Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam

One day we'll all be 37 with bad knees and aching ankles. Unlike Tony Hawk though, we're unlikely to be multimillionaires or have landed a 900, let alone completing both.

Okay, so he's a brilliant sportsman but when it comes to Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam, 'his' eighth game with Activision, surely the mechanics have become as loose as his joints?

No, as it happens. It's not a spring chicken but the wheels certainly haven't fallen off Downhill Jam. Because unlike the previous Tony Hawk games, instead of being set in ramp-packed skate parks and challenging you to find and milk the various trick points in a horizontal, suburban environment, this one sees you racing down roads, slopes, hills – in fact anything with a permanent downhill incline.

Turning you into a skater/ racer, you'll join Tony's crew of downhill dudes speeding down drops in locations like San Francisco, Peru and, erm, Scotland, completing challenges at each location in order to win over rival crews and then progress to the next place.

A fairly decent set of training challenges teaches you how to control your board, and they're pitched competitively enough to make sure that those unfamiliar with previous Tony Hawk titles won't be left in the cold.

Indeed, Downhill Jam's streamlined approach to skating, which puts speed first and tricks second, suggests the game's primary goal is to widen its audience and draw in newcomers. It's an interesting idea (close in spirit to EA's SSX games), and for the most part the game successfully offers both the thrill and frustration of a racer and the trick-pulling adventure of skateboarding.

A decent boost function linked to the number and quality of tricks you pull off (you're ranked throughout in Style points) means you're always looking for the next grind or ollie in order to win a race or beat an enemy skater. The challenges are fairly varied too and you only have to complete a handful to keep proceeding, which almost allows you to focus your efforts on a certain style or way of trick-racing.

It's not a completely smooth a ride, however. As the game progresses, the goals you have to fulfil are either easy peasy or rock hard – the latter ones made all the more frustrating by fiddly controls and sometimes imprecise action.

The tricks use almost every one of the DS' buttons (and there are certain special tricks awkwardly activated via the touchscreen), and many of the challenges hinge on you successfully chaining together combo performances, with the best rewards coming from rolling into the air, spinning or grinding, and then landing, perfectly.

But with many of the challenges doubling up as races or competitions where you're directly competing with other skaters, it becomes difficult to pull of the perfect move, and unfairly so. Rival characters are aggressive to the point of obnoxiousness, ridiculously knocking and disrupting you, even when it comes at a detriment to their own performance.

Perhaps to make up for the more shallow or inconsistent aspects, the game is packed with choice. You can free skate the levels you've unlocked or enter quick races. There are customisation elements too, such as letting you create a logo for your skater or record a custom cheer for them using the DS microphone.

There's multiplayer over wi-fi as well, which works fine adhoc with you and a friend but can be incredibly lonely via Nintendo's global Wi-Fi Connection service online. Well, we've sat around for ages waiting for a match.

So, what we're left with is a trade-off. At heart, Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam offers a solid game, if a bit of a shallow one. There are plenty of activities to try out, but not all of them are fulfilling.

Ironically, those looking for the classic Hawk's experience are more likely to persist and enjoy the core of the game, rather than the newcomers that the new racing and stylised visuals seem designed to attract. Like skateboarding itself then, it's the bumps that you'll rise on.

Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam

Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam is an interesting take on boarding, but variety comes at the expense of true excellence