GAME REVIEW: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD

“Distance not only gives nostalgia, but perspective, and maybe objectivity.”Robert Morgan

I recently did a list of video games you just had to be there for and featured “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” on it. My reason was simple: For a brief moment, “THPS” took over the world, and if you weren’t there to experience it, you could never truly understand the effect. Well, developer Robomodo is on a mission to prove me wrong by suggesting that you can in fact go home again with their upcoming release of “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD.” It’s a remake of the original title, with some of the superior “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2” thrown in to provide a little more bang for your buck. Of course, as Robert Morgan said, my distance away from the original title has indeed provided nostalgia, perspective, and plenty of objectivity.

First off, the game’s controls and basic objectives remain unchanged from the original, so there isn’t much to go into there. I’ll just say that control and concept-wise, “THPS” is one of the most well-rounded series ever made, and that mostly holds true here. Instead, most of the changes in this remake revolve around the graphics, which are actually quite good. Rather than just slap a fresh coat of paint on the original game, Robomodo has instead carefully tweaked each level to accommodate the new look in many subtle (and not so subtle) ways. The effort is as noticeable as it is appreciated. The visual upgrade actually made me remember how well designed the original game’s levels were, and lent a whole new level of nostalgia I’d previously taken for granted. For old school fans, the tweaks make the levels feel appropriately fresh, and for any first timers should help assure that this doesn’t feel like a remake of a game over a decade old. I’m also happy to report that the majority of the game’s soundtrack, one of its best features, is thankfully intact. While a few tracks didn’t make the cut, what did sneak into the game is certainly admirable and lends the desired effect.

From there, though, the rest of the changes to the game are hit and miss. While new multiplayer modes like Hawkman (trick-based coin collection) and Big Head Survival (complete combos before your head explodes…seriously) are welcome additions to go along with classics like HORSE, sadly, the game only offers online multiplayer, joining a disturbing trend of games that are under the impression people no longer play competitively in the same room — a rumor I’d hoped the success of the Wii had squashed. Also, it’s unfortunate that most of the roster wasn’t retained from the original. While it’s great that Rodney Mullen and some other vets made the cut, if you’re a hardcore fan of the original, it’s going to be hard to play as some of the new breed and not feel like you’re missing out.

While those are mostly pardonable flaws, there are a couple of sins in this remake I can’t forgive. The biggest one has to do with some of the game’s available content. As I mentioned earlier, levels, characters and songs from the far superior “THPS 2” made the cut for this edition to go along with the original’s material. Thankfully, so did the essential manual feature from that game that allows you to string together some serious street trick combos. However, if you want “THPS 3″’s revert ability (or any of the other content from that game), then you’re going to have to download the first DLC available for this title that will feature the third game’s content. While that’s cheap enough, what’s inexcusable is that the revert feature is only available for the content from “THPS 3,” even after the download. It’s a skill that’s as essential as the manual to the franchise, and not including it from the outset makes this feel like an incomplete title and rates as a petty move on the developer’s part. Also, there’s just something wrong with the feel of the game. I can’t explain it unless you’ve played a lot of “THPS” on the PlayStation, but this one just feels more grounded and lacks some of that wild arcade style of the original. It’s probably something that won’t bother first timers, but once you notice it, there is no way to forget about it.

I remember that Siskel and Ebert used to comment on their show that studios should remake bad movies, and not good ones. It’s an interesting theory, and I can’t help but feel it’s one that applies here. See, “THPS” and “THPS 2” are two of the greatest games of all time.  Naturally, then, there’s a lot to like about “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD,” as it admirably recreates the better parts of those games. However, there’s no denying that for the most part, the thrill is gone. Robomodo put forth a hell of an effort with this release and, a couple of flaws non-withstanding, they did the best job they could with it. However, you can only polish a gem so much before it just refuses to shine as bright. If you never played the original Tony Hawk games, give this a shot. However, for everyone else, be warned this game’s longevity may be worth nothing more than an afternoon stroll down memory lane.

“Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD” is available 7/18 for Xbox 360 and is due later this year for PS3 and PC.



