I love this time of year. Leaves are falling, the semester is halfway finished, and everyone is trying to get their Christmas shopping done early. It’s also a busy time of the year for video game releases. As the weeks wind down to the holiday season, plenty of new titles are making their way to the American public. As many skateboarding fans know, the latest installment of the Tony Hawk series has rushed onto the shelves, just waiting to be picked up by the legions of fans all over the nation. How many of you are sitting there in your rooms with that fancy American Wasteland cover, executing combo after combo of incredibly realistic and technical maneuvers? How many of you are drooling with contentment as the legendary Tony Hawk skates across your television screens? No, there’s nothing wrong with picking up the latest edition of a genre that you love. But as the big skateboarding titles dominate the mainstream gaming scene, the competition is swept into oblivion. As the newest game practically flies off the shelves, Evolution Skateboarding remains standing unnoticed on store racks everywhere.
Grinding a nuclear missile looks a little dangerous if you ask me.
The game’s lack of recognition isn’t because it’s a particularly bad game. Hell, it’s not even because it doesn’t have Tony Hawk in it. Evolution Skateboarding offers a small roster of professional skaters, including the likes of Steve Williams and Danny Way. While their names don’t have the same kind of impact or fame as Mr. Hawk, these fellows are more than capable of skating their way through the various levels that the game has to offer. However, the selling point of this game is not really the roster of professional skaters. It’s the prospect of unlocking the secret characters that makes the game so enticing. If you complete a pro’s storyline, you’ll unlock one of the hidden Konami characters and have fun watching some classic characters skate around. There’s plenty of novelty in seeing Solid Snake or Raiden pulling off some combos. In the meantime, you must still complete the game with the default characters.
Ah, roast beef to 360 varial, of course.
Unlike the current Tony Hawk game setup, Evolution Skateboarding lets you choose one of the skaters and gives you free range around the level. You can wander around, doing whatever tricks and combos that strike your fancy. All of the levels come packed with rails, ledges, ramps, and plenty of other little surprises for you to uncover. However, you do have to actively pursue certain tasks if you hope to advance to the next level. The tasks usually revolve around the bland and unoriginal objectives found in plenty of other skateboarding games. You’ll usually have to grind a certain number of feet, attain a certain score, do a set amount of combos, and all the other basic stuff that comes standard with any game in this genre. While these tasks may seem pretty formidable at first glance, the lack of difficulty and the generous time limits will let you complete your goals with little trouble.
Yeah, I’ve got a pipe like that in my back garden. Honest.
Recognizing the bland style of the game setup, the game designers tried to spice things up by adding all sorts of kooky levels and objectives to complete. Unlike the realistic levels of the Tony Hawk series, Evolution Skateboarding lets you visit strange and varied locales, ranging from busy city streets to Mediterranean ports to Dracula’s castle. All of these levels cover wide expanses of area, offering plenty of space for high scoring runs. But as these levels have some novelty, they also come with their own unique objectives. Take Dracula’s castle for example. If you skate into a certain area, the Prince of Darkness will suddenly appear in front of you and summon some zombies. In order for you to escape, you’ll have to execute some tricks and grind over the zombie’s decomposed faces. In another level, you have to take on a big-rig truck that has lost control in the middle of town. You have to skate up to either side of the vehicle and grind your way over its countless tires if you hope to stop it. In another level, you have to grind over a roof and help Santa Claus get down a small chimney. Yeah, just try showing that to all those non-believers out there. These missions are just the tip of the iceberg of strange tasks waiting for you. While these objectives aren’t too difficult or technical, they offer more variation to an otherwise boring set of tasks.
However, it’s not the weird missions that will keep you on the edge of your seat. As you skate around the levels, it’ll become clear that it’s not the objectives that you should be worried about. It’s the laggy controls that will keep you on your toes. While this game allows for quite a few combos and maneuvers, it still lacks the responsiveness necessary to make the gameplay truly great. Unfortunately, these world-class skaters can’t turn on a dime or approach ramps at certain angles, making the controls seem rigid and unaccommodating. Also, the lag between the various maneuvers doesn’t allow for smooth transitions or sudden changes, forcing you to limit the amount of combos you can do at a time. Also, the game tends to slow down when your character goes a certain speed. Your character also has a tendency to stumble over ledges and fall through floors on occasion. When you factor in a handful of floor and wall glitches, you’ll find that you’ll have to pay closer attention to the game to have any hope of progressing.
The kickflip – skating bread and butter.
At least the presentation tries to make up for the lacking aspects. The game comes with nearly twenty music tracks of punk music for you to choose from. All of the NPCs have voices, ranging from various grunts and yells to the occasional angry threat or curse. But the real fun comes with the areas of the game. You’re allowed free reign in massive levels of decent detail and proportion. Sure, there are plenty of the usual ramps and rails, but it’s the quirky features that make each level something to enjoy. You can hit switches and open doors, activate a locomotive, grind along spiral staircases, break stained glass cathedral windows, and plenty other nifty little parts that make up the area. Also, you have quite a few characters roaming around the area, adding their novelty to the game. I mean, who doesn’t want to skate all over Dracula’s face? Who doesn’t want to laugh at seeing Santa stuck in a chimney? Heck, even the Japanese schoolgirls in the city level will curse at you in their native dialects. While the controls and glitches may give you some trouble, you can at least enjoy the humor that the game has to offer.
Even Snake gets in on the action.
It’s a really a shame that Evolution Skateboarding will go by unnoticed as time wears on. It isn’t necessarily a horrible game. It’s just one of those games that could have been something great, but ultimately failed in the end. It has all of the aspects that come standard with the genre. It tries to offer some humor and a little bit of fantasy to an otherwise bland game. But it suffers from a lack of difficulty and a few control and glitch issues. In the end, it just comes off as that other game you need to play when you’ve gotten too fed up with American Wasteland and you need to unwind with something a little less technical. Sure, it may not be the greatest skateboarding game to hit the Gamecube, but it’s still a cheap alternative to the mainstream titles out on the market now.