Is it possible? Could this often overlooked GameCube launch title be better than Tony Hawk 3?
In a lot of ways, it is. Dave Mirra 2’s developer, Z-Axis, has repeatedly surprised me by making their game unlike THPS, yet at the same time just as good or better than the famous skateboarding franchise. This isn't to say that Dave Mirra 2 is perfect, but it’s well worth your attention and I personally wish that I had bought it instead of Tony Hawk 3. Because the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (THPS) series is the "definitive" pro sports series, I’ll be making comparisons to it throughout the review.
First let’s take a look at the basic gameplay. The main one player mode is called “Proquest”. In this mode you’ll be able to progress through the game by earning “respect” points. To do this, you simply complete the many challenges that you’re presented with. You won’t be riding around collecting letters that spell “Mirra” in this game. The challenges are broken into Amateur, Pro, and Hardcore categories with an additional Insane challenge for each level. You only have to complete the Amateur and Pro challenges to advance to the next level—a good thing considering how difficult the Hardcore and Insane challenges are. Most challenges are geared towards the level you’re on requiring you to interact with the architecture to complete them. Each time you start a level, you have three minutes to try and accomplish the different tasks, and once a task is completed you won’t have to do it again. The levels are very large when compared to levels in the THPS series. While playing a few of the levels I sometimes wished I had a map or radar system to help me find objectives. Instead, when you approach the site of an objective, you’ll get a message in the corner of the screen and visual indications (like flashing ramps). This works well enough.
Mirra’s control setup is a lot like the THPS setup at a glance, but if you’re a THPS fan you’ll quickly be annoyed by how different the game feels. You won’t be able to launch into the air and just rip out a pile of tricks for big points. It’s not because Mirra is flawed, it’s only because it’s different. If you stick with the game and learn how it works, you’ll fine a much deeper trick system and a lot of subtle nuances that put the control for this game significantly above the THPS series. For example, I actually play this game using the analog stick. Dave Mirra 2 doesn’t reward spastic tapping of the d-pad, and it has analog response when using the stick (unlike THPS) making it the better choice (especially considering the GameCube’s uncomfortable D-pad). After learning how the game works and adjusting to the control scheme, my only problem with it is that you must press up-up or down-down to do wheelies. Since you have to press up or down to move faster or brake as well, you often find yourself doing accidental wheelies. Perhaps up-down and down-up would have been a better combinations for these moves. My only other complaint involving the controls is that there is no training mode that demonstrates the complex trick system and helps ease the transition from THPS games. Instead a large portion of the instruction book is devoted to it controls. If you don’t have the booklet for whatever reason, you’ll have to fend for yourself (try our forums or GameFAQs).
Graphically Dave Mirra 2 is significantly better than Tony Hawk 3. The levels are much bigger and generally more interesting to look at. Each level tends to feature quite a variety of structures and there are more levels in Mirra than in THPS3 despite their larger size. In addition to this, all ten levels have objectives to complete and a competition mode (once you get enough respect). This is a much more efficient use of the painstakingly designed levels (Neversoft should take note). There are some issues with pop-up on most levels, but it’s forgivable when you consider that the framerate remains very solid 99% of the time. There aren’t any exceptional texture effects in the game, and it only features vertex lighting, but it still looks quite nice. The other major aspect of the graphics, the animation, is exceptional. Dave Mirra 2’s animation system is quite complex. The game allows you to combine different modifiers before pressing trick button to execute a large number of tricks. For example, pressing diagonally down+left or down+right then X will perform a no hander or no footer, but if you press both directions before the X button, you’ll do a nothing instead (no hands or feet). If you combine this combo with a B button move such as a back flip or superman, you’ll get a taste of the expansive trick system. In addition to this, when you crash your rider’s limbs will flail around and bend like a rag doll according to how you crashed. It doesn’t always look accurate, but it’s very entertaining all the same. This feature is put to excellent use in one of the multi-player modes I’ll describe below.
Dave Mirra 2’s sound effects are above average. All the noises you’d expect from a bike are there. In addition, each level has a lot of unique sound effects associated with their set pieces. For example, the water park level has a gondola system that creaks convincingly as the carts move around the park. The soundtrack is mostly good stuff too. I only want to kill myself when “Moment of Truth” comes on, a definite improvement over other extreme sports games and a good sign given my limited taste in music. It’s mostly geared towards rock (Godsmack, Ozzy and Rage Against the Machine) with a smattering of lighter stuff (Sum 41, Sublime, The Cult) and a few random songs from bands I’d rather not name (I said I’d rather not name them).
Unfortunately, the excellent single player mode is topped off by a tacked-on at best multi-player mode. Some may be disappointed to find out that there is no split-screen multiplayer at all. Instead, you must alternate with a second player, and according to the instruction booklet (I only have two controllers) the multiplayer can’t be done with more than two players. What’s really surprising is that you aren’t allowed to play the multiplayer modes by yourself either. What gives? If the modes only allow one player to ride at any given time and I only have one controller, why can’t I go ahead and just play alone to compete with the high scores on my memory card? It amazes me that they could overlook little things like this while doing such a great job on the rest of the game. Oh well. There are over ten multiplayer modes for you and your alternating friend to play. You could see who can get the most air or do the longest grind for example. Or you might want to know who can amass the most points in three minutes. More than likely though, you’ll want to know who can crash in the most painful way possible. Yes, wipeout mode is by far the most popular multiplayer mode where I come from. This mode truly capitalizes on the detailed crashing physics I mentioned above. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
With all the high profile games that made it in time for the GameCube launch, it’s no wonder that Dave Mirra 2 was overlooked by many gamers. However, sitting on the shelves these past couple of months hasn’t hurt the game a bit. It’s definitely worth your time and money. If you’re a Tony Hawk fan, you’ll need to invest a little more effort to get used to the differences in control, but if you do this, you’ll likely find a better game for your trouble.