You probably best know developer Techland for the zombie survival game “Dead Island,” which featured perhaps the greatest trailer for a video game ever made. “Dead Island” was a technically flawed game that still managed to garner interest past its incredible preview due to a few unique game ideas (and a well-designed game world) that gave the hint that somewhere below all the bugs and somewhat stiff gameplay, there was a truly great game waiting to bust out.

People were anxious to see what Techland’s next project would be, and what they had learned from “Dead Island,” and that game is a downloadable, online ATV racer called “Mad Riders.” It’s actually a bit of a homecoming for developer Techland, because well before “Dead Island,” their main business was banging out a series of unremarkable racing titles, and that’s exactly what “Mad Riders” is.

I don’t mean to sound harsh towards the game. Truthfully, I loved “Mad Riders” when I first booted it up, because the speed of the races was just insane, and the controls were nice and loose in that proper, ATV racing game kind of way. However, things slowly started to unravel as my playtime went on. For one thing, while the game has over 40 tracks to its name, many of them range from okay to very dull, with only a few standouts. The game promises you stunts, but the tracks rarely allow more than a backflip or sharp “sidewinder” turn, and the contradictions continue in the unlock department. The game has the usual array of unlockable and customizable vehicles, riders, modes and tournaments, but none of it is particularly inspiring or worth going out of your way for.

Even the game’s best attribute — the blisteringly insane speed — becomes a problem after a while. That’s because your biggest opponent isn’t the other riders, who don’t present a challenge until later in the tournament, but the tracks themselves. There are all manners of cliffs, crevices and obstacles that will cause you to lose the race, and you’ll become intimately familiar with all of them. Of course, the game contradicts itself once more by always managing to reset you in a friendly position after you make a mistake, and I don’t remember ever once losing any ground because of this feature. Even more annoying is the shortcuts on the tracks. Any divergent path in the road will either lead to a) a road without a ramp; b) a road with a ramp that puts you at about the same place as the one without the ramp; or c) shortcuts where you have to pass through an appropriate gate and hit the Y button at the right time to access. It’s more than a little apathetic.

“Mad Riders” ends up being the polar opposite of “Dead Island.” It’s technically proficient in most ways, but completely lacking in the X-factor department. It’s only 800 Microsoft Points, so there’s an argument to be made for it if you’re jonesing for a semi-competent multiplayer ATV title on a budget, but it isn’t a strong one. Because in the end, “Mad Riders” isn’t dressed up and has nowhere to go, but for some reason is in a ridiculous hurry to get there. And that’s just sad.


GAME REVIEW: Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition

I don’t think I need to waste much space explaining the basic premise of “Minecraft.” After all, with the astounding (and I mean just shocking), download numbers the game has posted, my general impression is that most of you fine readers have played, or at least heard of, this game that follows a blocky protagonist, isolated in a blocky world, whose sole mission in life is to harvest the resource blocks around him in order to build sturdier blocks, weapons, items of all kinds and, most importantly, a shelter from the creatures that roam the night.

“Minecraft” is a blank canvas that only the most patient artists will be able to make proper use of. Unlike other world building titles like, say, “SimCity,” the effort required to make that first brush stroke to build off of is much greater, but the works you can create after that are limited by almost nothing. I wish I could say the same for this 360 adaptation, which is unfortunately burdened by several limits. While the simple graphics and atmospheric music transition perfectly to the console, and the controller handles the very basic functions of the game admirably, as the game gets more and more complex (and it can in a hurry), the 360 finds itself ill equipped to smoothly handle the wealth of inventory you soon acquire in a manageable way. The various menus you have to navigate to perform even the most basic functions and creations are annoying enough without having to scroll via joystick and force yourself to try to organically manage everything with the face buttons as your main tool. This game could have greatly benefited from the use of more hotkey features (the D-pad, for instance, is completely unused).

