App Reviewed on: iPhone 4
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It would be exaggerating to call Downhill Xtreme the SSX of iOS, but clearly its developer has noticed the snowboarding franchise's recent return. While this skateboarding racer is just that and no more - no tricks, no surviving, just racing - the eclectic soundtrack, customization options, and focus on online competition are immediately reminiscent of SSX's own Xtremeness.
Having said that, what's most immediately noticable are the visuals. The 3D behind-the-rider approach should be a tough endeavor on iPhone, but Downhill Xtreme makes it look easy with excellent definition and a wonderfully smooth camera. The controls are elegantly simple: the skater goes forward automatically, while left-sided touch making him break and right-sided touch making him tuck for top speed. Moving left and right is achieved by tilting the iPhone or iPod touch, and it actually feels well-balanced. With such simple controls the play is relatively simple too, although a quick swerve combined with braking adds a quicker drift turn, a tricky skill to exactly master.
The main campaign can be reduced to qualifying for a race through a time trial and then placing high enough in the race to progress - rinse and repeat. While it's again simple, it's given some surrounding depth through a levelling system, gear and character customization for both cosmetics and attribute-raising, and most impressively ongoing online competitions very similar to the online tournaments in the new SSX. These competitions last a certain amount of time, and how well you place in them against whoever else has entered determines how much gold you win, which you can then spend on a fly board, gnarly shirt, or butter pair of sneaks. The online stuff is very impressive for a free iOS game, and on that note it's nice to see a free game refuse to force players towards in-app purchases with all the subtlety of a guy with his four top buttons undone.
There are, unfortunately, a few negatives. For all the squeaky-clean polish on show, the visuals are so intensive that slowdown isn't uncommon, particularly when other racers are on screen. And the other drawback to the intense visuals is intense battery drainage; don't expect to play this game on the go for hours. Also, it does feel like there needs to be another layer to the racing. While tracks get more tricky to negotiate and the need for speed continually increases, there is more than a little repetition with not much in the way of evolution.
None of these problems are particularly trying when Downhill Xtreme is approached as a drop-in-drop-out title, and that approach will surely yield plenty of hours' enjoyment from the game. As I said, it's not quite the SSX equivalent that so many of us would love to see on iOS, but for now (and for free) it will certainly do. There's plenty of good stuff going on in Downhill Xtreme to make it worth at least a try.
[Editor's Note: While at GDC, the devs of Downhill Xtreme brought along a longboard to giveaway to one lucky 148Apps fan. Here she is in all her winning glory with the longboard in question. Congratulations, Monika!]