Like The Birdman himself, the Tony Hawk video game series is well past its prime. Once heralded as one of the best franchises available, each release over the past decade has received poorer review scores than the last. In an effort to remind people of just how great the games used to be, Activision has released Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD, a beautified amalgamation of the first two titles, with a few new features thrown in for good measure. While there is great joy to be had for those of us with fond memories of the earlier Pro Skaters, I’m afraid we have to deduct points for some nasty bails along the way.
The first few Pro Skater titles had a simple formula – two minute sessions wherein the player must achieve a certain set of goals over any number of attempts. As you progressed from level to level, the goals got progressively harder. As the years went on, the developers tried to come up with new ideas to keep the gameplay fresh. With each new idea, the implementation became less and less stellar. One day, someone decided the Pro Skater games needed to have a story, so we got Tony Hawk’s Underground, a pseudo-open world game that allowed the player to travel on foot for the first time. Then, with the advent of motion control across all major platforms, the world was graced with Tony Hawk: Ride, a game that requires the player to use a customer skateboard controller, mimicking tricks the real pros would do, all the while looking ridiculous and becoming angry and the peripheral’s poor dersign.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD does away with all the new ideas and decides to go old school. The game features the same two minute runs on a variety of levels from the first two Pro Skaters. In addition to a graphical overhaul, there have been some other aesthetic adjustments, such as hidden VHS tapes being converted to DVD discs. Goals remain largely the same for each level. You still collect SKATE, perform the level-specific gaps and tricks, and get the best score you can. Do to the rearrangement of levels and added trick set from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, the score goals have been significantly increased, requiring upwards of 500,000 points in Marseille, the final level. Goals get even harder with Projectives, which become available after completing all goals on all levels as a single character. These require you to achieve even higher scores, collect COMBO in a single, well, combo, collecting skateboards and performing a Boneless over more magic bums, all while limiting you to single-minute sessions.
Speaking of Marseille, it has been converted to a standard two-minute, goal-oriented level instead of the medal competition it originally was. In addition, Mall and Downhill Jam, two levels from the original game, now return the player to the beginning/top of the level when the end/bottom are reached rather than ending the session, making goals easier to achieve in a single run.
Also returning is much of the soundtrack. Robomodo, the studio behind Pro Skater HD (and the two previous, motion-controlled games), decided that since the game was going to be a blend of old and new, they wanted to incorporate some new songs with the old favorites. If you, like me, played the original game on a PlayStation demo disc received from Pizza Hut, you’ll likely never get “Superman” by Goldfinger out of your head. Well, it’s returned, along with six songs from Pro Skater 2. New songs for the soundtrack had to meet certain criteria. They needed to be from relatively unknown artists, to mesh well with others songs and the feel of the game, have a solid initial two minutes, and be something that, when heard years from now, would take people back to their time with the game.
It’s with this soundtrack that I have my first issue. The songs fit with the pace just fine, but I found that the volume levels would randomly change throughout my sessions, particularly with the returning songs. There is also a brief delay when starting a level before you can begin your run, yet the music has already begun to play. There doesn’t seem to be any reason why your character remains immovable, and for the first few sessions I found myself frantically pressing buttons for those initial moments trying to figure out why I couldn’t do anything. This may just be picking nits, but I feel that if the music has started the action should as well.
Another problem with the music is that each track does not end when the session does. Whether you run out of time or choose to end or restart the run yourself, the music will persist through the results screen and into the next attempt, as long as you continue on that level. If this was the mechanic they intended from the start, why look for songs for the soundtrack which had an appropriate first two minutes? It also destroys some of the feel of the classic games, where you would hear only the first few moments of multiple songs in quick succession because you kept restarting shortly after bailing mere seconds into your run because you needed it to be perfect.
They have made it easier to be a compulsive retrier, however. Back/Select is your “Quick Retry” button, prompting you you to confirm your decision. I got so used to trying runs over and over again in the old games that I was able to perform the action of pausing, selecting the option and confirming it almost as fast as if it was a single button, so this is a welcome addition.
Robomodo has also made finding out how to achieve your goals easier. The pause menu contains a map that shows the location of all the goals in the level, as well as all of the gaps, though it doesn’t keep track of the ones you’ve already found, meaning it will still be cluttered with icons if all you need to find is that one stack of crates to knock over.
You may get knocked over yourself a few times while playing this game, sometimes for what seems like no reason at all. Collision detection in the game could use some work. Often times I found myself landing back into a quarter- or half-pipe at the proper angle only to bail as soon as I came in contact with the lip, thus negating my trick and accompanying points. For a game where every second and trick count, this severely disrupts gameplay. Tricking on certain objects was also difficult. A few that come to mind are the bells in the School II level. In Pro Skater 2, they were only textures projected on the wall. Now they’re full-fledged objects, which makes wall riding them – one of the goals in that level – unnecessarily difficult. I kept running into them and stopping, taking several attempts to get the angle and ollie location just right.
While there is no split-screen multiplayer or Create-a-Skater, Robomodo has incorporated online functionality as well as a few new game types. In addition to the returning Graffiti and Trick Attack multiplayer modes, Big Head Elimination has competing players land tricks as fast as possible to keep their head from inflating. As time passes, the inflation rate increases, and if it gets too big your head will explode. The last player with their inflated head, and ego, intact is declared the winner. There’s also Hawkman, a single-player mode that requires the player to collect a series of spheres scattered throughout the level in a single combo, challenging players to be careful with their speed and balance.
Despite the few drawbacks to the game, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is definitely a step in the right direction for a franchise that just two years ago was put on the back burner. Robomodo has certainly made up for their past transgressions against the Tony Hawk name. If you grew up playing these games because you didn’t know how to work a real skateboard, you will love the feeling of nostalgia and return to fast-paced, adrenaline-pumping gameplay. If this is your first foray in shredding with one of skateboarding’s all-time greats, you’ve managed to come in just as the series is on it’s way back up.