Although the 'sport' of skateboarding has been fashionable amongst youngsters for three decades now, my own personal career as a 'sk8er boi' was mercifully brief; so brief, in fact, that it could be measured in minutes rather than months. Almost as soon as I stepped on my newly purchased deck, I was on my arse with a bruised head and one seriously concerned parent.
Thankfully the evergreen Tony Hawk (now the ripe old age of 40) didn't give up on his dream so easily. He's the world's most famous skateboarder and despite his retirement from professional competition in 1999, continues to thrill audiences worldwide via a phenomenally successful series of video games, the latest of which – Tony Hawk's Motion – has landed on the DS.
But whereas the home console editions of Hawk's games have endured a torrid time recently thanks to the emergence of EA's superlative Skate, this handheld instalment is a very different proposition as it attempts to bring accelerometer-control into the equation.
The game is bundled with a Motion Pack that slots into the GBA slot of the DS (something which instantly makes the game obsolete with the newly launched DSi). We've seen such motion packs included with other games – like Ubisoft's My Health Coach – but here the developer is obviously trying to capture some of the Wii-loving crowd with a similar gesture-controlled interface.
Sadly, the implementation of this technology goes down about as well as an open bar at an Alcoholics Anonymous' Christmas party. The pack itself is fairly responsive but the game to which it is tied is hopelessly ill-conceived and betrays the developer's complete lack of confidence in the whole concept.
You see, motion control is only used for turning your boarder left and right; other commands are mapped to the (more traditional) buttons of the DS. For example, to actually get your character moving at the start of a level you'll need to press the L shoulder button. It's a good job that there's a screen telling you this before you start playing, otherwise most players would simply sit there for five minutes tilting their DS consoles in all manner of directions like a curious chimp with a new toy in a vain attempt to grant their digital alter ego some kind of traction.
Other commands such as flip tricks, grabs and jumps (or 'ollies' if you wish to use skater-speak) are also executed via button commands – which is totally counter-intuitive and renders the much-hyped motion control rather pointless. To be blunt, Tony Hawk's Motion would be a better game had the developer ignored this tiresome 'unique selling point' entirely. The inclusion of accelerometer control merely serves to impede the experience, as tight turns cause you to instinctively tilt the DS in an aggressive fashion, meaning that you can't actually see the screen.
So the control method is a failure (and not a very noble one at that) but it would be easy to forgive such optimistic endeavours if the rest of the product was up to scratch. Unfortunately, this is far from the case.
The first thing that hits you is the lack of tangible progression within the game itself – especially after the last few Tony Hawk titles had tried so hard to give the player a means of measuring their rapidly improving performance via a drip-feed of upgrades and enhancements.
Here, there's nothing. You simply create your skater, complete challenges (of which there aren't anywhere near enough) and that's your lot. You have no sense of advancement within the game world whatsoever, and there's nothing to keep playing for because you can't 'upgrade' your avatar.
The presentation of the game is also unforgivably sloppy. Menu design is amateurish and confusing; a mishmash of garish primary colours and messy, almost illegible text. The in-game graphics may trot along smoothly enough but character models are bereft of detail and personality, and level design is embarrassingly basic at times.
Essentially, the main problem with Tony Hawk's Motion is that it simply doesn't feel like a Tony Hawk game. The first level we played featured snowboarding as opposed to skateboarding, which strikes us as needlessly confusing and only serves to reinforce the overall feeling of detachment from the franchise.
As if to prove this point beyond reproach, Activision has also included a separate (and totally unconnected) game called Hue: Pixel Painter. More of a tech demo to showcase the capabilities of the Motion Pack than a fully-fledged game, it's a mild diversion that ironically offers more enjoyment than the headline act. Yet it's still undeniably basic and won't hold your attention for any length of time; you could pick an accelerometer-enabled iPhone game at random and it would probably be more entertaining.
Given the gravitas of the Tony Hawk franchise, it's astonishing that this game ever got past the concept stage. The control system is ill-judged, the core gameplay is basic and the presentation is as rough as a badger's posterior.
It's fairly easy to see why Activision's top execs greenlit Tony Hawk's Motion, though – the Motion Pack will simply scream 'You know, just like the Wii!' to casual punters and the presence of Mr Hawk's face on the box is bound to attract old fans. But the execution is sloppy and the fact that the game is completely unplayable on the soon-to-be-massive DSi means that everyone involved has effectively wasted their time. Just make sure you don't waste yours by picking this up.