When it comes to Game Boy skateboarding titles, the selection is sorely lacking. Other than 720º and Skate or Die, no game has managed to approach the proper boarding experience. However, thanks to the popularity of the Tony Hawk series, Natsume and Activision have brought us their attempt at handheld skateboarding action with their GBC rendition of Tony Hawk Pro Skater. Though there's much to like and dislike about the title, one thing's for certain - skateboarding has never been this good on a handheld.
Whether because of hardware constraints or rushed licensing, the game actually contains two unrelated activities - half pipe and tournament. In half pipe, players can take one of 14 real-world board champs through a high-flying journey of ollies, heelflips, Indy Nosebones, and various other catchphrased tricks. The half-pipe backdrops are well drawn and colorful, while the animation level is such that you never feel out of control. Furthermore, trick execution is confined to four-way directional-pad presses coupled with either the A or B button, making the game easy to grasp while letting board freaks chain together insane combos. Though the half-pipe mode doesn't deliver an experience at all like that of the console version of Tony Hawk, the ease of control coupled with rewarding gameplay nevertheless makes it a mode worthy of kudos.
Better resembling the console experience is Tony Hawk Pro Skater's second game type, the tournament mode. You'll compete against three other boarders in a mad dash for the finish line. You attempt to come in first while executing tricks off such objects as fences, cars, ramps, and other course obstacles. The courses aren't as varied or unique as in console levels, but the animation level is high, and one never gets the impression that the game is sparsely drawn. Just as with the half pipe, tournament-mode controls are limited, but they let advanced gamers chain together some spectacular combos. Initially, tournament levels seem overly difficult, but a few minutes at the controls and you'll be grabbing speed bonuses, collecting VCR tapes, and somersaulting with the best of them. It would be nice if the computer couldn't just run you down, however, especially since returning the favor is near impossible. A one-on-one tournament is also available, and a similar link cable mode allows for versus action against human opponents. The link mode is pretty neat, but since you're restricted to a limited number of tracks, repetition is only slightly mitigated.
While Tony Hawk's music and sound effects are borderline mediocre, they truly are some of the best executed on the GBC. Be it wooshing sounds for flips, thud sounds for landing, or the game's amusing crash effects, a variety of auditory nuances do an adequate job of portraying the boarding experience. Though an even greater level of variety would have been nice, what's present is quite appropriate. If anything, it's not the graphics or sound that detract from the game's overall quality, but the lack of a two-player feature. Since there are only eight combined tournament and half-pipe levels, the game's replay value is questionable at best. For some, the half pipe mode will do a lot to counteract this complaint, but for most, the possibility of forgetting the game within a week is all too real, even with a two-player option. Tony Hawk also lacks a battery backup, but the passwords aren't overly long and you needn't jot one down for every level.
Though there's much room for improvement, Tony Hawk Pro Skater is easily the best skateboarding game available for the Game Boy Color. The visuals are pleasing, the sounds are appropriate, and there's just enough replay value to warrant a cautious purchase. For those into tricks, the half-pipe mode alone is worth the price of admission, but one can't rule out the sheer challenge that the tournament mode offers either. Natsume hasn't delivered a port of the PlayStation, N64, or Dreamcast Tony Hawk games by any stretch, but the GBC effort is pretty fun and does ample justice to the Tony Hawk name.