DOWNHILL DOMINATION / Sony / PS2
Downhill Domination pretty clearly patterns itself after the SSX games, but it makes downhill mountain biking its theme instead of snowboarding. If you already have some SSX games you'll notice something of a samey feel in the doing of tricks and the power-ups you pick up on the track and etc., but Downhill Domination is really well-made and easily worth a look when you can get a used copy for well under $10.
The game has only eight tracks, but they're pretty impressive, and each track has at least two variants. There's usually a narrow "racing" version, a slightly less narrow "technical" version that has a lot of bumps and jumps, and a wide-open "free ride" mode that gives you multiple paths to the bottom and lets you select freely where you want to go.
Like SSX the game focuses on being a simple, easy-to-control thrill ride rather than some sort of technical simulation of the sport. You hurtle through all sorts of unrealistic jumps with the greatest of ease and hideous deadly and disfiguring crashes are met with simply getting back on the bike instantly. You do have to work your speed and momentum back up when you crash, but its less of a backbreaker than in most racing games. Which is good when tracks have rampaging bears and moose, cars coming at you, and even lava that you can get away with riding on for a few seconds before it burns you up. You can also hit other racers in Road Rash style, though its not really a focus of the game.
There's numerous modes of play but they tend to keep coming back to the same set of core tracks. Arcade mode is a series of 13 races which, unlike most arcade games, allows you to save in between each one. In Career mode you do 24 races instead of 13. Then you can do just-for-fun time trials, races and free rides in any track you've unlocked. After going through some trials and tribulations you also unlock Mosh Bowl and Super Jump. These are pretty self explanatory, Mosh Bowl is basically the game's combat-only arena, Super Jump is a massive incline you go down and ramp you go off giving you huge air to pull tricks on. You start out with a core of six fictional characters that have slightly different skill ratings in different things, as the game goes on there's a mix of seven more characters to unlock, five of which are actual professional racers.
The game is worth checking out, even if you're already into SSX. The play control is very solid, there's a better sense of speed, and the track design alone is worth the price of admission (the first one starts you on a normal mountain but throws you into an electrical storm in the latter half, and one of my favorite ones transitions from mountaintop full of hiking tourists to through an ancient castle and monastery to the streets of a little French village.)
* Gameplay Video