Hawkin’ It Up
Tony Hawk is a living legend. And no, I don’t mean because he invented a good portion of skateboarding as we know it (though I have to hand it to him, there’s that). I say this because he has his name tied to perhaps the greatest extreme sports video game franchise on the planet, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.
Now, you might roll your eyes at this sentiment if you’ve played any of the more recent games that bear his namesake, but in the PSOne era, there was no bigger name in skateboard games. The original gave us a control scheme that actually felt good (perhaps the first PSOne-era extreme sports title to accomplish this feat), but the real peak of the series was THPS 2, which added the manual that let us string together absurdly long combos and rack up scores that were so big that it hurt our eyes just to look at them.
Now, the modern age has given rise to the HD remake, and while most of the games to get makeovers tend to be gems from the PS2 generation, I think we can all agree that the THPS series is very worthy of a triumphant return.
Well, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is here, and, for a downloadable title, it looks great. It’s not the best-looking game on the market by any stretch of the imagination, but it at least makes itself worthy of the “HD” in its title. It’s certainly a lot of fun getting to see these old levels (that are probably etched into our brains by now) re-imagined for modern-day consoles. And the blood splatter effects are deliciously juicy. (Those wipeouts hurt !)
Now, I have to admit here that I spent ungodly amounts of time playing the original THPS and THPS2 back in the day. While I didn’t get to put in the hundreds of hours into THPS HD that I would have liked to, I can say with confidence that it plays exactly how I remember. It took me maybe five minutes before my brain and hands re-adjusted to the control scheme and my muscle memory kicked in.
What’s most surprising about this is that they feel good . That’s quite a statement to make about a PSOne-era title. I mean, try saying that about Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid, or Final Fantasy VII. Somehow, in an era that hadn’t really figured out how to make non-awkward controls, Tony Hawk managed to get things just right.
But perhaps that is nostalgia speaking—I mean, the game works really hard to trigger those nostalgia centers in our brains—but I don’t think it’s just that. I honestly feel like these are the perfect controls for a skateboarding game, and linking combos together for massive multipliers just feels right. It’s like being home again after a decade-long vacation.
Okay, so I’m going to make one tiny complaint here before I move on. I played the game on Xbox 360, since it’s not out yet on PS3, but I found myself itching to have a Sony-branded controller in my hand. We all know the 360’s D-pad sucks, and, for those of us who played THPS on PSOne, the PS3 controller would make the experience feel so much more authentic. Still, I had absolutely no trouble adjusting.
So what else has returned? Well, there are seven levels hand-picked from THPS and THPS2. While this means that we’re all going to have favorites that didn’t make the cut (I’m personally bummed about not seeing New York, Minneapolis, or Portland), the selection is pretty well-rounded. But, damn, I’d forgotten how absurdly difficult Downhill Jam was.
Now, seven tracks may not seem like a whole lot, but I’m going to defend it by pointing out that the game is only fifteen dollars, and has DLC on the way that adds at least three more maps and only costs five bucks. Now, all things considered, that’s twenty dollars for ten maps that will make any old school Tony Hawk fan weep tears of nostalgic joy. Two bucks a map is a low price to pay for such bliss. Besides, the old games, which we gladly paid $50 each for back when they were new, only had about ten levels each anyway.
On top of this, there are some new game modes. For example, Big Head Mode penalizes your missteps by having your head swell until it explodes and your headless skater drops to the ground like a ragdoll.
Now, I’m admittedly not super excited about the selection of skaters here. I mean, essentials like Eric Koston, Rodney Mullen, and Tony Hawk himself are present, but I feel like there could have been a lot more of the original team represented here. Where’s Chad Muska? Geoff Rowley? Jaime Thomas? And the option to skate as your Xbox LIVE avatar is completely ridiculous. To top it all off, there’s a baffling lack of create-a-skater. (The skate park editor is AWOL as well.)
The soundtrack? Trust me, as soon as you hear Goldfinger’s “Superman,” you’ll swear you’d hopped into a DeLorean and travelled back to 1999. I do admit that I miss hearing the Swingin’ Utters and the Suicide Machines, but there’s still a pretty great selection here. However, I seem to remember the original THPS games having an option in the menu that let you skip tracks in case there were some you didn’t like. This option is missing here, and there were a few times when I felt like I really needed it.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD reminds us why the original THPS games reigned supreme, with its near-perfect control scheme and (for the most part) well designed stages. It does feel admittedly light on content, and there are a few missing pieces that seem like they should have been obvious inclusions. Still, if you want to relive the glory days of the THPS series, fifteen bucks isn’t too much to ask.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Not the best-looking game out there, but these maps are prettier than they’ve ever been. 4.8 Control
After so many years, Tony Hawk’s controls still feel excellent. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Any complaint you have about the audio will instantly melt away as soon as Goldfinger’s “Superman” hits your eardrums. 4.3 Play Value
The THPS formula is as addictive as it was back in 1999. 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best