A Tony Hawk game that doesn't utilize broken technology that nobody bought?
The Bad: Only seven maps that are a bit hit and miss in terms of enjoyment; a good amount of technical issues result from the ragdoll wipeouts; no map editor, trick creator or create a skater; strange design choices; not enough content overall.
I have fond memories of playing Tony Hawk's Pro Skater with friends; trying to string together combos to beat the two minute timer and get a high score was fairly commonplace in my youth. Its three sequels were also well received, with the third entry (Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3…for those who can't count…) being one of the greatest games that I've ever played. It's these memories that make the franchise's fall from grace that much more heartbreaking. Don't get me wrong, Tony Hawk's Underground was pretty good and its sequel wasn't that bad either. Yet, the fact that the original formula that made the first three games (yes, they changed it around a bit in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4) such a success was missing.
Then, the once great franchise spiraled with Tony Hawk: Ride. I'll be honest, I didn't play this game. In fact, I don't think anybody did. The reviews were so terrible, and the sales so poor, that Tony Hawk's once legendary video game status was tarnished. To make matters worse, a sequel, Tony Hawk: Shred, was released featuring the same peripheral and mechanics. Needless to say, the franchise hit rock bottom. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD, a downloadable game for both the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3, is the franchise's last chance to prove that the magic is still there. By returning to its roots and bringing back maps from Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 and 2, it's certainly on the right track. However, a few design quirks and a lack of features hold it back from being a worthy successor to the two games that it attempts to represent.
If you've played any of the original Tony Hawk games then you know what to expect for the most part in terms of design. Career mode is the main event, featuring seven maps ripped directly from Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 and 2. In each level you're tasked with completing various objectives such racking up a certain amount of points or finding the hidden DVD (instead of a VHS tape) within a two minute run. Completing objectives nets you money which can be spent on upgrading stats, buying new tricks which can get you more points or purchasing new boards. After completing a number of objectives in a certain level, you'll gain access to the next map.
One thing that bothered me a bit about this design was that you could only unlock new levels by completing objectives in the previous level. This means that you'll be playing a single level multiple times in order to unlock the next one. It would have been nice if I could go back and complete more objectives on other levels and still make progress in unlocking the newest one…but alas this isn't the case. Another thing that felt a bit off about the game was the pause menu. Not only does it reveal the location of everything, including specific gaps and objective related items, it feels a bit (sorry about the language here) half-assed. Your location on the map is not shown, forcing you to find specific markers around you in order to clarify your position. This isn't a problem after you've played through each map dozens of times…but still, it's a bit of an unneeded headache. Furthermore, any special moves that you may have purchased are not shown to you through the pause menu. You're forced to memorize their inputs once you've mapped them to a certain sequence of buttons on the character select screen. Little things like these show a lack of polish from the developer. Some may say they're minor hiccups, and I'd agree with them to some extent. But basic features like these shouldn't be missing from the overall package.
There are only a few new modes in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD. "Hawkman" tasks players with collecting colored pellets spread across each level. The trick is that each pellet requires you to be grinding, doing a manual or catching big air depending on their color in order to obtain them. This mode, while interesting at first, just wasn't as enjoyable as it could have been. The other new mode, "Big Head Elimination" is a bit more unique and can be played online with three other people. Throughout the game, players' heads will continue to inflate. Doing tricks and scoring points will deflate their heads. However, the speed at which a character's head inflates will increase after a certain amount of time. If a player's head gets too big, it will pop. The player with their head still intact at the end is the undisputed champion. "Graffiti" is another online mode that challenges players to pull off tricks on obstacles in order to mark said obstacle with their respective color. The player who has marked the most obstacles with their color once time has run out is the victor. However, if another player does a trick with a higher point value on your obstacle, they can take it from you and set a new benchmark. Both "Big Head Elimination" and "Graffiti" are incredibly fun to play with friends, but it's a shame that there's no option to play split screen on the same console, especially with the ability to play "Free Skate," allowing players to explore the map with no time limit.
But the strange design choices don't stop there. The popular "Create a Skater" mode is surprisingly absent. Instead, you're allowed to use your Xbox Live Avatar as a custom skater, but their cartoonish look makes them seem a bit awkward in environments striving for a "next generation" look. Furthermore, you can't make your own custom maps which would have been a blast to play online. There are just a lot of things that are missing from this newest entry, and though I do understand that it's intended to be more of an homage to the first two games and not a revolution for the franchise, I still found it disappointing that more features weren't included. And with only seven maps to play through, there's certainly not a whole lot of replayability once you've completed the game with one character.
