Well, this was surprising. Here I was expecting something half-assed, if that, when presented with a game seemingly doomed from concept alone. Extreme sports games? Feh. Handheld sports games? Feh. Extreme sports handheld game? Ultra Fe- actually, hang on a minute here . . . this is quite good. In fact, this game is actually sucking up more of my time then my other recent handheld acquisitions, just because itís pretty damn fun. How the hell did they pull this off?
I never got to play Tony Hawk on GBA, but from what Iíve heard of it, this seems fairly similar in at least overall design. Aggressive Inline sports an isometric view and a polygonal character with some amazing animations. The levels themselves are quite varied in design, with each providing what are essentially similar goals with different names, although a lot of the interactive objects tend to look alike.
Level completion objectives tend to revolve around beating a certain number of goals and obtaining the high score while timed. A few of these are presented in odd ways that sometimes seem cheap at first, but I found that simply practicing on levels often yielded paths that werenít originally noticeable. Thereís a lot to grind here, which is what leads to tricks, insane combos, earning lengthened grinding time, and getting to new areas of the levels. I was rather surprised at the size of many of the levels; quite a few seemed to simply go on forever and were well outside what I was anticipating.
Unfortunately, the game does not save when you have unlocked a new level, and there is no way to save mid-game. This means the only way to get new areas is to play through from the beginning each time, which would be fine for a sit-down console but is inexcusable for a portable game. GBA games need at least in-between level saves, but thereís nothing for Inline, and starting over each time is a boring and tedious process when all you want to see is a new stage. The perspective and control can also make pulling off specific tricks more difficult then it should be, though I doubt much could be done to rectify that. Eliminating the timer would also help the levels, as you usually have only enough time to complete the goals you already know. There is a free skate option, in which you can simply roam a level as you please, but having this for the arcade mode as well would have been nice.
The skaters all have a Grind Meter which shows how much time they have to perform tricks and travel along rails. Oddly enough the meter can dip so low that nothing can be done, and the only way to reset it is to purposefully crash. Add to that jumps that do not always work perfectly when coming to the edge of a grind, which is devastating for long combos and finishing certain goals. Most of the time the controls work perfectly fine, using a similar style to Resident Evil, but this also makes for wide turns that hamper movement in small areas. It is most evident when you just miss an object that needs to be hit or need to work your way along a thin walkway to get to an item. Precise movement is simply not an option, but it does work well in any level with large areas to move about in.
I was also initially stunned at the music, as the game features licensed music that sounds quite good. The music is not to my normal tastes, but it fits the game well and is impressive coming from the GBA. Other sound effects are sparse but used well, all focusing on the skater under control. Regarding skaters, there is a number of them to pick from, each with different attributes that can be upgraded through Arcade mode. Each of the skaters is modeled quite distinctively, but they also all use the same set of animations. None of that detracts from the game, thankfully, as what they do have is all high-quality and well-made to begin with.
Itís a shame the gameplay was not quite as good as the technical achievements, but it still holds up quite well overall. Itís impressive for what it does with a handheld, and the building of grind combos and score challenges is quite fun, but the lack of a battery save or any way to keep track of immediate progress ultimately kills it in the long run. If only the control had been tighter and the challenges a bit more lenient, this game would be leagues better. It should still keep anyone interested in the title happy, although it seems to hold closer to the old Tony Hawks in execution then it does its big brother on console.
∑ ∑ ∑ MechDeus