The Tony Hawk series is certainly a classic. Back in the day, I’m sure most of us spent long hours grinding rails and stringing together combos as we discovered long lines throughout the levels. In recent years the franchise has unfortunately taken a turn for the worse, partially due to the expensive and cumbersome Tony Hawk: Ride (which I own), and partially due to the rise of the more realistic Skate games.
Now we can all take a trip down memory lane with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD, a re-imagining of the original title for Xbox Live Arcade (and later for PlayStation Network and PC). Well, I say re-imagining, but remake-with-slight-improvements would be a more accurate term. It’s been so long since I played the original that I’d forgotten how many things were added as the series progressed. This means that ultimately, while fun, THPS HD can feel a little old and basic.
The core gameplay hasn’t been messed with – you’ll still get two minutes to explore the levels, attaining high scores and searching for hidden objects. The problem is that I continuously found myself wondering why certain moves (such as spine transfers) weren’t working, only to remember that they weren’t introduced until later in the series. There’s nothing wrong with stripping the complexity of a franchise back to its basics, but maybe keeping just a few more of the additions wouldn’t have hurt.
That’s not to say that I didn’t have a good time. There’s still plenty of thrills to be had from launching off a ramp, smashing through a window while pulling of a 720 Japan Air, grabbing the hidden DVD (yeah, the hidden tapes have been modernized), and landing perfectly on the ground below. You won’t find some of the more varied challenges introduced in the third and fourth instalments of the franchise, but the introduction of online leaderboards helps breath some new life into the existing tasks.
The inclusion of online functionality is the biggest improvement to this high-def remake, and provides some fun that no late-90s gamer would even have dreamed of. As well as the standard modes, we also get an interesting twist on the “big head” cheats that dominated games of the era, in which you must keep pulling off tricks or your head will grow to bursting point! While a little tacked-on and gimmicky, being able to play against my online buddies should keep things going longer than the measly 7 level single player would otherwise be able to.
Another nice, but slightly bizarre addition, is the ability to use your avatar in place of the cast of professional riders. I never noticed how oddly-proportioned my virtual Xbox self was, until it was introduced to the roster of normally-sized, realistically-drawn characters. It’s also slightly weird when my avatar continues to smile goofily after falling 20 feet onto his massive head. Couldn’t they have added a brief expression of pain?
One more aspect worth mentioning is the music. Ah yes, there’s nothing like music to invoke nostalgia. Unfortunately, the soundtrack has been stripped down to a mere 14 songs, and they’re not all from the original game. I’m sure this has to do with licensing issues, but fans may be sad when their particular favourite is absent. As for me, I honestly don’t care – I can’t stand the poppy skater rock always found in these titles, and I’m thankful I can just plug in my iPod and replace the soundtrack. Sorry, but the music sucked then, and it sucks now. Besides, if you really miss it, you can just stick all the original songs on your Xbox hard drive and play them that way.
There’s not really much else to say about Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD. I could spend ages discussing the nuances of gameplay, but for the few folks who haven’t played the original, you can always look up reviews for that. I know that sounds bad, like nothing has changed, but that’s sort of the point – THPS HD is fun, but nothing that fans haven’t seen before. Many of the thrills are still there, and nostalgia shouldn’t be overlooked when deciding whether or not to spend your money, but just don’t expect a grand re-launch of the series.