Pro Skater HD is all about combos…with some exploration. The latter is definitely a bit minimized here, but we'll get to the map choices in just a second. At its heart, Tony Hawk is about stringing together different tricks in order to pull off a high score while trying to complete various objectives. Tricks can be linked to create a combo by grinding and doing a manual in between both flip and grab maneuvers. For those unfamiliar with the franchise, you have two different buttons that allow you to pull off tricks in midair. One controls flip tricks, which net you very few points and are relatively quick maneuvers that can be done even when you're not jumping ridiculously high. The other controls grab tricks, which can be held to increase your score. As long as you're holding onto your board, your score will continue to rise until you hit the ground. The difficulty comes in actually landing some of these tricks. Having your board pointed toward the ground once you've launched yourself off of a ramp will let you keep the momentum that you've obtained, which can be used to launch yourself even higher. Landing sideways (even if you're just jumping on solid ground and not on a ramp) will cause your skater to fall and forfeit all of the points that you've gained in that combo. It's still a clever system; one that causes you to take some pretty heavy risks in order to get a good score.
Every map in the franchise, including the seven available here, is built around this premise. They're purposely designed to give you a lot of points if you can find the right areas. Finding these areas can be interesting, and landing a long combo after designing your own way through a map in order to score big is immensely satisfying. However, there are definitely some issues. In previous games, once you had hit a ramp and gone outside of it while in the air, you could straighten yourself out in order to land the trick on solid ground. As far as I know, that's not possible here. If you go up a ramp but curve yourself out of the landing area, you simply have to wait for your character to hit the pavement head on as you watch your points disappear.
Furthermore, wiping out was handled in the laziest way possible. I'll be honest; I'm not a fan of ragdoll physics. I don't mind them every once in a while, but when they're constantly used, I get a bit irritated. Every time you fall in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD, you're character becomes a ragdoll…which not only looks dumb, but causes some of the games more serious visual glitches. The original games had an animation for the falls, and forced you to mash on buttons to make your character initiate this animation faster. Here, the screen just flashes and your character is back on his board once you press a button. To me, that seems a bit lazy on the developer's part…but that's just me.
Now, onto the questionable map selection. The seven maps available include such classics as Warehouse and Venice Beach. However, the developers also included some maps like Downhill Jam as well as Mall…which are…well, they're not bad maps, but they're definitely not that great. This is partly due to the fact that each of these two maps is designed as a downhill level with long ramps and hills that are a pain to get back up. This makes the objectives harder to complete and generally not fun to participate in. Levels like these were scrapped from the later entries for these reasons, and it's a bit strange that they were included here.
Another problem with most of the maps is that they're simply too small. Maps from the first Tony Hawk's Pro Skater like Downtown – Minneapolis and School – Miami (not School II which is included in this game) had a lot of room to stretch your legs and were a ton of fun to explore. The fact that they chose maps that are so tiny limits exploration, which was a staple in the franchise for years. As previously stated, map choice is spotty. I was eager to hit the loop in The Bullring – Mexico or explore the secrets of Roswell – New Mexico, but, somehow, they didn't make it into the game.
Visually, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD looks great. The levels look absolutely fantastic and display a lot of great textures that we could have only dreamed of back in the day. Characters have smooth animations between tricks and there are some special moves here and there that are a joy to pull off simply because they look so funny. The ragdoll wipeouts do cause visual glitches from time to time, and the blood that appears every time you fall looks ridiculous, but overall, I can't complain too much about the presentation. But the soundtrack is what truly steals the show…for the most part. A good amount of songs from the first two games sound fantastic here. Goldfinger's "Superman" instantly put a smile on my face as I entered the Warehouse. Some of the newer tracks aren't too bad, but there are a couple of songs that I wasn't particularly fond of. Nevertheless, watching and listening to Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD is a treat.
The foundation for this HD remake (or homage…whatever you want to call it) is generally solid. It controls very well and looks absolutely fantastic. Online is also a lot of fun if you can get some friends to lay down the fifteen bucks with you. Still, there's a lot missing here. The fact that some of the best features from the franchise weren't included is unfortunate. There are also a lot of iffy design choices. Maps are largely hit and miss and there are only seven of them to go through. Overall, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD is definitely on the right track, but the price is just a bit too high. If there were a few more modes, maps and features included, I wouldn't hesitate buying this game at full price, but for right now, I recommend waiting for the price to drop.
Thanks for reading!