Some games just weren’t meant for HD revivals. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD attempts to rejuvenate one of the early 2000’s most popular franchises - the herald of skating games as we now know them - with updated graphics, physics, modes, and online play. It’s safe to say that the Tony Hawk franchise peaked during the Pro Skater series, so why wouldn’t this game be an automatic recommendation? Turns out, some 1999-era gameplay doesn’t quite hold up in this day and age.
The first time you boot up the game, you’ll likely be overwhelmed by a surge of sunny nostalgia: skating around the Warehouse in frantic two-minute runs will evoke younger days spent busting out grinds and heelflips with your PS1 or N64 controller. Every secret tape (slyly updated to be a DVD) is in the same location, classic tricks like Darkslides and Christ Airs are back, and iconic songs like Goldfinger’s “Superman” and Powerman 5000’s “When Worlds Collide” are as catchy as ever. But for every refurbished feature you notice, you’ll be stricken with the feeling that something’s missing.
It’s not just you. HD has the same core elements as THPS 1 and 2: players control real-life vert and street skaters as they rack up high-scoring trick combos in halfpipe and rail-laden stages. But while the name implies that it’s a full remake of the first game, it only revamps parts of the first two games, with select levels adding up for a total of seven. It’s unclear who THPS HD was made for: old-school fans of the franchise will be disappointed by what the game lacks, and gamers who’ve never laid eyes on a PS1 will find the mechanics and level design sparse.
HD’s gameplay feels solid, if not a little antiquated. It’s still addicting as all get-out to chase after the #1 spot amongst your buddies, made all the more intense with new leaderboard integration. The basis of the series – the tension building up to successfully nailing an absurdly long combo – is as pure now as it was back then. New online modes like the goofy Big Head Survival are good for a laugh, but you’ll inevitably return to the staples of Trick Attack and Graffiti. The level selection is equals parts hit and miss: School II and Mall are full of great lines to master, but we can’t fathom why Downhill Jam and Marseilles were included when Streets and Philadelphia were readily available.
The controls are satisfyingly simple and intuitively laid out – you won’t find any right-analog-stick trickery here, just button and direction combinations. Alas, the 360 controller’s d-pad and joystick feel equally spongy when trying to pull off precision moves, and the inexplicably-unchangeable controls map spinning to the triggers instead of bumpers – a horrendous change for those accustomed to the old PS1 controller. Updated physics make bailing that much more entertaining, as your ragdolled skater skids on the concrete – but it never stops feeling a tad buggy, as if failed combos in HD might’ve stuck the landing in older games.
As for what the game’s missing, besides the complete 19-stage suite of THPS 1 and 2’s levels? Some familiar skater faces return, but nobody wants to play as Tony Hawk’s son Riley over old-school favorites like Chad Muska and Kareem Campbell. The best multiplayer mode, HORSE, is shockingly MIA. We can’t fault Robomodo for not including the licensed secret characters like Spider-Man that the series is known for, but a lack of an unlockable hidden stage is a missed opportunity, and there’s nary a real-life skate video for completing the game. THPS 2 had some of the best character creation outside of an RPG for the time; though you can skate as your Xbox Avatar, you won’t find any character creation, deep clothing customization, or level designer in HD. We also pine for the days when the less savory songs on the soundtrack could be nixed from the rotation – HD doesn’t let you manipulate, let alone see, the full setlist at a glance.
THPS 2’s biggest ollie forward was the introduction of manuals, which let you greatly extend combos by balancing on your back wheels. Pro Skater 3 upped the high-score ante even further with the inclusion of reverts, which let you slide into a manual when coming off a ramp and made vert skating viable for big points. HD includes the former, but the absence of the latter is a harsh reminder of how far the series has come – while features like getting off your board (TH Underground) and “nail the trick” (Project 8) were overkill, the loss of 3’s reverts and 4’s nifty flatland tricks makes HD’s gameplay feel absolutely hamstrung by comparison.
Yes, the game is a downloadable – but it could’ve been so much more than what we played. It may sound odd, but we’d gladly trade HD’s so-so graphics and unruly physics for straight ports of Tony’s first two PS1 installments. But maybe it’s like they say: you can never truly go back, even to the satisfying grinds and flip tricks of yesteryear.