Playing the first Tony Hawk is one of those gaming memories forever etched into my mind. I don’t know what it was- maybe it was the fact I played it so many times in a row, maybe it was the fact that I’d never played anything like it before, or maybe it was that Goldfinger song playing over and over. It was just a moment that stuck with me forever.
The Tony Hawk games have doubtlessly come a long way since then. We all watched the series rise and fall with great interest. When it finally took a break, we were thankful and looked forward to seeing the series come back as something better than it had been. After several failed attempts at bringing the series back, new developer Robomodo took a break to produce Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD, and we were excited- a return to the old games style would be a great change of pace, and revisiting the old levels is a great idea. Yet the game feels off somehow, a little slower, a little cleaner, if you will. But while the game may not be exactly perfect, it’s still a great return to what made the series special.
THPSHD takes the series back to what it was in Tony Hawk 2- so manuals yes, but no reverts or skitching or crazy things like getting off the board. It’s pure arcade skateboarding, and you know it’s what you’ve been wanting!
Seriously, though, Robomodo has done a lot to make sure that they can get in and remake the original Tony Hawk games as closely as possible. All of the old systems are still in place and more or less unchanged. The same upgrade system is back, starting your skater off bare bones and upgrading them to being impossibly good at everything. You earn money by completing objectives on your runs through the levels, or getting money pick-ups, and you can also buy new decks and tricks. It’s so similar, the buttons are even mapped the same way. Polygonal Tony Hawk is even an unlockable character. They’re doing everything to pick your nostalgia and make it as close as possible to older games.
They’d have probably been able to pick the nostalgia more with a better choice of levels. The original Tony Hawk had 9 levels, Tony Hawk 2 had 11 (and even more on the PC), but this only has 7, and you feel that lack of levels, especially since not all of them are winners. The downhill levels, specifically, were never fan favorites, but there are 2 here anyways, apparently because Mr. Hawk himself asked for them to be there. They did improve that by having you warp back up at the end of the level, but they’re still an odd choice. Also, Venice Beach. I mean, come on.
Overall, the game feels close to its predecessors, but slower, and less extreme. You don’t move as fast, you’re not flying as high or rotating as quickly, and your scores aren’t as crazy as they wound up getting in later games, though that last part is a little welcome. I remember getting to a point where if a combo wasn’t a million points, it was enough to commit ritual suicide in shame.
There are also just some control issues I don’t remember. While a lot of the weird physics quirks are still there (hit a rail at a perpendicular angle? Hit Y and you grind like it ain’t no thing!), there are some new quirks introduced here and there as well. Manuals are almost impossible to hit from pipes, or there are spots where the game just cuts a combo as I’m trying to transition to a manual or a grind. When trying for those high-scores, a combo interruption of any sort is infuriating, and it’s even worse when you know it’s the game’s fault. I also had a problem tapping out special moves- the game’s timing window seems a little small, and it made some objectives a little hard to achieve. They could have also fixed some old issues, like wall rides being difficult to do, but I use those so rarely that it’s only a real problem in School II.
Odd glitches pop up here and there in the game, too, where I catch edges that didn’t exist, or I’ll unstick from a jump and go flying off. I’ve hit some walls that send me flying into the air, and I’ve entered grinds where my leg goes through the rail and I can’t get out, so the only excuse is to bail. I’m not sure if this game was rushed or something, but hopefully they can fix it, because it’s a little annoying.
Plus, Venice Beach has this weird glitch where I hate it, so that’s weird.
Single and multiplayer both have extra modes. Beyond the objective levels and Free Skate, single player has Hawkman mode, sending you off to collect orbs that can only be picked up with specific tricks. There are also Projectives (which is a name Tony Hawk seems incredibly proud of), which are harder objectives, and those unlock later. Multiplayer brings back graffiti and time attack, and both have a new mode called Bighead Survival, where your head grows and grows until it explodes, unless you pull off a good trick or combo. There are also cheats and unlockables, but using them turns off all achievements and progression. So yes, a “cheat” where you play as a ghost version of your skater still turns everything off.
This game pulls off the gameplay well- they nail the feel of the games for the most part, but have a few weird moments that just don’t work right and reminds you that you’re not still playing those old ones. Still, it’s close enough to scratch that itch, and I hope the upcoming DLC adds some more levels, because really, that’s the biggest thing it needs: just a little more so it can last longer.
While you may think that THPSHD looks just like you remember it, you might want to go take a look- the HD Unreal Engine update looks good, much better than it did before. Things are smooth and have edges and definition to it, and they really changed it and made all the levels look distinct and nicely improved. Little details, like the graffiti in Venice Beach, have also been updated nicely and it all looks pretty good.
As with the gameplay, though, glitches pop up in weird places. There’s a lot of texture tearing, especially in School II. Seriously, rotating around, it just seems like the game’s dissolving and leaving nothing but skybox behind. I also started running into weird problems with the game just stopping for a few seconds, then catching up with me again just in time for me to find a place to crash. Marseilles also had a specific glitch where the screen would shake rapidly and only off of a specific jump. It was so fast it could probably cause someone to have a seizure. There’s also the usual Unreal texture fade in each level, but luckily, it’s only at the start, and then no matter how many times you restart you only have to see it that one time. Things like this are easy to patch and don’t really hurt too much, but it does help make the game feel a little rushed, especially added to the earlier glitches.
The biggest problem with the game comes down to intangibles. If you’re a fan of the series, there’s always going to be something not quite right. Neversoft brought something very specific to the series that just hasn’t been captured again since they left it. There was an enthusiasm to it, a humor, an attitude that’s just missing from this release.
You can especially feel it in the humor and the extras you get. Where Neversoft loaded the game with weird things like Spider-Man and Roswell, it comes down to Officer Dick and Ollie the Magic Bum being the biggest ones here to unlock. It feels like they’re only there because they’re supposed to, but only because they’d be skinned alive if they weren’t in the game.
I can’t fault the game too much for “eeeh it just isn’t the right FEEL” because beyond the presentation aspects I mentioned, the game does a great job of being the arcade skating experience we’ve been wanting back. The odd control quirks are the biggest problem with the game, but it’s still close enough, and updated in enough ways that the package is more than a good time. I do wish there were more levels, but with multiplayer online and integrated leaderboards, there are some good reasons to go back and replay.
This is probably the best place to mention the soundtrack, which is for the most part pretty good. I know we all groaned when it was announced that not all of the songs were from the original soundtracks, but some of the new ones are good and fit in with the overall feel of the rest of the track. I did notice there’s a weird slant in the new songs being about the USA, but I’m chalking it up to coincidence. Most importantly, though, is that I got super stoked when the game started up for the first time and Public Enemy and Anthrax came on. They did well indeed.
It’s really easy to sit and complain about how “if I did this collection, I’d have put ______ in!” or lament about what’s missing (like Bob Burnquist!), but we need to stop and think about it for a second. These games and this series are incredibly beloved by so many people from their childhood- the first Tony Hawk came out in 1999- that you just can’t please everyone. It’s why the fall to skateboard-controlled irrelevance hurt us so much, as we watched something from our formative years just stop mattering. Robomodo has been given the Herculean task of turning your gilded memories into a new game, both updating and preserving it. It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s a wonderful attempt that captures a lot of what made the games fun in the first place. It’s a strong entry in a storied series, and will hopefully be a guiding light for a resurgence of the franchise.