Tony Hawk plays it safe but still grinds out a solid remake
Developer Robomodo doesn’t have a great track record with the Tony Hawk series, to say the least. In fact, it’s probably safe to say they killed the entire franchise altogether. If you don’t remember, this is the same team responsible for Tony Hawk: Ride, which released with that ridiculously expensive skateboard controller.
Keeping that in mind, I expected much, much worse from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD, a remake and combination of the first two Tony Hawk games. Even though the concept seems as simple as updating preexisting levels and content that’s already been included in several newer Tony Hawk titles, I expected something borderline unplayable.
Thankfully, I was wrong.
Not only is Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD not terrible, it’s actually fun in short spurts. I still wouldn’t recommend buying it if virtual skateboarding doesn’t thrill you, but most people who liked these games back in the day should enjoy what’s on the table here.
On strict gameplay alone, Tony Hawk HD delivers admirably. All of the classic levels look pretty much the way you remember, and the HD upgrade—while not a technical marvel—is still nice to look at when you’re exploring levels for good jumps and collectibles. There’s a definite sense of nostalgia as you revisit certain gaps and secret areas that are faithfully re-created here, and if you’re a seasoned Tony Hawk veteran, it should make the first run on each level pretty refreshing.
However, you’ll be replaying the same levels a lot, and if you want more, you’ll have to pay extra for some Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 stuff via downloadable content. Each level has a set amount of goals that must be accomplished in order to unlock extra boards, courses, and even some cheats, but frustratingly, the progression is weirdly structured.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD demands that you play each level with each character, which really drives in a sense repetition pretty early. Modes and cheats will work for every skater once you earn them, but you can’t skate in places like “School II” or “Downhill Jam” unless you unlock them for each character one by one.
At least the whole experience is evened out by sheer variety. When you’re not doing the basic career mode, you can get really familiar with all the levels through tasks like collecting “SKATE” letters, snagging DVDs (which used to be VHS tapes in the original games), and earning enough money to buy new tricks. Free Skate is, hands down, the best way to prepare for harder modes like the grotesque Big Head Survival (keep pulling off tricks to keep your head from popping like a pimple) or multiplayer options, like the Graffiti tagging mode or Trick Attack, where you try to outpoint your buddy.
However, all of that’s hampered by one of the game’s biggest weaknesses—there’s no tutorial mode, which is an awful omission. For someone like me who’s just bad at the game or a newcomer who wants to get into the series, that’s inexcusable with a control scheme like this. Occasionally awkward controls don’t help much in that area, either, as the game’s odd sense of gravity doesn’t give many of the tricks any real consistency. Overall, the gameplay will feel slow if you can’t manage to consistently maintain momentum on a run—and practice only helps so much when the game essentially just drops you in a course and says, “Good luck!”
Even if I were a fan of skateboarding, I’d have a hard time getting into Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD just because of the sheer frustration that lurks for casuals and newcomers wanting to drop in and hit the ground running. It’s a deep game (for a budget-price downloadable title) that rewards players who put in a good amount of practice, but the learning curve isn’t nearly as well adjusted as the Skate series, which eases you along at a steady clip rather than dragging you face-first down the runway. Xbox Live’s Summer of Arcade is off to an unusually lukewarm start, but at least the most unoriginal idea is officially out of the way first.
SUMMARY: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD looks good on the surface, but some particularly frustrating design and gameplay quirks can drastically cut down on the enjoyment.
- THE GOOD: Plenty of modes make the levels fun to master.
- THE BAD: Paying an extra $5 for Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 content.
- THE UGLY: Console avatars look freaky next to the real skaters.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is available on XBLA and will later be available on PC and PS3. Version reviewed was for XBLA.