Platform | Release Date
XBLA | July 17, 2012
Developed by Robomodo
Published by Activision
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is a downloadable title for Xbox LIVE Arcade that takes the best elements of the classic THPS games and gives them a fresh update to create an all new skateboarding experience. Tapping into fans’ muscle memories, the gameplay returns to controllers and focuses on the satisfaction of linking sick tricks for maximum points. Combining sharp visuals with the best controls ever in a Tony Hawk game, the feel is cutting edge yet timeless.
I remember when Activision renewed their licensing agreement with Tony Hawk back in 2002. Granting them use of his name and likeness through to the year 2015, it caused a bit of controversy. Plenty of people wondered why the publisher felt that the aging skateboarder would be able to sustain sales for another 13 years, and this was all before Tony Hawk’s Underground generated critical disgust. Somehow through all of this, and the disastrous skateboard peripheral experiment of Tony Hawk’s RIDE, the ruthless publisher still believes in the franchise. Long time fans should be thankful of that faith, as it has gifted us with the excellent Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD.
Bringing together 7 classic levels from both the original Pro Skater and its eternally lauded sequel, Pro Skater HD forgets all about Underground and, more importantly, all about that horrible peripheral. Gone are Jackass-style stunts. Gone are driving sections. Even the combo-stretching Revert is gone. This is pure Tony Hawk without any yearly iterative fluff.
Initially, you might struggle to feel that authenticity. Being recreated within the Unreal Engine has given the old Pro Skater controls a new edge. It likely comes from the more expressive animation, but as I first dropped into the Warehouse – the first ever Tony Hawk Pro Skater level – things felt just a little bit off. This faded after a few runs, and I was able to enjoy a simple but effective trick system in levels that almost perfectly catered to my nostalgia.
Aside from that initial wobble, Pro Skater HD recreates the original Tony Hawk formula almost without deviation. The levels are exactly the same with a fresh lick of visual polish and tricks are assigned to the very same button presses. All the old objectives return, such as collecting scattered letters to spell out SKATE, or finding elusive Secret Tapes, even if they are now called DVDs. This sense of familiarity is really welcome, and old hands will get a lot out of retreading old, but hazily remembered ground.
Grinding the curbs of memory lane doesn’t come without side effects, though. Even as a downloadable title, previous players of stages like School II and Venice Beach will find it incredibly easy to breeze through the challenges. I’ve never stopped playing Tony Hawk, so as soon as I adjusted to the lack of certain later additions, I was able to blast through the high score objectives. More so, even with rusty memories I still know where most of those hidden SKATE letters are, as well as how to access all the secret areas.
Fortunately, developers Robomodo have added some fresh features, including online play, to round out the package. New modes like Big Head Survival demand that you stay alive long enough to beat goal times, big tricks shrinking your expanding head down before it explodes. Although a play on old ideas, PROjectives is another new addition, giving you higher score targets and new collecting objectives once you’ve completed a level. These act as a good enough reason to go back through the game at least once, even if it is the same set of goals for every level.
The game’s only significant failure is in its level selection. School II, Hangar, Warehouse, Venice Beach and Downhill Jam are all genuine classics, but The Mall and Marseille aren’t widely appreciated favorites. Hardcore Tony Hawk fans will see the likes of San Francisco and Burnside as strange omissions by comparison. Nevertheless, this bundle of seven are well presented and promise of DLC featuring levels from the third game should placate those desperate for a higher stage count.
Some of these levels have re-appeared over the years already, with Underground, Underground 2 and American Wasteland all featuring content that is reused again here. Only Marseille, the least welcome of Pro Skater HD‘s stages, hasn’t been repeated before. The updated roster of skaters and an only near-complete soundtrack are other niggles, but I felt it’s fair to be realistic about licensing issues in this regard.
Even considering these few problems — as well as occasionally glitching tricks and slow to update leaderboards — Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD still comes out as a great buy for XBLA money. If you haven’t ever touched these levels before, then you’ll soon understand why the likes of Venice Beach are so often cited as examples of exemplary game design. If you’re well familiar with the series, the new lick of paint and another opportunity to replay the golden years of Tony Hawk is good enough reason to spend some points. Pro Skater HD offers something for new fans and old, and neither has to worry about that ridiculous plastic skateboard.