A little more than a decade ago, the video game community had a brief but passionate affair with "xtreme" sports. Leading the pack was Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, a twitch-happy homage to skateboarding with a charismatic front man. But frequent releases and an increased emphasis on goofy Jackass-style stunts forced the Birdman to fall out of favor, leaving those of us who enjoyed the classic titles pining for happier days. Now that score challenges have found a comfortable space in the cheaper downloadable arena, I thought that perhaps Tony Hawk could carve out a niche for itself again.
I still believe in that potential, but this is a rocky first step.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD compiles some of the best-known stages from the early games, mashed together and given an HD make-over. Each stage comes packed with a few extra challenges, and the game introduces some new skaters, but otherwise it's exactly what the title implies. These stages will feel extremely familiar to anyone who has played them before, without many new bells or whistles to reignite the experience.
Some of the inclusions are certainly better choices than others. Long-time fans couldn't deny the quality of stages like the School, or the nostalgic thrill that comes from replaying the Warehouse. As a player who favors grind tricks, Marseille is a personal favorite. But some, like the Downhill Jam or Venice Beach, have just aged terribly -- the former because it isn't adaptable to different play styles, and the latter because the map is simply a confusing, overstuffed mess.
The stages each feature two new modes on top of the regular ones, to offer more challenge for old hands. Hawkman lays out Medallions along an ideal skate line, challenging players to pick them all up in one run. Big Head Survival is an endurance run, demanding constantly bigger tricks to keep your head from inflating until it pops. They're both clever enough, but they each depend on very slight twists to the types of challenges already offered in the game proper.
The adherence to the legacy means that some of the same issues from those games persist as well. Later games felt more forgiving for a barely-missed landing or grind, so taking these mechanics back to the original source material means those user-friendly improvements are gone. Even despite that, the game goes by fairly quickly like its predecessors. While it is difficult to complete every objective and find every item, seasoned pros can speed through all of the stages with ease. I also don't remember getting stuck on geometry or falling through stages nearly as much in the older titles.
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Some moments in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD are still just as satisfying as I remember them -- pulling off a huge trick, finally getting a perfect run, hitting the right angle for a big jump. The game still has potential as an a la carte downloadable title; Robomodo has even promised more stages coming as DLC. But the core game suffers from uneven stage selection and a dearth of new content, forcing it to rely on nostalgia for its thrills.
This Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD review was based on a Xbox 360 digital version of the game provided by the publisher.