Genre: Extreme Sports
Release Date: 10/09/2002
Evolution Skateboarding is the unofficial follow-up to Konami’s last extreme sports outing: ESPN X-Games. Fans of that game *stifles a chortle* will be glad to know that this version delivers on its alleged claims of “evolution”, which is to say that compared to their last lackluster skating entry it is marginally improved. When compared against other, more well-known, skating games like Aggressive Inline or the recently released Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 however, Evolution Skateboarding comes off as a blatant attempt to cash in on the current extreme sports craze. I don’t know, maybe the developers really tried to pull out all the stops to make this game stand out from the crowd, I say that because Evolution Skateboarding incorporates a few interesting quick-combo features and boss fights. Yes, boss fights. But irregardless of their attempts to put a quirky spin on the tried-and-true trick-formula, the end result is a dull skateboarding game with unresponsive game play and a completely unsatisfying trick-system.
With Tony Hawk 4 currently out on store shelves you really have to ask “why would I want to buy Evolution Skateboarding?”, and the answer is simple: you don’t. Trust me on this one, THPS4 is ten times the skateboarding game this is, even without gimmicky, albeit fleetingly entertaining, boss-battles. The level design can be confused and awkward, the trick-system is all but unaltered relative to ESPN X-Games, and maneuvering your skater through tight areas is a full-on exercise in frustration.
As with the first few Tony Hawk games, you’ll be given a certain duration of time per run to complete various objectives. After satisfying the minimum amount of objectives you’ll be granted access to the next area. The thing about this is that each level only has a half-dozen or so objectives and they usually consist of things like “finding the secret item” or “crashing into all four crates”, that is when it isn’t generic requirements like grinding a certain distance or scoring a certain amount of points. In fairness though, the inclusion of boss battles in the career mode does successfully liven things up on occasion, although a bit more depth and intricacy could have made them more entertaining. As it is you’ll basically just need to grind certain areas of the boss to defeat it.
There is usually quite a bit to do in any given area of a level, but as far as intelligent design that allows for long strings of trick-combos, well, in this regard Evolution Skateboarding fails miserably. To make matters worse, it is unnecessarily difficult to keep a combo alive due to the fact that there is no revert. Apparently you are able to string together combos by holding up and the triangle button, but since vert-tricks rely heavily on the X button to gain altitude and since jumping into a grind also requires the use of the X button, it is difficult to keep the manual going while you attempt to hit the X button with the lower part of your thumb. Again, you just have to ask “why, for the love of God, why?”
Visually, Evolution Skateboarding looks like Tony Hawk 2.5, which isn’t necessarily bad, but compared to the current king of hill: Tony Hawk 4, it is hard to deny its outdated-ness. Frame rate runs at a steady clip, and the skaters and their surroundings are adequately detailed, but the game lacks polish and style. The small collection of tricks found in Evolution all look pretty good, though flip-tricks seem amusingly floaty and unrealistic.
As far as the aural presentation goes, it is the same song-and-dance staging that has been seen in countless skating games before it without the moniker of Tony Hawk attached to them. There is an announcer who repeats the tricks you just performed and offers quips and insults every now and then, but unsurprisingly he gets old and annoying after only a few hours. The sounds of grinding and landing on four wheels or crashing and burning all seem appropriate but hardly stand out in contrast to other similar titles on the market. Music is composed of 15 unique licensed tracks from bands like CKY and Unwritten Law, not a bad selection of tunes but not that great either.
Evolution Skateboarding is, on one hand, a skating game that attempts to mix things up with original ideas such as boss fights, quick-combo customizations, and a nifty sticker-editor. But on the flipside it is also a game that is barely successful on anything it tries to do: the game play is unresponsive, the tricks unsatisfying, the level design unintuitive, and even the boss-fights are pretty bland. Konami would be well-advised to stick with what they know, which is a lot, but apparently skateboarding isn’t one of them. The one saving grace, however, is the fact that Solid Snake can be unlocked by completing every coin objective with every player. A cool addition? Certainly. Does it justify a fifty-dollar price-tag? Pfff, no.