Since its introduction in mid-2001, the Game Boy Advance has surprised gamers time and time again with its ability to produce graphics and sound that surpass those of its supposed direct forefather, the SNES. People's expectations of what a handheld game should look like were raised when developer Vicarious Visions produced an almost pitch-perfect port of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2, representing the game with an isometric view and fully polygonal skaters at the GBA's launch. Vicarious Visions is at it again with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 for the Game Boy Advance. Activision recently sent us a three-level beta of THPS3, and while it takes a few more liberties with the level design than THPS2 for the GBA, it is still shaping up to be an excellent Tony Hawk experience.
While the build of the game that we received did not include any of the career mode options, we were still able to get a good feel for the game's mechanics, which work similarly to those found in THPS2 for the GBA. The control defaults to using the B button for jumps, the A button for grinds, the left shoulder button for flip tricks, and the right shoulder button for grabs, as well as the revert, though just like in THPS2 for the GBA, the button assignments are completely customizable. The gameplay is almost identical to that found in the console version of THPS3, though we were unable to perform multiple grinds without leaving the rail, and a number of basic and special tricks found in the console version were unavailable in this build of the game.
Aside from the 13 real-life skaters included in Tony Hawk 3, the game features a create-a-skater mode. It's a pretty simple feature, allowing basic alterations to your skater's skin tone, shirt, shirt logo, pants, shoes, and tattoos, but it brings the game that much closer to duplicating the experience of its bigger brother. The build also included a single multiplayer mode, allowing up to four players to participate in a game of Horse on a single GBA. Hopefully, link cable support and a wider variety of multiplayer modes will be included in the full version.
Maintaining the same isometric perspective and polygonal skaters as THPS2 for the GBA, Tony Hawk 3 is a sharp-looking game. The skater models appear identical to those found in Tony Hawk 2, though now there are more skaters to choose from. You'll also find pedestrians wandering around each level, though these characters are made up of simple 2D sprites instead of full 3D polygonal models. The isometric perspective of the levels can be a bit jarring, and quite a few creative liberties have been taken with the level designs, but each level still retains the general feel of its console counterpart. The Rio and Foundry levels are almost direct copies, while the multitiered nature of the L.A. level required a few more alterations for it to comply to the isometric perspective. The freeway overpass has been replaced by a movie set in the middle of the level, complete with fake backdrops, a trailer, a very grindable craft services table, and a big blue dinosaur. Even though the freeway is gone, the four "quake rails" that you would grind to cause the freeway to crumble in the console versions are still there, so we're curious to see how the destructible levels will play out in the final version of the game. Even with these pretty major changes, the quality of the three levels we've seen bodes well for the rest of the levels in the full version.
The most surprising aspect of the game's sound so far is Vicarious Visions' attempt to reproduce the soundtrack of the console version of THPS3, the effect of which is completely eerie. You most certainly wouldn't mistake the songs for the real thing if they came on the radio, but the digitally reproduced versions of the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" and Motorhead's "Ace of Spades" are close enough facsimiles for you to hum along to.
Searching through the options menus revealed two interesting items. First is a self-explanatory brightness control, which, when considering the gripes people have had about the dark GBA screen, makes you wonder why this option wasn't included in previous GBA games. Inside the main skate shop, we found a "view movies" option, which included a list of all the skaters from the game, though none of them were actually selectable. Whether this means that full FMV for each skater will be included in the final version of the game remains to be seen. We're certainly anxious to find out.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 is considered by many to be one of the "must own" titles for the Game Boy Advance, and if this beta build is any indication, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 will soon assume the same mantle. Look out for it in early March.