With each new HD remake or port of a classic game I pick up, I always expect to step in a time machine to go back to the past and go into a nostalgic acid trip. But Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD was different.
Back during the turn of the millennium, the Tony Hawk games made their rise as the premiere skateboarding series of games that was concentrated on pulling off tricks, doing objectives, and racking up a high score while under a time limit. Since then, the series escalated along side Tony Hawk’s popularity. Nowadays, the Tony Hawk games are nothing like their former iterations, throwing a skateboard peripheral into the mix while omitting standard controls.
Built from the ground up, THPSHD mimics the original and second THPS games. Let’s reemphasize that word: Mimic. Everything was rebuilt in order to try to replicate the original experience. But, throughout the time I’ve spent with the game, there was this weird itch in the back of my head that I just could not scratch off. This isn’t the same exact THPS experience that I remembered back then as a kid.
The challenges and goals system returns, where you’re thrown into a two minute run where you must accomplish your goals. These range from scoring as high as you can to collecting the letters S-K-A-T-E and doing specific tricks in a certain spot. If Tony Hawk isn’t your preferred skater, you can pick from various others which also includes Riley Hawk, Tony Hawk’s son, or even your Xbox 360 Avatar. Each skater starts off with their own set of stats and trick list, but everyone can be upgraded to the point where you can have everything maxed out and have every trick at your disposal.
There’s only seven stages initially, the rest will slowly be revealed as DLC rolls out. The selection of stages is smaller than any single THPS offering in fact, but all are originally from THP1 and 2 and are built from scratch. Though much care was taken into recreating these stages, there are some questionable choices such as the infamous Downhill Jam which feels like a really bad run through a path of sorrow and agony.
To compensate for the small stage selection, there are some new game modes. I personally enjoyed Big Head Survival as the goal is to prevent your head from exploding by doing tricks to deflate your head. There’s also Hawkman which gives you a limited amount of time to go through a stage and collect pellets while grinding, in a manual, or jumping at them. Graffiti makes a return for multiplayer, in which you must tag areas of the stage by performing tricks on them, but the lack of local couch play is disappointing to see. There is always online play, but it lacks some of the many online options that’s seen in the future THPS games like being able to control your own server and set up the rules exactly as you want.
However, THPSHD, as I said, is rebuilt from the ground up. In doing so, there are a lot of noticeable differences and even flaws that become apparent to those that have played the original games. Physics are completely different. Collision detection leads to weird oddities, sometimes leading to bails just happening with just a mere tap of a guard rail. Timing with special inputs also feel a bit off, though slowly doing the inputs seem to give better success. If you have played the original THPS games by any long length of time, your discerning eyes and hands will feel the oddities.
It’s not to say that THPSHD is bad, in fact there’s a lot of fun to be had. There are plenty of great new innovative assets to make your skating journey a lot less stressful. The game will now quickly respawn your character whenever you bail off your skateboard. If you screw up too many times, there is a quick-retry button to reset the run. For those who need a map for everything, Robomodo did include maps for all the levels and even includes all the transfers, gaps, and objective locations to help you get the high score.
There’s plenty of things going against this game, a lot of it stems from preconceived notions of how great the original THPS games were and the hype from it all. I know I felt the bite of disappointment when considering what was given. But as I kept playing, I’m slowly being pulled back into a time where I had one of those old PlayStation demo discs that had Tony Hawk Pro Skater. In fact, I still have that demo disc this day and while the demo and the final product were different, I thought to myself “Hey, this is still THPS. This is still amazing and addicting.”
There’s a lot of things missing, but the heart is still very much there. That’s what I got from THPSHD, and it delivered it well. The game is not the same as the source material, but it was enough to bring me back to enjoy a moment in my early years.
How does this game stand right now, to the people that have never touched a Tony Hawk game? It depends on if you consider old button tapping mechanics and being restricted to a certain move set to be limiting or not. Otherwise, it’s a great game to compare your high scores with and it’s challenging to the point where having some dexterity will only help you out. I still find myself struggling through some of the tougher challenges, including the Projectives mode that will test your combo abilities.
THPSHD is a bit far off to the the originals. However, take a moment to just absorb the game without comparisons and you’ll find yourself thoroughly entertained by the challenges. Small stage selection, some physics problems, and control issues may break the game for you, but there is still much fun to be had with THPSHD despite the flaws. It’s best to not think of this as a “collection” or a “best of” release. Instead, take it as a re-imagining of how things used to be.