Oh, 1999. You held so much promise. I started my sophomore year of college, got settled in my dorm room, and started the school year off right – in my friend’s room playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater on the Playstation. From that moment on my love affair with the series began, and unlike my move away from skateboarding in real life after college, I remained faithful to my virtual skateboarder avatars for a long time, until the series just got plain silly (noseblunt grind on a dinosaur’s tail over a helicopter gap, anyone?). So you could imagine my glee to discover that the original, the legendary, the amazing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was being reskinned in HD (cleverly titled Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD) and was set to be released on XBLA as a part of this year’s Summer of Arcade, the little skater punk fan in me did cartwheels.
Published by Activision and developed by Robomodo, THPSHD will be very familiar to gamers who have been in these venues before. The controls are simple at a glance and incredibly difficult to master. Your A button is crouch/ollie, X unleashes flip tricks, Y is used for grinds, and B will enable you to do grabs. Special tricks are executed via simple two-direction presses followed by X, Y or B.
The career mode has you pick a skater and begin progressing through levels in order to complete various goals in two-minute rounds. You can (and likely should) use the same skater the whole time so that the money you get from their progression can be used to upgrade their abilities. Basically, each skater has his or her own career mode – cash accrued cannot be shared among the group. One thing I hadn’t read before, and which was a nice surprise when I’d discovered it, was that I was able to use my Xbox Avatar to skate around with. It looks a little clunky and feels kind of silly since it doesn’t fit with the style of the rest of the game (it rather looks like I’m playing as a skater dressed up in a theme park mascot getup), so I didn’t really use it much. Still, it was a neat inclusion I think.
From an audio perspective, everyone will be clamoring about the soundtrack. Half of the 14 tracks in the game come from THPS1 (Superman by Goldfinger!) and THPS2, while the other seven are new inclusions. The songs do what they’re supposed to do: They set the stage for the skating adventure that you embark on. Sound effects are solid – grinds sound like they should, the push of a tail against concrete to pop into an ollie sounds crisp and realistic.
When I was first playing the game I observed the visual package of was was produced and initially thought to myself “this is Tony Hawk HD?” The graphical presentation didn’t seem to punch me in the eye-holes as much as I had anticipated. However, this was subject to change when I looked back at the old PS1 version graphics. Oh. THAT’s how blurry and pixelated things used to look? I guess it’s true what they say in that we always view the past in rose-colored glasses, more and more fondly. And I will say this – while the graphics certainly won’t blow anyone out of the water, there are some pretty awesome effects, tricks and reflections in play (see any standing water for an example). So that was a treat, for sure.
So what’s the bottom line here? Yes, the soundtrack is good. Yes, the graphics are a huge improvement over the first presentation of this game. How does it feel to play the game? Did the formula age well? Partially yes, and partially no. Back in 1999 this game was ground-breaking. It was a skateboarding game that called the tricks the right names, that had actual pro skaters that I recognized. It was skateboarding being taken seriously (but not too much). But back in 1999 I also had not played a game called Skate. By comparison, the Tony Hawk series is the “Fisher-Price” version of skateboarding games ever since the Skate series came out of left field from EA. Playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD today feels like a bit of a step back in entertainment. There just isn’t the depth that I’ve come to expect from my skateboarding video game experience.
However, that’s not to say that this game doesn’t have a place in your digital library. Because what it does deliver if you stick with it is that intangible…. I’ll call it “smile factor.” I remember the first time I successfully pulled off a grind down the huge stair gap in the School level. And I felt something stir in me the first time I did it in this HD remake as well. There’s the nostalgia factor here for sure. And that, coupled with the fact that there’s a good amount of fun online multiplayer to be had (though the lack of couch co-op was troubling to me for a game that was released back before online services), plus “Projectives” which are pro-level new objectives once you get 100% completion in the game, should be enough for a good number of people to dig deep for the 1200 Microsoft point price. Really though, the only way to know for sure if this game is for you is to pick up the trial version of it and see for yourself. You go do that; I’ll be over here, humming Goldfinger’s Superman.