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Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD (X360)

By TimmyWalnuts 07th Aug 2012 | 4,380 views 

The return of a legend.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was a staple during the late 1990s on the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation, where almost anyone that picked up a controller right before the turn of the century most definitely spent some time shredding up the Warehouse and School, grinding and kickflipping their way to those sick scores and hidden tapes. When the HDified version was announced back at Spike’s VGAs, widespread rejoice rang through the internet. Yet, with the current state of the skating franchise and Neversoft NOT sitting in the developer’s chair, all the news was taken with a grain of salt, and rightfully so; for as good as the HD remake is, Robomodo’s attempt at recapturing the total immersion that the original instilled is slightly offbeat.

Since THPS wasn’t given a campaign or story mode until the Underground days, Robomodo chose correctly by not adding anything significant that could have detracted from the experience and memories gamers have stored in that special little hard drive we call a heart. One “major” addition, a map overview, is very welcome and makes level navigation much easier, as it shows the location of every S-K-A-T-E letter, cash ticket, and specific goal that every level holds. Oddly, no current skater position is shown, which would have been the icing-on-the-map-cake, though it’s not very necessary.

While create-a-skater wasn’t introduced until THPS3, Tony Hawk HD features one that’s not exactly in the game per se. The game allows for Xbox Avatars to be used as skaters, which doesn’t fit perfectly with the rest of the game’s art style, but can be used as a pretty robust character editor, giving a plethora of options and costumes to make any number of skaters (Master Chief Christ-Airing, anybody?).

Getting back on the board for the first time since the early 2000s was a blast from the past. It feels very much like the first two games in the series, taking the purist route and not including more advanced tricks that popped up in THPS3 or later (such as the revert). Comboing through grinds, kickflips, air grabs and manuals feels exceptionally smooth and fluid, where transition between tricks is spot on. However, the physics engine behaves a bit strangely. While only a slight oddity, it makes for a world of difference when compared to the original; many times I found myself bracing for a high-flying, bloody impact with the ground, only to skip a frame or two of animation in the process, making for a very awkward landing.

Other problems arise when transferring between quarter and half pipes, where the skater magically stays in line with the ramp, even though it has snaked itself halfway around the level’s perimeter.  It makes stringing together some serious combos together much easier, yet it feels unnatural and looks just a bit ridiculous when following the invisible, magnetic track that seemingly floats in the air.

Like the original Tony Hawk, THPSHD features a sandbox-styled single player mode where most of the gameplay will take place. There are a total of seven levels spanning both THPS and THPS2, with some old favorites like the Warehouse, School II, and Venice Beach making an appearance. Rather than tapes, players now have a list of goals per level, where the “collect 5 of something” or “do something 5 times”, the hidden tape (now DVD), and some added challenges provide for lots of healthy replayability, as it’s impossible to complete every goal in a single 2 minute round.

Each skater begins with a set amount of stats in the ten given categories (air, spin, switch, rail balance and six others), where completing goals and collecting cash tickets will reward the player with money to improve skaters. Every skater has a separate career for the set of stages, further supporting the game’s replayability. Yet, the skater lineup has been altered from the PSOne and N64 days, with the roster now reflecting the current stars of the sport, rather than the roster that helped make the first two games so much fun. Besides Tony himself, I didn’t recognize one other name (save for his son, of course). Admittedly, I have no interest in the physical sport itself, but at least the original included some more distinguished names.

The biggest changes - the inclusion of online multiplayer (and exclusion of split screen MP), the HD facelift and the revamped soundtrack - are a mixed bag. The game looks pretty gorgeous; rounding out the polygonal edges and restoring Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater for the modern generation is one of the rare cases, in terms of HD remakes, where the graphical update was both necessary and a clear improvement over the original. Many “HD remakes” don’t update visuals enough (Code Veronica X HD, anyone?) to make a major impact, and while Robomodo prevents THPSHD from falling victim to this same cash grab as other titles have, the absence of split screen multiplayer seems like an odd design choice. Competing side by side with my friends back in the day, cursing through our prepubescent voices about not being able to use custom skaters, are some of my best memories from my childhood, and Xbox Live just doesn't have the same effect.

The online helps to fill the void, where matchmaking is simple and quick, but the purity of the game is tainted, and no split screen detracts from the experience that Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater once offered. The same goes for the soundtrack, which contains a measly seven songs from the first two games. Those seven are the clear standouts, whereas only a couple of new songs, like Apex Manor’s “Teenage Blood” and Pigeon John’s “The Bomb” capture the essence of THPS, but the rest of the songs are lackluster and feel out of place.

Robomodo hit its mark with gusto, making huge improvements upon outdated visuals and keeping true to the same high-scoring, crazy-comboing gameplay that made the first three Tony Hawk’s Pro Skaters such a blast to play. Yet, some questionable design choices, such as not including split screen multiplayer, altering both the skater roster and soundtrack, and a slight issue with the physics engine prevent Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD from recapturing the community with the same firm grasp it once held. THPSHD is a good game, it’s just not as great as it could have been.

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