Tony Hawk hasn’t released a new game since 2010’s Tony Hawk: Shred. His last two games have been huge critical and financial flops. Before that, his last non-peripheraled game, Tony Hawk Proving Ground, was decent at best and because of that, suffered in game sales. To say that Tony’s games have been suffering over the last five years is an understatement. This makes the release of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD all the more important to the license and to Tony’s bank account.
The most important lesson I learned from playing Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD was that first impressions aren’t the best way to evaluate an experience. Within the first ten minutes of playing this game, I was ready to trash the experience. I couldn’t control my avatar, I couldn’t execute tricks, and the physics were mind-boggling. I couldn’t figure out how the developer, Robomodo, could botch a game so well-regarded. If this were a hands-on I’d be ripping this a new one. Fortunately, my first impression was dead wrong.
This downloadable release combines some of the stages of the original Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and Pro Skater 2 in a greatest hits compilation. It’s a smart plan of action and Robomodo did an excellent job of recreating the best of the best. The stages look and feel exactly as they should with some minor upgrades to in-game sponsorships and the like (i.e. Monster Energy Drink didn’t exist back in 1999). The maps are just as you remembered and the objectives haven’t moved an inch.
What has changed the most about playing a Tony Hawk game doesn’t seem to be the game or its mechanics. Instead, we have changed. Personally, I haven’t extensively played a Tony Hawk game since American Wasteland and in that time, other games have changed my comfort zone within the action sports genre. Games like Amped 3, Skate and Skate 2, and, most of all, SSX have moved the mechanics of gameplay around in various drastic directions that have an impact on how I play.
Once I came to terms with this evolution in gameplay, I had to rewire how I was approaching this re-release. Basically, I had to be retaught how to play a game I had spent months of my life mastering a decade ago. The biggest adjustment to make centers on how physics and gravity work in older games. In modern games, the physics engines are precise and more realistic. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD hasn’t upgraded its physics to a modern era for good reason. It shouldn’t play perfectly by modern standards; it should feel like a game made a decade ago.
After relearning how to play this game, I began to see the tremendous care that Robomodo spent to make this game worth playing. They didn’t change anything per se, but they made upgrades. The levels look better, the character have a modern look, and the online leaderboards bring the old game into the modern competitive era. I no longer need to call my friend to ask him his high score on the Hangar map. Fans of the authentic Tony Hawk experience should be pleased with the aesthetic upgrades, because the core game remains the same.
Despite all of the lovely nostalgia in this package, there were two upgrades that I wish they’d included. Firstly, where’s the tutorial level? The gameplay adjustments are large enough and this HD re-release is removed enough from the original release that there’s no excuse for not having a tutorial. It would have made my rewiring less punishing and would help players with no prior Tony Hawk experience understand the game a bit better out of the gate.
The other upgrade I would have appreciated would have been for all of the levels to be unlocked from the start. While Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD models its progress off of the earlier games (levels are unlocked when player meet certain goals), for those of us who have played the game many times, it sucked to not have every level open from the start. I understand the thought process behind locking the levels, but it kept me from playing the stages I know and love immediately. Instead, I was stuck slogging through The Mall longer than I’d wanted to.
In the end, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD is a nice visit down memory lane that is a must buy for fans of the original two games. The single player experience might be a bit shorter than you’re used to but there’s still plenty of gaps and goals to complete for the hardcore completionists. I recommend this release for fans of the originals and non-fans with a spark of interest in the Tony Hawk brand.
CraveOnline received two copies of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD for the Xbox 360. Before starting our review, we played through the entire single player campaign. We did not play any of the multiplayer component for this review.