After a slew of yearly, arguably diminishing quality sequels and a boneheaded stab at the briefly popular peripheral market, the once immensely critically and commercially successful Tony Hawk series had faceplanted into the concrete. It was time for a reboot.
Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD goes back to the series’ roots. Riding a fine line between HD port and full-on remake, the game is a compilation of seven levels from the series’ first two entries. I could tell you the levels range from classic fan favorites to a couple odd choices, but I might as well just share them: Warehouse, School II, The Hangar, Mall,VeniceBeach, Downhill Jam, and Marseille. The important thing to note is it’s a small collection.
The gameplay and overall structure is as it was back in the day, with a few minor tweaks. In career mode, you have two minutes to skate around and complete as many goals as you can. Complete enough goals and you unlock the next stage, as well as new boards, cheats, and money to spend improving the stats of your skater. The goals and level layouts are nearly identical to the originals. The secret tapes hidden in the levels have been changed to hidden DVDs, but that doesn’t exactly change anything. If you’re an expert at the early games, you will speed right through Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD on muscle memory. That said, old Tony Hawk remains challenging, especially compared to the flexibility and accessibility of the later games.
That difficulty can be attributed to the fact the first two games had an extremely limited move set. Even before the series fell apart with Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground and the Ride/Shred peripheral games, (ex?) fans claimed that the old entries were the best, and it was all downhill from there. It’s easy to forget all of the significant improvements and additions that were made throughout the yearly installments. As a diehard fan who stuck with the series and thought it peaked with Tony Hawk’s Project 8, I feel handicapped without the ability to revert, spine transfer, bank drop, bail and get off the board, and so on. You can’t even perform tricks while grinding or manualing, unless you count stringing them together with grab and flip tricks. Worse, as in the case of the wall ride, some tricks that existed since the beginning are clunkier and harder to pull off than the same exact trick in later entries.
Developer Robomodo likely made a conscious choice to strip the game back to the basics. I’m sure they felt that limiting the move set helped retain the essence of the originals, which were all about skating and mastering the levels. If you could fly off the end of a half-pipe while trying to pull off a vert trick and simply bail out instead of slamming into the ground, it would remove some of the mastery required from the old games. However, to me it still feels like a missed opportunity to breathe new life (and perhaps new goals) into these classic, (mostly) beloved levels.
But I give Robomodo and Activision the benefit of the doubt, because parts of Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD suggest real care and consideration were taken in creating it. It feels like a flawed but genuine effort to resuscitate the franchise. They could have gone the all-too-easy route of just porting the levels, slapping on some new, generic songs, and calling it a day. Instead, they kept the gameplay and levels that old school fans love, but completely rebuilt them with a new graphics engine. And the soundtrack and skater roster are a smart mix of old and new.
If that were it, I would probably still suggest seeking out Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2X for the original Xbox. It had every level from the first two games, and a few new ones, making it a much more robust package than Pro Skater HD. And if you did find it, you would probably only have to part with a couple dollars. What seals the deal and makes Pro Skater HD a buy is the inclusion of leaderboards, Achievements, online multiplayer (which, of course, includes staples like Graffiti mode), and a new mode called Big Head Mode.
In Big Head Mode, your head slowly inflates and then deflates when you land a trick. The growth rate on your head increases every 30 seconds or so, and if you go too long without landing a big enough trick, your head explodes, and the game is over. The goal is to outlast other players, or in single player last long enough to earn some cash. It’s a fun, new mode that I hope sticks with the series, wherever it goes.
Of course, standard modes such as free skate and single session are still there, but sadly, the park editor and local multiplayer are missing. Personally, I won’t miss them because I never made my own skate parks, and my friends are all grown up and busy working and making babies and stuff, but I know some fans would rather have these features even more than a new mode.
Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD is a nice arcade release and bit of fan service, but I’m not sure it’s exactly the reinvigoration the series needed to make it relevant to modern audiences. (On the contrary, I think newcomers will struggle to understand what the big deal was in the first place.) At $15, it’s hard to complain, but Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD arrives in a year when SSX proved—with innovation and silky-smooth gameplay—that the extreme sports genre isn’t dead. Pro Skater HD just removes the necessity of wearing rose-tinted glasses to enjoy your nostalgia. It will be interesting to see where the franchise goes from here. With enough time and effort, I still believe it can make a comeback to full-fledged retail titles, and not just arcade throwbacks.
- Classic Tony Hawk in glorious HD
- Leaderboards, Achievements, and online multiplayer
- Great soundtrack, with a mix of old and new licensed music
- Big Head Mode
- Only 7 levels
- No new levels
- Moves are limited to what was available in Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1 and 2