Players who held off on getting the PlayStation 2 version of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 in hopes of receiving a better version for the GameCube need not wait any longer. The GameCube version of the insanely popular skateboarding game is here, and it retains almost everything that made the PS2 version so incredible. If you don't own a PS2, getting this version of the game is a no-brainer--it's easily one of the GameCube's strongest launch games. But if you own both a GameCube and a PlayStation 2, the choice isn't so clear. The GameCube version may be less jaggy than the original PS2 release, but its lack of online multiplayer and somewhat sketchy frame rate keep it from living up to its full potential.
For those of you new to the series, the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater games put you on a skateboard and in a level with goals to accomplish. As you accomplish these goals, which range from simple score targets to more difficult skateboard trickery of the "how the heck am I supposed to get all the way up there" variety, more levels are opened up. The game isn't exactly the most accurate simulation of skateboarding in the world, as it has some pretty outrageous physics and lets you get away with things that make Tony Hawk's much lauded 900-degree spin look commonplace by comparison. As the series has progressed, it has gotten more and more combo-friendly, conceivably allowing you to continually do one string of tricks around the entire level, lasting the entire length of your two-minute run.
Like the previous Tony Hawk game, THPS3 features a collection of professional skaters. The roster hasn't changed much this time around--still on board are Steve Caballero, Kareen Campbell, Rune Glifberg, Eric Koston, Bucky Lasek, Rodney Mullen, Chad Muska, Andrew Reynolds, Geoff Rowley, Elissa Steamer, Jamie Thomas, and of course, Tony Hawk. Bob Burnquist, who was in the first two games, is not in Tony Hawk 3, as he has jumped ship over to Konami's PS2 skateboarding game. Replacing Bob is Bam Margera, perhaps most famous for his dad-beating antics on MTV's "Jackass" and his self-produced CKY videos. The create-a-skater and create-a-skate park modes have also been expanded quite a bit this time around. In create-a-skater, you can select different faces, skin tones, hairstyles, heights, and weights. Once you've got the base down, you can decorate your skater with different shirts, pants, shorts, shoes, socks, helmets, pads, glasses, hats, tattoos, watches, bracelets, and more. The pro skaters can be edited to a certain extent, so you can add hats and remove or change shirts if you so desire. You can also create female skaters. Rounding out the skater lineup is a collection of wild and, in some cases, completely unexpected hidden skaters, each of whom has a few new special tricks. While the skaters may look different and start with different stats and tricks, you can configure their tricks (both normal and special) and stat points in any way you see fit.
In Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2, you can combine grinds and other street-style tricks by manualing (in essence, popping a wheelie on your board) just as you touch ground. But there is no way to work vert ramps into the middle of a combo, only the end. As a result, the game is a little one-dimensional, as everyone simply looks for the longest grind lines and ignores ramps almost entirely. Tony Hawk 3 remedies this imbalance by adding a trick called the revert. The revert is a quick 180-degree spin that is done just as your skateboard touches the ramp when you're coming down from vert or lip tricks. Doing the revert lets you pop up into a manual, after which you can roll over to something else to do more tricks. Reverting properly will take time to master, especially given the learning curve involved in using Nintendo's squishy analog triggers to perform a move that requires fairly precise timing on your button presses. Just as the manual revolutionized the Tony Hawk world back in Tony Hawk 2, the revert does here in Tony Hawk 3. The combo potential of other moves has also been increased. You can now move from one grind to another without actually leaving the rail. Lip tricks also work the same way. Some kick tricks can be doubled or tripled by quickly doing the trick two or three times--holding left and tapping the kick trick button three times, for example, does a triple kickflip. Other less noticeable combos are also included. Doing a kickflip and immediately hitting right and the grab trick button afterward gives you--in the eyes of scoring, anyway--a new trick called "kickflip to indy."
