Most Tony Hawk games on Game Boy Advance don’t have much in common with their console-based inspirations. Sure, they’ve got the family name, but not the gameplay or the addictive quality. Kiss those hack jobs goodbye: Tony Hawk’s American Sk8land for Nintendo DS has the same gravity-defying move sets and over-the-top objectives likes as its bigger brother, even if it’s still clearly the baby of the family.
Like American Wasteland on the GameCube, the similarly titled American Sk8land casts you as a Midwest skater who comes to Los Angeles to build the ultimate skatepark with your new punky friends. It’s a kinder, gentler version of the console plots - Tony befriends you as soon as you get off the bus instead of having you prove yourself. As you explore the city, strangers will offer you trick tips on kickflips, plus they’ll give you cash to fund your custom skatepark. It’s all done with friendly, cel-shaded cartoony graphics intended to make the kiddies feel right at home.
Since Nintendo handhelds have been stuck in two dimensions for years, it’s cool that the DS can handle true Tony gameplay, in 3D and everything. The rest of Sk8land has been tailored for DS. Special moves are no longer triggered by a fancy combination of buttons; now they’re just touch-screen icons that you thwack with your thumb.
Drawing your own custom skate deck designs and graffiti tags makes the best use of the touchy tech, and a helpful map on the lower screen makes your goals easier to see. Simple and solid Wi-Fi support offers not only a friends tracking system but downloadable challenges and five different multiplayer games. Somebody thought good and hard about the hardware before writing this one.
Well, maybe not quite enough thought went into Sk8land after all: tiny DS buttons make tight and efficient combos downright painful, and unless you set your sights on buffing your skater’s speed stats from the get-go, the pokey pace of play will put you to sleep. Still, American Sk8land’s big-boy perks and authentic, satisfying feel make it the best Nintendo handheld offering of the franchise.