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Grind Session
Platform:  Playstation
# of Players:  1 (Up to 16-player t
Developer:  Sony
Publisher:  Sony
Features:  Dual shock Compatible
Ratings:  Early Childhood
Memory Req.:  1 Block
There are some games that set a standard. Not only do they open up a new genre and/or sub-genre, but they also create the archetype by which later games of its creed will be judged. In this case, the newly established genre happens to be skateboarding. The reigning champion is Neversoft’s god-like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and the latest contender is SCEA’s Grind Session.

You have to admire Sony for their grit. They are trying to top what has been described as the best skateboarding game of all time, but not by adding any truly new and innovative features, mind you. No, no. They have taken notice of the adage, “talent borrows, genius steals.” Grind Session could, at one point, have been called Tony Hawk 2, but since that game is already on its way home, it could just as easily be called Tony Hawk 1.5. For example, the control scheme is virtually identical (although you have “jumps” and “air” rather than “grabs” and “flips”) and they have licensed skaters. They’ve even taken the infamous Burnside skatepark and thrown it in (sans graffiti). I don’t want to give off the wrong impression here. Grind Session is not an absolute carbon copy of the Birdman’s game, but it’s close. Damn close.

Like THPS, the levels are large and nicely arranged so plenty of environmental combos can be pulled off. If you have the skill, you can pull together a one footed-nosegrind + frontside flip + K grind + whatever else comes from a myriad of button pushing and stick twitching (you are all perverts). Each level has its own distinct look. The BART station in San Francisco looks remarkably like the one I used to get off at when I lived in the Bay Area. All of the levels seem to have been given that extra bit of detail to keep the locations from looking generic. And if you get tired of using the pro skaters, you can always customize your own
One way that the core gameplay differs from THPS is that it is a lot less forgiving. You can’t make a sudden 180 degree turn, run into a wall, and not expect to fall on your ass. You also have to build up what is called a “possession meter” by executing tricks without bailing. The higher the gauge on the “possession meter,” the greater the air, the longer the grinds and the crazier the combos. The overall speed of Grind Session is a lot slower than THPS, but this actually helps players get more accustomed to pulling off the moves.

Maybe it’s me, but the graphics in Grind Session don’t look nearly half as polished as those in THPS. Sure everything is big and all, but the shapes look way too basic, the faces look like someone painted them and then spit on them. Plus there’s all this weird pop-up that only seem s to occur when you’re going vertical. It’s not all bad (it’s definitely better than Thrasher….brrr) I guess most of the detail went into the stages and backgrounds.
There are two things that I like better than THPS. The first is the fact that they didn’t use really, really common skaters. I mean, everyone over the age of twelve that owns a skateboard knows who Tony Hawk and Bucky Lasek are and that’s super, but skateboarding is a sport with far too many unsung heroes. Not many people know about Willy Santos or even Pigpen let alone have respect for them. It’s good to see someone standing up for the little guy (actually, it was probably just cheaper for Sony). Secondly, the soundtrack is absolutely, wonderfully, and brutally OFF THE HOOK. Any game that has Dr. Octagon, Black Flagg, and Sonic Youth on the soundtrack has a place in my game library. Hell, it could be Rise of the Robots and I wouldn’t care (weeeeeell, I don’t know if I would go that far…). THPS had an okay soundtrack (i.e. one good song: Police Truck), but if I ever here Goldfinger again in my life, I will stab things.

Grind Session is a good if not great skateboarding game. If you’re a Tony Hawk fan looking for some new ground to cover or if you’re a Tony Hawk/Birdhouse hater (which I can understand) and you don’t want anything to do with THPS, I recommend picking it up. While it only whets my appetite for THPS 2, I have to admit it is a worthy adversary and an enjoyable distraction.

Robert Cirkeljirque

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