By removing the extraneous muck from the series, this HD re-release is an addictive piece of arcade skateboarding fun.
Diving into Tony Hawk Pro Skater's HD is as easy as it was in the late 90's. Even as the Tony Hawk series became increasingly complex, the fundamentals of combo-heavy, score-escalating trick chains are surprisingly still intact. Players can perform flips, grabs, grinds and lip tricks using different button combinations, with ollies and manuals being used to link the different moves together into chains that would prove impossible outside of the virtual sphere. The HD remake abandons the stupidly intricate slow-mo techniques, intrusive free-running, and bizarre secondary challenges in favor of what made the series so accessible and addictive to begin with: tight, but forgiving gameplay. Taking cues from the Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 era, the game does do away with the THPS 3 revert technique (which could be used to chain half-pipe vert tricks together), so it must be noted that getting huge combos mostly comes from grinds and manuals. This is a bit regressive for the series since the third Tony Hawk game is arguably the finest in the franchise, but the gameplay is still smooth and works well even after all of these years. By returning to its roots, the Tony Hawk series finally has stable ground to stand on, even if the ground is a bit weathered.
Before the open-world rejuvenation of Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4, two-minute-long, goal-focused rushes of adrenaline were the name of the game. There are no people to find to earn missions and you can't simply ride around practicing tricks. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD is all business. With a selection of goals to complete, players must complete them in short, two-minute-long sessions. The challenges are classic Tony Hawk, ranging from high scores and special gap challenges to demolishing items or obtaining secret tapes (now bizarrely dubbed, "Secret DVD's"). While it's extremely difficult to complete all (or even more than one) of these challenges in a single session, revisiting levels to finish objectives remains addictive. There's also enough diversity among the challenges to keep the tedium at bay. Tony Hawk veterans will even find many of the more memorable challenges returning, such as finding Ollie the Magic Bum five times in the Venice Beach stage. One thing that is a bit off-putting, however, is that signature gaps and objectives are marked on a convenient map on the pause menu. In using the map, the feeling of accomplishment in finding a secret is considerably toned down. This is an optional feature, but with frustration comes desperation and the map will probably be used more than many players would want it to.
When it comes right down to it, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD is a stripped-down, straight-ahead representation of the series. You can choose to play as different skaters, some new and some old (even your avatar is up for grabs). You can spend the cash earned in the levels on boards, tricks, or stats. This brings the game to a more arcade-style condition, which is actually appropriate for the context. However, at only a handful of levels, it can feel steep with a 1200 Microsoft Point price. Online multiplayer brings back classics like Trick Attack, while throwing a curveball or two like Big Head, where oversized noggins come as the penalty until they burst into confetti. Altogether, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD is a short, but surprisingly enjoyable package.
With time comes improvement and while Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD is a graphically refined game, it still is pretty rough around the edges. The lighting effects are nice and the game keeps the levels' layouts in tune with the originals, but it's still a pretty muddy game. Clipping and clumsy camera work can cause glitches, including the obnoxious ability to fall below levels into an infinite abyss. Audio is also a mixed bag, considering that many of the classic tunes from past Tony Hawk games have been changed. Heavy metal band Powerman 5000 and punk bands Bad Religion and Goldfinger make returns alongside rap legend Chuck D. of Public Enemy (teaming up with Anthrax with "Bring the Noise"). The newcomers include alternative act Middle Class Rut and rap innovator El-P (with Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor) to name a few. While these artists do provide some killer tunes to skate to, it is a shame that Tony Hawk Pro Skater mainstays like Rage Against the Machine, Naughty By Nature, and Primus aren't on board for the HD re-release's soundtrack. Even more disappointing is the brevity of the track list. After repeated retries, you're bound to grow tiresome of the paltry fourteen-track-long list. While licensing issues are bound to be the reason for the neutered song list, it still is a bit disappointing. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD doesn't make a quantum leap forward for the presentation. With its limited graphical changes and short soundtrack, the final product doesn't really live up to the edgy skater pedigree.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD is nowhere near the best HD remake available on any console or downloadable service, but it's absolutely mind-blowing that the traditional Tony Hawk gameplay holds up so well today. The tried-and-true skateboarding game fundamentals are in their purest and most untainted form here, from the gravity-defying jumps to the massive chains of combos you can create. On the other hand, the minor tweaks that have been made are a mixed bag. The "cheat sheet" of a map is discouraging for purists, the graphics aren't the cleanest and the soundtrack feels rather neutered, but being able to enjoy a Tony Hawk game again is a fantastic feeling. The free-flowing combo system and clever level construction have been preserved in the brightest amber. Like fine wine, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD has aged well. While it's hardly a big enough stride to constitute a series reboot, as a nostalgia ride, few games can top what Activision has shown here. Whether you're a long-standing fan who's become fed up with the series' downward spiral or a newcomer who wants to see the series in its prime for the first time, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD is one of the more pleasant surprises of 2012.