Xbox Live’s Summer of Arcade is here, with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD leading the charge. The developers at Robomodo haven’t just increased the graphical polish of the original game, but rebuilt skaters and stages from the first two entries in the series in a brand new engine.
Can the new horsepower make decade-old gameplay worth another visit, or does Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD ultimately fail to achieve the trip down memory lane it’s attempting?
Given the recent decline that the Tony Hawk license has experienced, the decision to remake as opposed to innovate is a tough one to judge. Instead of a new peripheral or contrived gameplay mechanic, Activision has decided to return to the series’ roots. Collecting seven maps from the first two Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater titles and a mix of skaters both old and new, the HD remake doesn’t stray too far from the industry’s latest updated classics. For better and worse.
The original Pro Skater took the world by surprise, and single-handedly made skateboarding titles a successful genre. That being said, it was a product of a design philosophy that placed inspired mechanics over actual depth of experience. In 1999, when gamers huddled around their PlayStations, the chance to shred in digital form was enough to make the time worthwhile. Since then, the maps, movesets, and game modes have grown exponentially to earn the player’s time and investment.
Sadly, the full experience of the remake is still focused on meeting the expectations of games published two console generations prior. The challenge posed to the player is the same as it always was: earn high scores, find hidden items, and complete random challenges to advance to the next map. Multiplayer modes are also present but it’s baffling that local co-op is not enabled – a massive missed opportunity – not to mention all the maps are not unlocked from the start.
Challenge and achievements are all well and good, but honest Pro Skater fans will recall that replaying the same stages in a race against the clock, just to unlock a stage you actually want to play was only fun for so long. The lack of two-player local play means that group sessions will be a return to the old days of passing around a controller, and eagerly awaiting the next run. Unfortunately, this commitment to old school gaming only brings back the worst aspects of a single-screen experience. With gameplay nowhere near as entertaining or visually impressive as SSX, those not mashing buttons are unlikely to enjoy the experience.
The overall game may be disappointingly shallow and oddly-tailored for a modern audience, but that doesn’t mean it’s completely void of positives.
For starters, you really can’t undervalue the rush of memories that accompany the first skate into the Warehouse, School, or Venice Beach stages. The maps have been lovingly recreated, hidden areas and all, with graphics that hold up to the fidelity that fans still swear was there in the original (it wasn’t). Impressive character modeling and even the chance to play as one’s Xbox Live Avatar testify to the time spent building the new engine. In a sidenote: THPS HD is unquestionably one of the best looking and polished gameplay experiences players will ever see their Avatar star in.
The most surprising aspect of the HD remake is the control schemes themselves. Sure to cause immediate frustration among those used to the gravity-defying ollies and auto-rotation that has come to define modern snowboarding and skateboarding titles, the controls in place are, ironically, more realistic than they have since become. One trick to an ollie, two grabs to a jump, and successful landings – requiring a straight board – will remind fans of why the game originally won their hearts. The challenge is in skating correctly, not just with the most fireworks or hot-dogging.
That’s a refreshing change, and a return to the best parts of the series’ freshman venture – but all that the game really has to offer. For diehard fans who know exactly what they’re getting, having the chance to skate through some updated maps is a terrific proposition. But for those who may view the XBLA release with rose-colored glasses and a bit too much nostalgia, it’s hard to recommend picking up Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD.
At the current price (1200 Microsoft Points or $15), seven maps and mostly singleplayer gameplay that fails to take advantage of the past thirteen years of innovation in even minor ways is a hard sell. With the Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network offerings getting better and better by the month, that price for this shallow of an experience is a bit mind-boggling.
Besides being a lacking launch of the Summer of Arcade, anyone but the most devoted of fans would be wise to save their money and time, and dig out their PlayStation or Dreamcast if some nostalgia is needed. The developers are open to DLC in the future, so who knows what else might be in the pipeline to make a purchase more worthwhile.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is available now via Xbox Live, with a PC and PlayStation 3 release coming soon.
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