Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam introduces a major paradigm shift to the Tony Hawk franchise. Instead of challenging players to string together their best tricks in large, open environments, as previous Tony Hawk's Pro Skater games on the Game Boy Advance have done, this one shifts the focus toward beating opponents to the finish line in a series of enclosed downhill courses. You still have to pull off tricks to satisfy the criteria in certain events, but, by and large, Downhill Jam is more concerned with speed than high-flying acrobatics. As such, it probably won't appeal to longtime fans of the franchise that want to continue flexing their trick-linking abilities, but it might satisfy racing enthusiasts looking for a change of pace.
You need to get your 3D rider to the bottom of the 3D course as quickly as you can.
Right off the bat, anyone that's played SSX Tricky or SSX 3 on their GBA is going to feel a sense of familiarity with Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam. That's because Activision tapped Visual Impact to develop the game, and Visual Impact used the same 3D polygon graphics engine that it used to produce the SSX games for Electronic Arts. In fact, while the courses have moved off the mountain and onto city streets, and the riders are perched atop skateboards now instead of snowboards, everything else in Downhill Jam is roughly the same as it was in the SSX games. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing, considering that when it comes to video games, the concept of racing down a paved hill on a wheeled board isn't all that different from racing down a snowy hill on a waxed board.
Compared to other racing games on the GBA, however, this one holds its own and offers a few twists. Each of the 10 different courses provides plenty of ramps and rails to jump off of and grind on, and you'll notice shortcuts all over the place. Some courses keep you on your toes with rolling hills and sharp turns. Others make you watch out for obstacles like palm trees and fruit stands, or they employ sand and water traps to slow you down. The CPU riders generally stick to their own racing line, and they can't knock you down, so you mainly have to worry about staying ahead of them. It's easy to fall behind the other riders by running into obstacles, but you can kick in a turbo boost when you need to catch up. To get more boost, you need to pick up skull icons littered across the course or perform tricks. That's the main purpose of tricks in Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam: to build your boost meter. As such, the trick system is much less intricate than it is in a traditional Pro Skater game. Basically, you just tap any button to perform a preset trick and use the directional pad to spin.