Though Activision may release updates to its Tony Hawk franchise at a pretty rapid-fire pace, that doesn't mean that the series suffers from the same sort of staleness that plagues some other yearly franchises. Each installment in the series not only adds a collection of new levels, but it also adds at least one new gameplay element that radically changes the way people play the game, thus opening up new combo potential and generally making the game more exciting to play. This sort of progression also has the effect of essentially making the previous games in the series obsolete. Once you've been exposed to the manual, added in Tony Hawk 2, or the revert, added in Tony Hawk 3, going back to the original Tony Hawk is almost impossible. Enter Nokia, who, hot on the heels of the release of its gaming cell phone, the N-Gage, has released a version of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. While the game stands on its own as a pretty competent port of the original Tony Hawk game, offering a few Tony Hawk 2 levels and other tweaks thrown in for good measure, fans of the series looking for an authentic Tony Hawk game to play on the road will probably find that going back and playing the first game in the series--four years later--isn't much fun.
All of the classic Tony Hawk modes are present. The largest mode is the career mode, which takes you from level to level, giving you five goals to accomplish in each area. Each level has two score-based goals, one that asks you to collect letters that spell the word "skate," one that asks you to collect or break five objects, and the fifth asks you to find a hidden videotape. Completing goals unlocks the later levels and also raises your skater's stats. Aside from the career mode, you can also skate a single two-minute session, enter a timeless free skate mode, and play a few two-player games. With one N-Gage, you can play horse against another player, where you pass the unit back and forth and try to continually beat each other's scores. With two systems, you can use the N-Gage's built-in Bluetooth support to gain four additional multiplayer modes: tag play, graffiti, trick attack, and skate race. Tag games run on a clock, and the first person to be "it" for a minute loses. Graffiti has you tagging parts of a level by doing tricks on them, and the highest score on each part wins the piece. Trick attack is a simple high score competition. Skate race is a race to see who can collect the "skate" letters the fastest.
The game also has support for N-Gage Arena, Nokia's online service. Though you can't play directly against another player, you can play against their ghosts in a checkpoint race around one of the game's levels. Stats and scores are kept on the server, so you can see who the best racer is. Unfortunately, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater never was a racing game, and racing around the same level with the same checkpoints gets old almost immediately. Having a checkpoint race in the game instead of, say, a high score competition just seems incredibly silly. In addition to this mode, you can also look at gameplay clips and check out a strategy guide for the game.
By and large, the game plays like the original Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, but the control definitely isn't as smooth and as comfortable as other versions of the game. The game uses the raised 5 key to ollie, while the 2, 4, and 6 keys are used for flip tricks, grinds, and grabs, respectively. This is roughly the same setup found in other versions of the game. Unfortunately, the way that the 5 key is raised--while the others are flush with the system--makes it difficult to smoothly transition from trick to trick. This is a skill that comes with time, but it never feels as smooth as other versions of the game have made it. Also, this game is a version of the original Tony Hawk, so the combo potential is severely limited by the lack of comforts found in later installments, such as the revert and the manual--both of which let you link your tricks together in an impressive fashion. Considering that the four Tony Hawk 2 levels included in the game were sort of built around the ability to manual, not having the trick in the game makes these levels less interesting to play.
Graphically, the game is a pretty good port of the 1999 PlayStation game. The game appears to have a slightly lower polygon count in its models and levels, but it looks pretty good for a handheld game. Of course, it suffers from quite a few of the same problems that the PlayStation version did. Now, however, these problems aren't quite as easy to ignore, as it's been four years removed since the original PlayStation version of Tony Hawk. Many of the game's textures and polygons seem to vibrate when you get a little close to them, and the frame rate isn't as smooth as you'd like for a game that is so timing-based. Two-player Bluetooth games, particularly graffiti, reduce the frame rate even further. Graffiti gets the short-end of the stick here because as you claim pieces, they light up and pulsate with your color. That additional color causes the game speed to take a pretty dramatic dive.
The game's sound is perhaps the most impressive portion of the game. Several full-length licensed tracks, which also appeared in the original version of the game, are here, and though they've clearly been down-sampled from their CD-quality counterparts, they still sound pretty good through a set of headphones. The sounds of skating, grinding, and the like all sound good as well, though headphones are really a must here, as the N-Gage's internal speaker tends to render everything into a tinny mess.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater is probably the best game to hit the N-Gage thus far, but since there aren't even 10 games available as of this writing, that isn't exactly a difficult feat. It may have some of the magic that made the original Tony Hawk such a fantastic game, but time and the somewhat sloppy components of this port have rendered the final product pretty unimpressive overall.