In addition to all the new trick enhancements, there have been improvements to the game's levels. Some of the levels are based on actual locations, like Skater Island, an indoor skate park in Rhode Island, which serves as the game's second competition level. Most of the levels are rather large and significantly more interactive. The most dramatic example is in the Los Angeles level, where you'll start an earthquake that rattles a freeway apart, giving you new places to skate. The game is packed with tiny cutscenes that play with the completion of some goals, showing you dumping snow onto a bully, making a car fall off a freeway onto the surface streets below, causing a cruise ship to deploy its safety nets, or activating a satellite dish by clearing away branches from its power lines. The goal structure in the game remains largely the same, with each noncompetition level containing nine goals. Three of those goals are score based, one involves finding a hidden videotape stashed somewhere on the level, and the rest involve collecting items, breaking items, and doing specific tasks. For example, in the Canada level, you have to "Get Chuck Unstuck." Poor Chuck has his tongue stuck to a frozen pole, and skating into him is the only way to rip his tongue off the pole. Some goals have two parts: In the airport, you have to deliver plane tickets from the counter to the gate. So first you have to grab the tickets; then you have to make it all the way down to the gate to deliver the tickets. Two goals change depending on your chosen skater, and eachlevel has a trick-specific goal. So with a vert skater, you might have to do a cannonball over a half-pipe, but a street skater will have to find a specific rail and do a 50-50 grind on it. The letters that spell the word "skate" also must be collected in each level, and there are a handful of different configurations for these letters in each level, which change depending on the skater you're currently using. In addition to the standard goal-based levels, Tony Hawk 3 has three competition levels that score you based on how well you can do on a one-minute run. Doing well here gives you a gold medal and opens up the next level. Every level has a few optional items in it as well. Five stat points and a new deck are in every level, and their placement changes from skater to skater. Earning stat points is crucial, because certain level goals later in the game will be significantly more difficult if you haven't become powerful enough. Stat points can be placed in any category and can be rearranged at any time. Stat categories include rail, lip, and manual balance, as well as ratings for your ollie, air, hang time, spin, switch-skating ability, and speed.
Each time you complete the game, you're given some new things to play with. Earning three gold medals gives you a new video to watch. Most of the videos are standard biographical stuff for the pro skaters, combined with footage of them skating. Like in the previous games, the hidden and created skaters unlock other videos, such as footage of the pros bailing and lots and lots of footage of the Neversoft team goofing around. Needless to say, the increased storage capacity of the GameCube's disc format doesn't go to waste here, though the video is slightly blockier and grainier than it is in the previous DVD-based version of the game. Aside from the main career mode, you can skate around any level with no time limit or skate a single two-minute session on any level in an attempt to set one of the many records that the game keeps track of for every course. The nicest mode addition is a brief tutorial that shows you the basics of the game--something that Tony Hawk 2 definitely could have used. The tutorial takes you through a step-by-step guide to the game, narrated by Tony himself. Here, you'll learn how to manual, how to revert properly, how to determine what makes good combos, and how to wall-ride effectively. It's brief, but it goes a long way toward making the game friendlier to first-time players.
Completing every goal in the game with one skater unlocks something else, like a hidden skater, hidden level, or cheat mode. Once you've gotten the hang of the game and figured out all the goals a few times, beating the game should take around an hour, but the lure of hidden stuff combined with the varied placement of certain level items from skater to skater makes the game very replayable, and the two-player mode adds even more value. A four-player mode would have been great here, as some of the levels are simply too big to be interesting with only two skaters. Of course, an online mode like the one in the PlayStation 2 release would be optimal, but you can't blame the game's developers for not implementing an online feature for a console that currently has no way to get online.
Aside from free skate, there are a handful of games you can play in the two-player mode. Trick attack is a simple score-based battle. Graffiti was in previous Tony Hawk games and challenges you to mark more territory than your opponent by doing tricks on them. The pieces of the level you use for your trick are changed to your color. Stealing pieces from the other player is accomplished by doing a higher-scoring trick on that object. King of the hill is a slight reworking of tag from THPS2, and it forces players to fight for a crown that changes hands whenever the king is bumped by the other player. Whoever can hold the crown for two minutes first wins. Slap! is the game's answer to Quake-style deathmatch. When two skaters collide, the faster skater knocks the other one down and earns one point. Whoever has the most points at the end wins. Horse, a multiplayer game that has been in all of the Tony Hawk games, is also available and doesn't have any load time between the two skaters' turns.
