It’s been over a month since Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD was released on Xbox Live, but earlier this week the highly anticipated reboot finally made it to the PSN. Although Microsoft had an agreement for an exclusive launch as part of their Summer of Arcade on Xbox Live, the PSN version was supposed to follow shortly after. It wasn’t until several days later that Playstation owners got the disappointing news that they would have to wait another month before being able to shred with the Birdman again. Developers at Robomodo reported that the delay was necessary in order to address issues that were being experienced solely on the PS3. This further enraged long time fans of the series since the franchise was originally built for the PSOne back in 1999 and only later ported to other consoles. Blogs and message boards erupted around the web with Playstation owners voicing their discontent for having to wait six weeks longer. While some hardly noticed the delay, the additional wait was almost unbearable for us veteran fans. For most gamers, the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series carries a certain amount of nostalgia, but for me the connection runs much deeper.
It’s safe to say that a lot has changed for me over the last 13 years, I was a foot shorter, forty pounds heavier, and I sported the classically trendy bowl cut hairdo (clearly, I was a shoe in for homecoming king). To top it off, I had recently moved to a new state and was starting high school as the ever popular “new kid”. It was also around this time that my affection for video games catapulted to an unhealthy degree thanks to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. The first time I played THPS was after borrowing an N64 copy from a neighbor the summer after my freshman year. I remember being completely mesmerized by how amazing it was and immediately started saving my allowance for the upcoming sequel, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2.
By the time fall came around I had set aside enough money from doing dishes and yard work to purchase my own copy of THPS2 for PSOne. It was the beginning of my sophomore year in what still felt like a new school and I was struggling to find an identity and make friends. Having spent the previous year on the honor roll sealed my fate in nerdom and my mysterious persona as the “new guy” had long since vanished. My new social status and hobbit like appearance ultimately provided me with an abundance of free time so I spent the rest of the year playing through my teen angst with THPS2. It’s the first game I owned (and still do) that I can remember playing for hours on end and only stopping when my vision began to blur. When I wasn’t playing, I toted around the Prima game guide in my backpack and compulsively looked up the locations of all the hidden cash and gaps. For months I was completely consumed by the game and even used the create-a-skater feature to build avatars of my favorite film characters (now that I think about it…the awkward haircut probably wasn’t the only reason I didn’t date until college). Certainly games like Street Fighter II, StarFox64, and GoldenEye, will always have a place in my heart, but Pro Skater 2 was the catalyst that transformed me into the beautiful gaming butterfly I am today.
But as I grew older with the Tony Hawk series, my relationship with the games began to fade. I played THPS3 and THPS4 with the same feverish devotion as the second installment, but the artistic shift in the Underground games shook my alliance. I still enjoyed American Wasteland but I soon found myself parting ways with the Birdman when EA released their competing franchise, Skate. Skate offered a sense of realism which had been lacking from later entries in the Tony Hawk series and was a breath of fresh air for a long time fan of the genre. Still, part of me thinks that my growing discontent with the changes was because I knew that no other game would have the same magic as THPS2. THPS2 occurred at a transitional period in my life and its sentiment has been permanently ingrained within me. It’s impossible for me to reminisce about high school without recalling those late nights spent kickflipping over planters at the Venice Beach boardwalk.
By now you may be wondering why you have just read something that seems like an entry from the diary of a thirteen year old girl, and no, the reason is not because Salinger is one of my favorite authors. The purpose of explaining (in probably too much detail) the events that I’ve mentioned is to hopefully lend credence to the claim that I am, without a doubt, one of the biggest fans of the early Tony Hawk games that you’ll ever meet…or read an article written by. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to hear about the release of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD when it was announced months ago and have since been counting the days until its release. Now that I’ve had a chance to play it, and the warm fuzzy feeling has worn off, I can say that THPSHD does justice to the franchise’s long heritage.
THPSHD represents a somewhat “best of” collection and features select levels from the first two titles in the franchise. While the maps have been completely recreated from the ground up and tweaked with minor alterations, veterans of the series will have no trouble navigating the familiar terrain. The textures have all been redone in high definition and with new lighting systems the environments have never looked better. The detail in both the levels and character models is a clear indication of the care Robomodo put into re-crafting the game. While the graphics aren’t quite on par with what we’ve seen from current generation disc based games, they are still impressive considering the game’s development as DLC. There are several technical issues though and frame rates do slow down when skating at higher speeds. There is also an abundance of noticeable glitches with regards to intersecting geometry. The ragdoll physics system creates some fairly realistic animations when your skater bails, but too often you’ll see your legs disappear through the ground plane or an arm go through a wall.
The controls are as smooth as ever and hardly feel dated considering they’re over a decade old. Even though I’ve spent the last few years playing the Skate games, my muscle memory kicked in and I found myself instinctively reaching for the triangle button every time I neared a rail. The available tricks stay true to the original games and players can still purchase “Special” moves which can then be executed when their meter is full. In addition to the original trick set, “manuals” from THPS3 have also been inserted. The inclusion of manuals allows players to link together even longer combos than before and creates a new world of opportunity within the classic levels. It has also been announced that a future DLC release will expand the trick list to incorporate “reverts” for linking vert combos.
The sound design is solid with the game’s soundtrack living up to the high standards of its predecessors. Only about half of the original songs from the first two games return in THPSHD, but the new additions to the mix are welcomed. Be forewarned though, when you hear Goldfinger and Millencolin blaring out of your TV set for the first time in years, you’re going to get slapped in the face by a giant backhand of nostalgia. Also returning to the game are several skaters from the original roster including Eric Koston, Rodney Mullen, and Andrew Reynolds, all of which are modeled to reflect their present day appearances. However, there are several notable absentees missing from the lineup, such as Bob Burnquist and Chad Muska. To fill the empty slots developers introduced several of the sport’s newer faces to help bridge the gap between audiences. Although the music and skaters are a blend of old and new, the levels are pulled straight from the previous games. Every gap, ramp, hidden DVD (aka Tape), and secret area are exactly where we left them 13 years ago. Each level has been faithfully rebuilt on the blueprints of the original with only minor aesthetic modifications. Most of the favorites from the previous games make their return, including the Warehouse, School II, Venice Beach, and Downhill Jam. The recently announced forthcoming DLC is also set to bring back the Airport, LA, and Canada from THPS3.
With all the levels and goals being identical to the original games veterans will be able to complete the challenges in a matter of hours. However, replayability is still high as THPSHD, like all other Tony Hawk games, is loaded with unlockables. Several social modes have also been added for gamers that want to take their skills online. The huge fan base of the franchise has already given way to a robust online community even though the reboot is still in its infancy. This enthusiasm is what developers are saying will drive the support for the game and hopefully lead to several more DLC updates. It’s encouraging news for long time fans that are hoping to see new levels and skaters added to the game as well as the popular create-a-skater feature.
Although there are obvious technical issues and some integral parts are missing from the original games, THPSHD still exceeds what we could’ve hoped for in a reboot. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater is arguably one of the greatest video game franchises in recent memory and deserved to go out on a higher note than it did with Tony Hawk Shred. By capturing the true spirit of the original titles Robomodo has been able to reignite that flame inside all of us that burned so intensely over a decade ago. For a mere $14.99 gamers can transport themselves back to a simpler time; a time filled with homework, bad hair cuts, and frontside boardslides.