Some of my fondest gaming memories at the turn of the century are of passing a controller back and forth with some friends and trying to score the highest score possible in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. At that time there was nothing like it on the consoles and overnight it revolutionized the skateboard genre and officially made Tony Hawk a household name. Having not played in years I was both excited and worried about Activision’s decision to remake this gaming classic. Sometimes the nostalgia overtakes expectations and in this case nothing could be more true.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD, or THPS HD, includes some of the best courses from both Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. Favorites such as Warehouse, School II, and Downhill Ham all make re-appearances. Robomodo has done a great job at recreating the levels created by Neversoft and have pretty much left them untouched. The character models also look much better in HD with wrecks looking more brutal then ever. The game even gives you the opportunity to skate as your XBLA Avatar which is actually pretty entertaining. Comparing screenshots of the old games are not only eye opening but as with any game from that time period it is amazing to think about how great we thought it looked at the time.
Outside of the new visuals, THPS HD pretty much leaves everything about the previous game untouched. At the start of your career you are forced to meet certain objectives in each course to unlock the next one. Objectives range from meeting certain high scores, collecting S-K-A-T-E throughout the level, or even performing certain tricks. In the original version you had to collect the “Secret VHS Tape”. Since we are no longer in the 20th century, Robomodo has made the decision to make it the “Secret DVD”. I would have loved to have been there while the discussion was being made to make this change. The arguments for both sides would have been hilarious to hear.
After picking up the controller and actually playing the game I couldn’t help but be let down. The game just doesn’t stand up to the expectations that I had. I admit that my expectations were derived more from the experiences I had with the game those many years ago and not necessarily from the game itself. In terms of gameplay it pretty much plays the same but when compared to games in the genre that have come out since, like the Skate series, I can’t help but see its simplicity. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because that is essentially what made this game shine, but in an era of online gaming and with couch gaming nearly gone it just doesn’t stand up.
The game does offer multiplayer with leaderboards and online modes. Trick Attack pits players together and task them with trying to achieve the highest score total before the timer expires. Big Head Elimination gives every player Big Heads that continually grow and are only shrunken when tricks and combos are performed. The last player with their head intact wins. The final mode is Graffiti which has players tricking to “tag” objects on the course. The player with the most tagged objects when the timer expires wins. All the modes are definitely fun and fit the series but finding players to play with has been a bit of an issue because shortly after launch there were not many people playing online. The game also lacks the HORSE mode which was a blast those many years ago.
One of the biggest things missing from the game is the revert. The revert was a move that was introduced in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 that enabled players to chain together tricks much easier and create some insanely high scores. Since its use became critical in the series later additions, its absence here is definitely felt. Robomodo has promised to deliver it as well as some courses from THPS3 in the form of DLC, but unfortunately I’m not sure that its addition would be something that would help make this game a better experience overall.
With everything considered, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is not a bad game. It is definitely a competent remake of a game that is too often held up as one of the highlights of a previous generation. It’s gameplay feels dated and in a world where online gaming has essentially crushed “couch co-op” mulitplayer, it just feels like an empty experience. If you’ve never played the series you may find some value in the $15 price tag because at that price it may still be worth it for the bit of fun factor alone. If you’re a veteran of the series download the demo and curb your nostalgia because though the big air on the half pipe is still thrilling, the gameplay itself often becomes nothing more than a grind.