Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD (XBLA) Review

The impact of the original Tony Hawk Pro Skater game is evidenced by no less than 13 direct sequels since the original game was released back in 1999.  We have also seen its influence in creating other, all-new series such as SSX.  Over the years there have been several attempts at refreshing the franchise, including trying other tings such things as motion controls and peripheral skateboard controllers.  I will always be fondest of the original game and thought getting the chance to relive its past glories with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD (THPS HD) would be a fun walk down nostalgia lane.  Turns out it was not as fun as I remembered.

Instead of being a simple re-issuing of a couple of historical games THPS HD combines seven fans favorite levels from the first two Tony Hawk games and it puts them all together in a single high definition package.  Keep in mind that we didn’t have things like HD or online play back in 1999.  While these are not new features for the series, they are new to the specific games here.  For those that have had little or no exposure to the Tony Hawk series, there is no narrative in these games like there has been in later installments.  Rather, you are presented with various levels in which you are tasked with various challenges.  Levels are not just skate parks either as they include environments like schoolyards, malls, and abandoned warehouses.  Objectives can be score based (get over 100K), event based (kick flip over gap “x”) and collection based (collect the letters hidden around the level to spell the word ‘SKATE’).  Subsequent levels are unlocked by completing a pre-determined number of these objectives.  Completing all of the objectives on any one given level yields even further rewards.

As with several of the other re-makes I have reviewed I immediately found myself over playing this game.  If you are a fan of the more recent Tony Hawk games, EA’s Skate, or even a game like SSX, the learning curve here actually comes from a need to forget what you have become accustomed to with dual analog sticks and controls as you need to go back to a simple button-triggered trick control scheme.  There are no gimmicky skateboard peripherals or motion control here either.  The simplified control scheme was something I was looking forward to.  The funny thing is that it turned out to be one of the most glaring signs of this game’s age.  Don’t get me wrong the mechanics are solid, heck, they practically pioneered the genre, but playing these levels again just doesn’t hold my attention like the original efforts did.  The genre has evolved and apparently so has my preferences.  In fact I found the whole thing a bit boring and repetitive.  A large portion of this is because of an abundance of trial and error gameplay that I will touch upon shortly.

Remastered and reissued games such as THPS HD can be real opportunities for developers and publishers to provide some real fan service to those that enjoy their games.  Unfortunately there really are not a whole lot of extras included here.  There is a new gameplay mode titled Big Head where your character’s head slowly inflates until it explodes.  Only by pulling off tricks and combos do you stop this process.  It is a novel mode at first, not unlike a time attack type of game; however, I tend to prefer the challenge based main portion of the single player game.  THPS HD also features four online multiplayer modes including Trick Attack, Graffiti, the aforementioned Big Head mode, and a free skate mode.  You can play online with up to three friends.  One can make an argument whether the online play is much of a new feature at all and I was left wanting more fan service than what I found in this game.

Activision is already on record about DLC coming that will feature content and gameplay moves from THPS3.  For those of you that might game exclusively on the PS3 or PC fear not as THPS HD will be launching on both of those platforms in the coming weeks according to Activision.

While THPS HD’s graphics are a massive leap from what you might remember, it has been 13 years and two generations of consoles after all, the game isn’t without its issues.  I was surprised at the amount of graphical pop up.  This is especially evident when a level starts and textures start popping in all over the place.  The character models and animations are not great, but for a downloadable title they are good enough.  The game’s camera angle and peripheral field of view is very limited.  This makes it hard to locate some of the collection based objectives and potential lines to those harder to reach areas.  Being successful often becomes an exercise in trial and error, something that I hate in games.

Fans of skate and punk rock will love the soundtrack in THPS HD.  Instead of recycling just old tunes, Robomodo has taken about half of the tracks from the two games and populated the rest of the soundtrack with new ones.  Hearing that Goldfinger track really brought me back, but I do miss Primus’ “Jerry Was A Race Car Driver”.  The rest of the sound effects from the original game are well preserved but the real star of the show for me has always been the music

Activision and Robomodo seem content relying purely on nostalgia rather than paying true fan service to such an influential game series.  Sure it is fun to return to a game that I enjoyed so much in the late 90’s, but does that make it worth the $15?  Not in this case.  Great source material and decent mechanics are marred by sloppy execution and limited extras, both which make this a decidedly average game.

The Good


The Bad