In addition to having amazing gameplay Tony Hawk 3 looks quite good. The huge levels look great up close or at a distance, with nice-looking, colorful textures and a nicely controlled draw distance. As previously mentioned, the GameCube version cleans up most of the jagged edges seen in the PlayStation 2 version. In addition to the newly smooth environments, the skaters look superb. While some of the standard trick animations from the previous games in the series seem to be reused here, the tricks transition very well from one to the next, and the animation is both smooth and full of little nuances. For instance, spinning in the air while doing tricks looks far more realistic now, as the skaters' torsos actually twist separately from their legs. Even grinding and lip tricks look better now, as the skaters get a little twitchy as they try to keep their balance. A ton of new wreck animations have been added as well. These situational animations make bailing look a lot more realistic--and a lot more painful. Blood that streaks the sides of walls and ramps when you wipe out and remain in that spot for quite some time afterward definitely adds to the painful effect. Another nice feature is the ability to look around at will by moving the right analog stick. Unfortunately, all this graphical prowess looks nice up close and makes for pretty still pictures, but in motion, the game can be a little erratic. The frame rate bogs down whenever you're taking a look at a large section of complex geometry--the Los Angeles, Tokyo, and Skater Island levels are the worst offenders here. Some sections of Tokyo cause the frame rate to drop rather drastically. In a game that is so dependent on timing, these frame drops can really interfere with the gameplay. To give those of you who haven't seen other versions of the game a point of reference, the PlayStation 2 version only rarely slows down, and when it does, the drop isn't enough to truly interfere with your timing. For those of you trying to decide between the two versions of the game, the GameCube version also looks slightly washed-out when compared to the PS2's vibrant colors.
The soundtrack is a perfect mix of old and new material that crosses many genres. Bands on the soundtrack include CKY, Motorhead, AFI, Alien Ant Farm, Xzibit, KRS-One, Rollins Band, Redman, Del the Funky Homosapien, Ozomatli, and more. A playlist function lets you turn off tracks that don't fit your tastes, but the long soundtrack will almost certainly contain something you can skate to. The songs are edited for content to maintain the game's T rating, though one extra edit has been included in the GameCube release--Redman's track includes the no-no phrase "PlayStation 2," so Reggie Noble's name-dropping of Sony's console has been blanked out. Like the previous Tony Hawk games, Tony 3 gets the sounds of skating down very well. The sidewalk's cracks can be heard as you skate over them, different surfaces make distinct noises when you skate on them, and an unlimited number--at least there seems to be--of cool little voice clips and other minor sound effects really make the game come alive. A few sound effects are oddly missing, though, like the sound of the giant propeller crashing through the side of the ship in the cruise ship level. Pedestrians throughout the levels will talk, some of them having funny conversations amongst themselves, while others will call out to you, telling you to "bust something out" and proclaiming that your tricks are "dope" when you do something nice right in front of them. The voice work is also absolutely hilarious. The kids in the Canada level talk with a Canadian accent, and their dialogue is peppered with the word "eh." Security guards in the airport level and some of the people in the Los Angeles level tend to talk with a funny sort of "Eddie Murphy doing an impression of an uptight white guy" flavor, speaking very deliberately when they proclaim your tricks to be "sick."
The Tony Hawk series has always had style. The first game reinvented a genre and set off a series of clones and pretenders that still flood the market today. The second game refined the formula, but its higher level of difficulty and steeper learning curve turned off casual players. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 brings it all together in one package that makes everything before it almost unplayable by comparison. The game has a lower level of difficulty at the beginning and some basic tutoring to appeal to new players, but it has enough hidden items and harder optional goals later on to keep Tony Hawk experts interested as well. While the PlayStation 2's inclusion of online play and a smoother frame rate make it a more attractive offering to owners of multiple consoles, owners of Nintendo's new console shouldn't feel any qualms about picking up the GameCube release, which stands on its own as an amazing game with the potential to draw in people who wouldn't consider themselves fans of skateboarding.