It’s now been nearly 13 years since Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater debuted on the original PlayStation. I spent dozens of hours playing the demo before the game actually hit stores, and then I played that for dozens of hours more. The game was, to me, a return to a time when scores actually mattered. Even after completing all of the game’s objectives and finding its secrets, I still found myself going back to try and improve my score on a certain level. Pro Skater seemed to have arcade roots, even more so that Street Sk8er did when EA published that a few months earlier. When Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 arrived in stores the following year, the excitement was even greater. The introduction of the manual was something that I didn’t fully grasp right away, but with more levels and the ability to put myself in the game, I was excited all over again. There wasn’t a sophomore slump to be seen.
Now, thanks to Activision and the Robomodo development team, players like me have the chance to relive 1999 and 2000 all over again with the release of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD. This update for both XBLA and PSN isn’t just a basic port with a high-def coat of paint put on, but instead takes the source material and builds on it just enough to make it stand out. There are a few new objectives to complete, new game modes have been added, and some new music tracks complement the familiar ones that Activision was able to license for use once again. On paper, this is the game that most of us who loved the earlier Tony Hawk titles asked for. In many ways, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD succeeds; however, for players used to the original games, something didn’t quite carry over on the way to the high-def era.
The good news is that the new visuals look great. Thinking back to how levels like the Warehouse from the first game and School II from the second game looked originally, Robomodo has shined them up significantly. New lighting and particle effects are readily apparent, and animations for the skaters are smoother and cleaner. The Downhill Jam level now takes place at dusk and plays up the new lighting quite well. There’s some lens flare on the Venice Beach level. All of these things and more show the attention to detail that Robomodo demonstrated in revisiting and rebuilding these games.
The sound is equally as impressive, if not a bit more so. Bringing back some of the most popular songs licensed tracks from the first two games cements the comfortably familiar feeling that Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is trying to convey. Hearing “Superman” again while playing the first stage brought a huge smile to my face. Bad Religion, Millencolin, Powerman 5000, and Anthrax (with Chuck D, of course) also have returning music here. The sound effects are strong. Breaking through a window or pane of glass never sounded so good, and the other sounds have appropriate effects added based on where they happen.
Unfortunately, the gameplay is where the package starts to come apart.
The physics in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD are quite different from original games that it’s based on, and this leads to problems. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and its sequel had unrealistic physics, but the games were accepted anyway because of the arcade-style feel that they conveyed. Players could hold tricks for longer periods of time (and for more points) and still land successfully in the original games. In Pro Skater HD, this is not the case. Players must unlearn familiar habits and get used to pulling out of tricks earlier to complete the animation and have the skater ready to land. It’s more challenging than it should be to find the proper timing window, and it becomes more frustrating than it needs to be. Over time, this frustration eases, but it still feels different than it should. I never had such difficulty landing tricks in a Tony Hawk game before this one. It’s disappointing. (It’s worth noting here that the stock Xbox 360 controller does this game no favors. Input isn’t as precise as it needs to be, leading to issues with getting out of bowls or clearing quarter pipes.)
The game offers seven stages, each with progressively harder objectives to accomplish in order to unlock the next. It’s fair to argue that the number of stages is a bit low, but considering that consumers paid $50 for nine stages back in 1999 and that they’re paying 70% less for two fewer stages, I don’t consider it to be short on content in that sense; however, there’s no real payoff for completing the Career Mode. In the original games, players were rewarded with videos showing skater bails or pro highlights. Here, extra objectives – called Projectives – are unlocked, but that’s it.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD isn’t a bad game. In fact, despite its flaws, it’s very easy to get multiple hours of gameplay out of the $15 that the game is selling for. Although there are more than a few times that I was frustrated by the physics or by some of the objectives required to unlock stages, Pro Skater HD is still more enjoyable than not. Competing for high scores amongst my Friends List is addictive and there is still a sense of “just one more run” that the original games had. It’s just too bad that the physics model is so punitive, because that flaw alone is enough to add a strong sense of caution before buying to this review. You’ve been warned.
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