Its hard to describe how much of an impact the original Tony Hawks games had on me. Not because I’m not a very good writer – although I’m sure that crime could be levelled at me – but for the fact that between the ages of 9 to 16, I rented, brought, stole, sold my vital organs for every iteration of The Birdman’s franchise. It was a disease, but a pleasant one.
Whether it was the arcade perfection of Pro Skater 2 (which I still have for my GameBoy colour… Hooray for me) or the freedom and other assorted gimmicky additions of the later years, the Hawks games always held a certain spell over me. Maybe it was the mixture of addictive-as-meth gameplay and blissful pop-punk music, or it could have been the tongue-in-cheek anarchic ‘humour’ that would appeal to a 14 year old who still thought that fart and dick jokes was on par with Richard Pyror for comedy. Whatever it was, those games were a major part of my gaming diet as a wee sprog.
The tedious demise of the franchise has been documented countlessly as a stark warning to franchises that churn out a game a year. If you’re not careful, you’ll be the only person left at the party. When the series left the halcyon days of the PS2, it found itself looking increasingly archaic compared to EA’s Skate and desperately gimmicky when it re-invented itself with a plastic skateboard as a controller. When final game Shred barely managed to sell 7,000 copies, its death felt 4 years too late.
Now, it returns from the grave, dirt scrubbed off with the HD soap that has paved way for the return of several shuffling franchises of yester-gen. Yet, its resurrection as an Xbox arcade title is less of a minor miracle and more of a shrewd attempt to trade on the nostalgia of gamers who spent years obsessing over the fizzy highs of those first few titles.
Pro Skater HD cherry picks content from the first two games in the series – with THPS 3 being represented with DLC later in the year – and it should feel instantly familiar to anyone who has ever picked up the pad on previous games. The A button makes you ollie, X is for flip tricks, Y for grinds and B for grabs. The D-Pad or stick can be used to preform different tricks. To get the scores that will mark you as a skateboarding legend you need to sting your tricks together using manuals to link them.
Its a system that provided a solid base for the series and it remains the same here, stripped of the various tweaks that came across the years – there are no reverts, transfers, getting off the board or nail the trick systems to confuse yourself with. The game promises the simple but intricate arcade skating that defined the early entries and delivers it adequately.
The problem is that the early entries delivered fantastic gameplay not adequate gameplay. It becomes painfully clear early on that new developers Robomodo aren’t Neversoft. Minor issues that were in the original series – like characters clipping into the scenery – still exist and major issues start to become apparent pretty quickly. The gameplay feels too heavy at the beginning, lacking the manic pace that defined the series. Once a skater is fully leveled up, it gets close to the special kind of magic that early Hawk games conjured, only to be let down by iffy physics that feel like a dice roll if you’re going to stay on your board or not.
If the gameplay is disappointingly adequate, then some other changes are downright bizarre. For a series that arguably defined its fans music tastes, the reboot offers only a few tracks from the original – Hooray for Goldfinger! Boo for lack of Ramones – and then a few new tracks that lack any real punch. If you had the option to choose a playlist – something that existed in previous Hawks games, lest we forgot to judge this one by their standards – then it wouldn’t be a problem, but you can’t and you’re forced to listen to songs that get very annoying, very quick.
For a HD remake the game feels functional rather than flashy although the character models look just a little too close to dead eye dolls to be considered good, while the memorable environments haven’t had too much tinkering done to them, so levels still are stacked full of gaps and lines that have the ability to leave you in your seat for hours. The nostalgia blasts from the design should keep the interest of those who manage to solider past the disappointing gameplay.
Coming back to Tony Hawks feels like a non-event. It is neither revolution for the series and though it features purely old levels, calling it a remake is like calling FIFA 12 a remake of FIFA 10. Sure they might feature the same things, but there’s enough tweaks under the hood so they feel like different beasts. Instead, THPSHD (Christ that’s a jumble of letters) feels like a continuation of the original series, just having waited long enough and stripping down on gimmicks in an attempt to give the fans what they want.
Fans didn’t want a half-hearted collection of past glories though, so its a shame that’s what they got.