Marketing execs have a tendency to look at Disney properties as if they were the magical ingredient that goes good with anything. In years past, it seems like not much thought has gone into games that combine the Disney license with, say, soccer, golf, basketball, or football – to name just a few. Combining the Disney universe with the RPG genre resulted in the (in my opinion) over-hyped and under-delivered Kingdom Hearts, though that game does stand out as one of the few exceptions in my argument. This time, the wonderful world of Disney is symbiotically fusing with the extreme skateboarding genre, and as much as I wanted to chock this game up to just another statistic, I have to give Activision props for actually getting it right. Powered by the rock-solid Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 engine and streamlined for a younger audience, Disney’s Extreme Skate Adventure offers up an enjoyable experience for both the young and the young at heart.
Skate Adventure can be easily summed up as THPS4-lite. Like Pro Skater, you’ll ollie and grind your way through each expansive level and accomplish a series of goals to unlock new levels and other goodies. While there are plenty of Disney characters to choose from, they span only three different movies: Toy Story 2, Tarzan, and The Lion King. Each boasts three separate levels from the respective movie. There are also a handful of children skaters to choose from, all of which are based on real kids that Activision discovered during a contest the company held as a promotion for the game. Sadly, each kid does not have their own unique level to skate around in. Instead, a real world skate park known as Olliewood is the single location devoted to the chiddlers.
While the children all handle the same regardless of which one you choose, each Disney character is completely unique both in looks and tricks. There are 12 separate Disney characters to choose from including Buzz Lightyear, Young Tarzan, Simba, and Rafiki. Those who have played the Tony Hawk line of skateboarding games will have no problem feeling at home here as the control options are nearly identical. Though in the name of kid-friendliness or just lack of manpower, the trick sets and controls are substantially simplified. Talented kids and Tony Hawk vets will be glad to know that you can enable “pro controls”, giving players a more familiar and challenging set of controls, though this does nothing to change the fact that each character will only have a handful of different moves to perform.
The level of difficulty in Skate Adventure starts out extremely low and gradually works its way up to more challenging goals. While most won’t have any trouble progressing to the end of the game, a few of the latter goals are quite challenging. Most goals are of the been-there-done-that variety, such as spelling out the word “skate” or hitting a certain score within the allotted time. But the fact that most of the time the featured skaters aren’t even human, the proceedings feel surprisingly fresh for at least a few hours.
Put simply, Disney’s Extreme Skate Adventure is perfect for younger fans who might consider the Tony Hawk games to be a bit too daunting. Gone are maneuvers such as wallrides and heightened elevation ollie jumps. Introduced are simple button presses for performing manuals and grind combos. Tony Hawk purists will undoubtedly grow weary of the game’s somewhat slow pace and simplified controls, but since this game is aimed squarely at the younger demographic, these sorts of complaints are simply not relevant here. Watching Simba pull a two-handed vertical grind on a slab of four-wheeled driftwood is just too cool to deny.
The graphics are right on par with what was seen in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4, though since the depicted characters are of an anything-but-realistic nature, few will find extreme similarities between the two. Every skater is detailed and true to their big-screen counterparts in every way, and the animation is spot-on. The levels lack the realistic and almost epic sense of enjoyment found in THPS4, but they are all very large and chock full of tricking potential. While Skate Adventure looks really good and will certainly inspire excitement in many of the younger players, the lack of multiple bail animations or accumulated wear and tear on your character will certainly be apparent to diehard Tony Hawk buffs.
In terms of sound, Disney’s Extreme Skate Adventure has a lot in common with THPS4, recycling plenty of sound effects from that game, which isn’t to say Skate Adventure is lacking in any way, just that some of the grinding and jumping sounds may be familiar to a lot of players. The soundtrack features an assortment of songs that should appeal to most anyone, including the oft-used “Where’s Your Head At” as performed by Basement Jaxx, Reel Big Fish’s “Sell Out”, and Lil’ Romeo’s (who happens to be an unlockable kid skater) “Play Like Us.” The occasional dialogue that occurs whenever you hit up a conveniently-placed NPC seems a bit off-kilter though. In contrast to the rest of the aural presentation, the dialogue is far too loud.
What this all boils down to is a solid and intuitively controlled skating game that is optimized for younger players but also quite fun for fans of the Tony Hawk series. The colorful cast of characters goes a long way to make the game feel like a one-of-a-kind experience and the simplified control scheme ensures that frustration will be kept to a minimum. If you can’t wait for Tony Hawk’s Underground and want to take a spin around a few new levels, then Skate Adventure is certainly worth looking into, but if you’ve got a younger sibling who enjoys these sorts of games but just can’t quite get the hang of it, then Disney’s Extreme Skate Adventure is a no-brainer, in more ways than one.