Nostalgia is a powerful drug, and the folks over at Robomodo go to great lengths to exercise the full extent of it in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD. Anyone who was under the age of 18 during 90s knows what I’m talking about. Handplants, kickflips, ollies, nollies, and jollies bring me back to my teenage years, when Cheeto-laden hands grasped my Playstation controller and lead Mr. Hawk through all sorts of hijinks. THPS HD is so packed full of childhood goodness and polished gameplay, it’s almost impossible to fault the game for some of its lesser attributes. Almost. The title unfortunately suffers from some issues that are forgivable, given its $10 price point ($9 before September ends). But we’ll get to that a bit later.
The game itself, a collection of varied maps from the first two games in the storied THPS franchise, plays exactly as I remember it. Except that my review copy of the title was a Steam download, and thus required some intense keyboard skills to operate. The controls for PC regulars are about as well thought out as they could be. While this control method would definitely work in a pinch, I can’t imagine having the coordination to nail a long, involved string of tricks using just the keyboard. Luckily, When I plugged in my 360 controller, the game auto-detected it, making both movement and trick execution considerably easier.
Graphically, THPS HD is not going to blow away any fans of Crysis or Battlefield, but the HD overhaul has certainly done the game justice. Skating into the sun in the Venice Beach map gave off a nice camera glare, and all of the maps have really crisp textures and exceptional lighting. Viewing screenshots from the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, from way back in the original Playstation days, made me appreciate the facelift even more. Also, considering many HD remakes coming out now are just the original titles forced to run at higher resolutions, it was nice to see Robomodo actually putting in the time to recreate the visuals for the modern console age.
In the soundtrack department, THPS HD is phenomenal. The music selection is an entertaining mix of rock, grunge, and hip hop tracks, and all of the songs lend to the skater vibe the Tony Hawk games have always eschewed. In particular, the Ska track “Superman” by Goldfinger is a skater anthem for the ages. I recall the song’s guitar and trombone melodies blaring from my measly TV speakers during long sessions with the original THPS over a decade ago, so to hear it again all this time later was a treat for my nostalgic soul.
Regarding gameplay and design, THPS HD hits both high and low points. The actual skateboarding elements of the game are great. Doing ollies over the elusive magic hobo, and grinding along pipes in an airplane hangar all control smoothly, even flawlessly (with a controller, as previously mentioned). Completing objectives in each level garners cash that can be spent on new boards, and more importantly, better stats for your skater of choice; naturally, I chose the Birdman himself. This constant character upgrade gave me the sense of accomplishment that RPGs do, except instead of slaying dragons for better loot, I was completing high score goals and collecting floating objects to make a better skater.
Unfortunately, not all is well in Tony Hawk land, as the levels themselves are a grab bag of great and mediocre maps from earlier games. The first few are fine and dandy, creating the perfect balance of trickable objects and flat ground skating area to direct your character around. However, two of the last maps you unlock – one themed after California’s Venice Beach, the other a downhill speed-fest called Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam – were much weaker in design than their predecessors. Venice Beach is a bland collection of grindable ledges and excessive barren, flat terrain that didn’t really seem appropriate for a skateboarding game. Also, the map was surrounded by an annoying no-skate zone, that reset my skater every time a grind sent me off the edge and onto the beach, something that happened far too often. The Downhill Jam, on the other hand, was all too busy. Everywhere I turned, another ramp was popping up, beckoning me to explore some other level or secret area that made it hard to find collectibles or get any sense of direction. Things were not helped by the fact that in the map, as the name implies, you’re in a constant, downward motion at high velocities. One faceplant basically means restarting the entire level. Realistically, these complaints would normally be mitigated by a diverse map selection; however, there are only seven levels to choose from in Robomodo’s remake. As mentioned earlier, the game only runs 10 dollars – 1/6 of standard retail price – so I’m willing to overlook the limited level selection. But a few extra levels from Tony’s past (DLC levels are inbound) would have really set this value priced title over the edge.
Overall, while Tony Hawks Pro Skater HD may not break any ground in the tired skateboard game genre (which, admittedly, this franchise created), it does a fantastic job of reminding us of the genre’s roots, and where the fun all began. A few stumbles here and there hold back an otherwise fantastic release, but the throwback factor will certainly be enough to draw in previous fans, and a younger audience who missed out on the craze when it was hot years ago.