was Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4. After all, Activision's prolific skateboarding series had a good pedigree, and the handheld titles were top-notch. But somewhere along the line, things got screwed up. This title tried to grind the rail, but it just ate pavement.

The gameplay of THPS4 is practically nonexistent. Like in all the other hawks, you go on assorted missions, this time from pedestrians, to find items, or get a high score, or collect letters. However, the duration of the fun in these missions is surprisingly short. Many items are placed in ridiculously difficult-to-reach areas, and if you fail to get it, most of the time you need to do it from the beginning. There is a noticeable lack of significant rewards for your painstaking efforts, with perhaps another trick or an upgraded stat for an hour of trying to reach that last damn dollar bill. Many times, you may just be wasting your time in missions, trying to figure out how to get onto a ledge. The poor level design makes it hard to string together a satisfying combo chain, with rails too far apart or ending too abruptly, unless you're a master who can manual your way across a map, or pull off a diagonal rail transfer, which is actually quite difficult in this game. The frustration far outweighs the rewards. The game does have the standard Hawk repertoire, with the ability to customize your deck, stats, tricks, and to a certain degree, your looks. It's hard to notice the little details, but its a little fun to toy around with. Bluetooth multiplayer is there, but the range of options is pretty limited. It also has your standard free skate and career modes, as well as the ability to get missions from pedestrians, though most of them are the same from level to level. It's actually quite easy to perform scoring missions, which takes away the challenge and satisfaction. On the first level, I found that grinding a roundabout three times around will almost always net you all the points you need.

The controls are okay for this title. The character turns intuitively, and once you get over the view, it's relatively easy to maneuver your way around the levels. However, it's hard to correctly line up your skater after a vert trick unless you're almost spot-on with your direction. You'll find it hard to jump rails that aren't lined up, or tilt your way into a half-pipe without falling off the board. The buttons also feel a bit clumsy for transitions, but you get used to it after a while. Diagonal rail transfers are a pain, as the overly-sensitive balance meter is assigned to the turn directions, so most of the time, instead of jumping to the other rail, you'll simply bail off the board.

The graphics for this game are one of the truly low points. The isometric view is confusing at times, and really hurts when trying to re-orient your controls to the new direction your skater is facing. The 3d model for your character is really only a step above GBA quality, and the textures are muddy and blocky. The pedestrians are a simple mass of pixels without faces, and are strangely about twice your size. The N-Gage has a fully 3D Tony Hawk game, and the Zodiac has more graphical power, so there was really no excuse not to make it fully 3D. It's practically below the quality of the GBA Hawk titles, and the fact that this system's games thrive on graphical prowess is yet another blow to the title. However, most of the graphic trouble belongs to the earlier levels, but even the later levels still look blah-tastic when compared to what the Zodiac is capable of. Most of the graphics are pretty bad, but my biggest gripe is that they could have done so much more with this game.

The sound is average at best. The rock/rap soundtrack, while muffled, is still a nice, yet expected, touch to the game. Aside from that, the sounds are pretty limited. There's the sound of your board switching, landing, grinding, and you character grunting as he hits the pavement, and that's practically it. The game is simple, so the lack of variety in the sounds is somewhat excusable. However, a system that can crank out MP3s would have more a punch if all was well in the land of Hawk.

 

 

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This game simply falls flat in almost every category. The graphics are muddy and pixilated, aside from the somewhat decent character model. The sound is average, the isometric viewpoint and missions are frustrating, and the lack of significant rewards will take you out of the game. The replay value is practically nil, and the only saving grace is the decent controls. There is some fun in the later levels, namely the skate park, but it really can't save this game. This game is strictly fan-only, and even in that case, it's a love-it-or-leave-it affair. Don't get me wrong; the potential is still here for a Tony Hawk game on the Zodiac. Just not this one.

Playing Hints and Tips

- When trying to score big points, most of the time you can find a single rail or pipe to net you every point you need real fast.
- When attempting a new mission, scope out the area or route you need to take first to make sure you know all the surprises that might be coming your way.
- Look for ramps or rails with a special bonus for pulling off tricks on them. They will act as a score multiplier and make a high score that much easier.
- Spring for the SD card of this game. If you end up hating it like I did, you can always return or sell it.
- If you're intent on keeping this game, try and stick it out to the more entertaining later levels.

Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):

Graphics

Muddy, blocky, pixilated, and generally unattractive. This could have been so much better, especially on the Zodiac.

Sound

The soundtrack can get on your nerves, but for what it is, it’s standard for a handheld Hawk.

Fun Meter

The missions are frustrating and repetitive. They quickly become more of a chore than a pleasure.

Addictivity

You’ll find it pretty easy to put this one down once you realize how near-impossible it is to do certain objectives, but for some reason, you’ll keep on tryin’.



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