The biggest problem? There’s just no real reason to own this game on the 360. While playing, I actually found myself with my PC nearby just to look up the finer points of the game and look for reasonable tips on how to proceed. I don’t think I’d be alone in this, and if it’s a case of having to have your computer by your side anyway, why not play it in its native format? The controls, community and everything else are greater there, and the system requirements are so absurdly low that they shouldn’t cause a problem for most anyone.

While I respect the effort that developer 4J Studios put forth on this adaptation, I just can’t recommend this port to anyone. I didn’t get to try the 360’s splitscreen multiplayer mode (due to confidentiality reasons, though the idea is a fantastic concept), but I imagine it would do little to alleviate the main problem with the game. Overall, “Minecraft” is still a great idea and a unique experience that the patient and creative will inevitably get the most out of. If that’s you, just make sure to start your adventure on the solid foundation that only the PC can give this game.


GAME REVIEW: Bloodforge

It’s pretty depressing to see a game as visually striking as “Bloodforge” turn out to be so terrible, especially when you consider all the hard work that was put into making it. But that’s exactly the case with this “God of War” wannabe, which is completely undone by some simple gameplay mechanics. You play as Crom, a Celtic warrior who’s given up his life of violence to live peacefully with his wife. When he returns home from hunting one day to find his village being attacked by savages, however, Crom is tricked by some cruel gods into murdering her during the ensuing battle, and now he’s exacting revenge.

For as weak as the story may be, though, it’s nothing compared to the myriad of other problems that plague the game. Though developer Climax tries to disguise these issues by wowing players with ultraviolent deaths and gratuitous amounts of blood (which serves a dual role in the game as a combat amplifier and form of currency), it doesn’t work. The hack-and-slash combat is repetitive; the variety of enemies is shockingly poor; and the jerky camera is so bad that you might want to pop a few Dramamine if you plan on playing for more than a few minutes. Those that can handle the throbbing headaches you’re bound to suffer along the way might find “Bloodforge” a little more bearable, but in an industry flooded with new games vying for your attention every week, I’d much rather spend my time on something that doesn’t actually hurt to look at.



It seems like every year there’s at least one standout XBLA title released that is simply too good to ignore (“Braid” and “Limbo” come to mind), and this year, that game is “Fez.” But while the long-in-development indie platformer has been showered in just as much critical praise as those other titles, there’s something about “Fez” that makes it a lot more memorable, more addictive and more deserving of the recognition. Perhaps it’s because the game never stops surprising you, continuously growing both in scope and in the mind-bending difficulty of its puzzles, which in turn will make you equally frustrated and intrigued – a dangerous recipe for any gamer who refuses to call it quits.

You play as Gomez, a little white creature that lives in a 2D world; or so he thinks. After receiving a letter from a fellow villager asking to meet him one morning, Gomez comes into contact with a powerful artifact that grants him the ability to navigate the universe in three dimensions using the titular fez hat. But when a rift in space threatens to destroy Gomez’s world, the pint-sized hero must embark on a mission to collect all 32 of the golden cubes that make up the powerful hexahedron (most of which have been shattered into eight smaller cube bits) before time runs out.

The catch, however, is that although Gomez’s world is in 3D (comprised of four flat sides that can be rotated on an axis), he can still only move two-dimensionally. That means that players must constantly switch perspective using the left and right trigger buttons in order to maneuver around each level and solve puzzles. And because there are no enemies to fight or penalties for dying (if Gomez falls from a ledge, he’s promptly brought back to life), the emphasis is instead placed on exploration and discovery, of which there is enough to keep you busy for several days.

“Fez” is both incredibly simplistic and maddeningly complex, but how much time you choose to invest in the game is completely up to you, as there are many secrets to unlock, some of which can’t even be solved on your first playthrough. The game’s success doesn’t just hinge on the clever design and gameplay mechanics, though, but also on a more basic level as a giant love letter to 8-bit gaming, with visual and musical references to “Tetris” and “The Legend of Zelda,” and a fantastically nostalgic soundtrack by Disasterpiece that’s simply the icing on the cake. Though the game is plagued by a surprising number of bugs for a title that’s been in development as long as it has, “Fez” is so damn unique and charming in just about every way that they’re pretty easy to ignore.


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