Review: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD

THPSHD

Before Call of Duty became a combat-themed cash cow, Activision rode a very different franchise down the rocky road to sick profitability. This particular ride had four polyurethane wheels, rode low to the ground and was often tricked out with enough logos/stickers to make a NASCAR fan blush. The dudes who ollied and nollied on it ranged from a taciturn guy the cool kids called The Birdman to a flannel- and tattoo-sporting head case who dated supermodels and had a sound effect for a first name.

Yes, there was a time, way back in the late ‘90s/early 00′s, when Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was one of the top franchises on the PlayStation. Smell the teen spirit, already.

As the years went on, the new consoles debuted and the wheels sorta came off. The series’ full-on faceplant came with 2009’s ill-fated Tony Hawk: Ride, an overpriced package that proved once and for all that gamers weren’t willing to double the cost of their game purchase just to ride on a wonky skateboard peripheral.
Enough time has passed–from both the series’ grunge-inflected heyday and Ride’s catastrophic retail performance—to make Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD, the leadoff hitter in Xbox Live’s 2012 Summer of Arcade series, feel like something more than a nostalgia-fueled cash-grab.

This isn’t a remade port of the original 1999 Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. There are no pointless frills. No shoehorned storylines about battling City Hall and soulless developers to just, you know, stake out some turf to skate, man. No, this is a seven-level greatest-level package culled from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and its 2000 sequel (levels from THPS3, including the ability to revert, are coming later as DLC), augmented with some bizarre and clever gameplay modes. The package feels almost a little too lean and mean for its own good, but it’s also a strong and nostalgic reminder of why we once loved busting manuals and no complies in the first place. (Want to feel really old? Tony’s son Riley Hawk is now a skater option.)

The career mode’s as straightforward as it ever was. Starting with the classic warehouse level where you first learned to string tricks like a million-point high score pro, you’re nailing the same objectives in the same two-minute time span—collect the S-K-A-T-E, find the special DVD (not VHS tape—hello, modernism), smash the boxes—to unlock the next level and keep skating. The levels, meanwhile, look both familiar and fantastic. Developer Robomodo has done a masterful job of applying the HD sheen to the school and mall levels that first wowed us in 1999, and the detail work’s apparent.

Two new game modes make the game’s $15 price of admission more than worthwhile. First up is the sickly hilarious Big Head Elimination mode, a multiplayer mode that finds you trying to string tricks together to keep your ever-inflating noggin from exploding like a faulty balloon. The other is Hawkman, a single-player spin on Pac-Man that demands your skater grind, manual and air-trick to “eat” colored strings of pellets.

THPSHD is as remarkable for what’s new as what’s missing. In a move more shocking than Tony Hawk taking up synchronized swimming, local multiplayer didn’t make the cut. It’s also a little disappointing to not be able to create your own levels or skater (you can use your Xbox Live avatar, so that’s something.) Then again, this was never supposed to be the skateboard set’s equivalent of LittleBigPlanet.

If you’ve never played it—kinda scary to contemplate that there are sixth-graders today who were just born when Pro Skater 1 first hit—this HD remix is a great chance to see what all the cool kids were playing when Nirvana and Alice in Chains still ruled the airwaves. PlayStation-era vets will find it a worthy skate down Tony Hawk’s Memory Halfpipe. Watch out for that, railing, dude.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Skating the Warehouse, School and Mall levels is as fun and familiar as you remember
+ Big Head Elimination and Hawkman modes are inspired twists on familiar gameplay
+ HD refinish really pops

Cons:
- Seven levels skate by quickly
- No local multiplayer, create-a-skater or create-a-level features

Game Info:
Platform: Xbox 360 via Xbox Live Arcade (also coming soon to PC and PSN)
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Robomodo
Release Date: 7/18/2012
Genre: Skateboarding
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-4 (online only)
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.