Take the concept of the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater franchise, remix it from the ground up to be more mobile-friendly, and you get Tony Hawk's Skate Jam, the first mobile game to be approved by The Birdman himself. The game features more than passable graphics, large worlds to skate in, and a wide range of modes and extras to stave off boredom.
Fans who are used to the usual tight, demanding physics and brutality of console Tony Hawk entries will be in for a shock. Skate Jam features a much more newbie-friendly system with floatier physics that offer a lot of correction for player error, and much more opportunity to fix any screw-ups you've made. The game is available for free right now in the Play Store.
Background: From the Playstation and Nintendo 64 days onward, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater has been known for tight controls, realistic physics, hardcore punk and rap soundtracks that matched the skate culture of the time, and levels that concentrated literally millions of possibilities into a space you could walk across in less than a minute in each direction. Skate Jam throws all of that out the window for a gamble on something completely new.
For starters, the physics are a lot more forgiving and less realistic than any other series entry so far. The game feels "floaty", as stated before, in that you get tons of air no matter how long you press the jump button, there's a slight delay to all of your actions, and the game snaps you to trick spots like rails if you miss them on your own.
The environments are also a new deal. The skating action pieces are less dense, giving players more room to breathe, while the levels themselves are much larger than just about anything outside of open-world Tony Hawk games like the Underground and American Wasteland spinoffs.
While you can use a controller, the experience remains about the same. Things have been simplified for a mobile audience, and the game experience has been broken up into bite-sized chunks. Some examples of the simplification include the loss of the ability to choose how high you jump, the restriction of lip tricks to only certain fixtures, and falling off of a rail intact when losing your balance instead of wiping out like you did in older games.
The music, meanwhile, has shifted away from the hard stuff found in older games. Here, there's a good mix of punk, indie, flow, and tons of other genres to provide a more well-rounded soundtrack compared to the aggressive scores of old. Additionally, the game's mix seems to consist mostly of bands that aren't wildly popular, meaning that many players will be grooving along to things they've never heard before as they rack up sick scores.
One of the key new features in this game is Hawk Mode. As you get your score up, bag objectives, nab collectibles, and otherwise rock out on the course, you'll fill up your Hawk Meter. Fill it all the way up, and you'll be able to turn into Tony Hawk for a short time. This comes with a massive boost to all of your stats, making it a great way to nail big air combos or tricky street runs that your own character just can't handle.
If you're not a purist for the older games and you adapt to the new engine and experience, you'll find that the game's many modes give you tons to do. There's the classic career mode that sends you through a range of scenic locales to complete objectives, free skate is of course on board, and now, you can even participate in online tournaments with big rewards. A pre-season is on right now, and soon, the game will be going into its very first tournament season.
On the subject of gear, there are three different disciplines in the game, reflected across four different types of boards. You can get a vert board for big air, a park board for better tricking, and a street board that's refined for skating around in casual environments. There are also special Tony Hawk boards that combine the three types.
You start the game with your own semi-customizable character, can can unlock up to 10 different characters. They all have their own looks and stats. It's worth noting that many of these characters are not available for purchase with in-game or premium currency from the get go, and have to be unlocked by playing the game.
This wouldn't be a free mobile game if there weren't ads, microtransactions, or both, and here, it's the latter. The ads aren't terribly intrusive; they don't happen in the middle of the action, and they don't come frequently. The microtransactions, meanwhile, consist mostly of boosts and gear for your character.
Impact: While this game definitely isn't classic Tony Hawk, it's close enough that it can easily be considered the best skating experience you're going to get on mobile, outside of emulating older console titles. It reportedly managed to work its way up the charts pretty quickly on iOS, and the story is likely to be similar on Android. If that happens, one can only hope that other mobile skating games will take note, and perhaps the franchise will see a return to form in the future.