Video games are easy.
This wasn’t always the case; in the many generations leading up to our current state of affairs, video games were so tough that beating one was an achievement on par with being named the President of the United States of America. In this sense and many others, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is a throwback. Gone are the more complicated means on which more recent incarnations of the franchise are built, replaced by mechanics that are simple to grasp but more than a little difficult to master.
Simplicity is key; moves in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD boil down to a tilt in one direction and a press in another. Even special moves, the point-dealing masterworks that define a skater’s repertoire, are completed by button combinations equivalent to that of the humble Hadouken in Street Fighter. It’s easy, yes, but it’s also difficult; standalone tricks performed at the peak of a jump aren’t going to win any online contests. Instead, one must familiarize themselves with the environment enough that they can begin chaining grinds, manuals, and various grabs and flips together to create some truly astonishing combos. Though it may take several runs before this becomes a reality, the resulting satisfaction is worth the effort.
Most of these point-garnering excursions will take place in the game’s Career mode, a campaign spanning seven stages from the first and second Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater titles. Each level is bolstered by its own list of goals that always includes various scores to reach, items to collect, and, of course, letters to grab that spell out the word “Skate”. Unlike many of the remake’s other features, runs in this particular single-player offering must be conducted within a strict time limit of two minutes. On paper it may seem like an arbitrary annoyance, but in practice it’s an understandable concession made to keeping the experience a skillful, tactical one in which players must carefully manage time and their maneuvers or else completely miss out on the presented challenges. Said more bluntly, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is software that trains its users and demands more of them than the typical run-of-the mill, hand-holding products of this current generation.
Seemingly the only indications of the game’s status as a member of this generation are its updated visuals, physics, and suite of online features. Speaking to the first item, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD does a noble job of reimagining a decade-old experience with high-definition graphics. Each of the game’s ten skaters look acceptable without overwhelming the senses; the same can be said for the stages. There is unlikely to be a moment in which the player drops their controller in awe at the aesthetic wonders of a particular level, but, at the same time, those who have follow the franchise since its inception will appreciate the polished feel of such memorable locales as Warehouse, Venice Beach, and especially Hangar. From a perspective of pure nostalgia, it’s an exceptional tribute that, in this department, little more could have been asked of.
In nearly an identical boat are the title’s online modes, a collection of traditional options that serve as a mere distraction from Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD’s bread and butter. Included is the expected assortment of trick attack, free play, a graffiti mode built around controlling territories, and a survival option based off of one of the game’s single-player portions (more on this later), but missing is any sort of reason to persist with these options; a win is nothing more than an intrinsic award for being better than an opponent and not a permanent mark on the player’s online profile. A ranking system would have been a nice supplement to the already-included leaderboard, an expected feature boasting the highest scores from across the globe compared to the user’s personal bests.
Distractions exist elsewhere in the game’s framework, exiled to its single-player options; Big Head Survival is a mode in which players must battle an ever-increasing skull by landing tricks before it bursts into confetti while Hawkman has one doing special tricks in order to collect the most coins possible. Though each of these is fleshed out to the point of being a fun sideshow, they never become anything more than that. I played Big Head Survival for only so long before I wanted to hop right back into the regular campaign and rack up a new high score.
Looking back at my experience with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD, the only frustrations came in dealing with the game’s physics engine; taking place on the aging Unreal Engine 3, it runs into the occasional bump and hiccup that separates the user from complete immersion. Especially botched tricks will often end in Tony Hawk or one of the title’s other characters flying off into space when, in actuality, they likely would have done little more than slide across the ground for a handful of seconds. Thankfully, these problems are almost entirely isolated to moments of failure and don’t tend to interrupt the player’s ability to land jaw-dropping chains and impressive stunts; they only serve to mildly annoy and, occasionally, provide for a laugh or two at a system showing its rust.
Minor irritations aside, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is a near-flawless trip down memory lane. No matter how many hours I put into it, I find ways in which I can improve myself and my experience with the game by learning from my mistakes and perfecting the craft, and this is a product that, with challenge as its core conceit, constantly rewards such an impulse.
With little more than a few nitpicks to its credit, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is a nostalgia-fueled ride that I can’t recommend highly enough.