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.


Five Games You Just Had to Be There For

Like certain stories or parties, some games can’t be properly explained and you just had to be there for them to fully understand what they meant.

A quick disclaimer. I’m not saying these are bad games. They are just games that were hugely significant at one point, but lost whatever it was that made them special over time, and are left as something that is less than what they were.

“Conker’s Bad Fur Day”

I’ll never forget reading the April edition of Electronic Gaming Monthly (that was a video game magazine to you youngsters) and first hearing about this. You see, EGM used to run a fake article for its April edition as an April Fools Day joke. In the year 2000, there was a preview so absurd that everyone that read it groaned at how lazy the staff was getting at their pranks. It was a sneak peek of the then titled” Conker 64“, that alleged that developer Rare was going to turn the cute and colorful world of Conker into a dark and violent hell, and make Conker himself into a potty mouth, perverted anti-hero. The magazine was flooded with letters from readers saying that they had spotted the obvious gag this time, and that the editors would have to try a lot harder next year.

Of course, that preview would turn out to be the only thing about the game that wasn’t a joke.

I don’t know when it finally sank in that the game wasn’t a prank, but even while playing it I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. To this day I’ve never seen a game try to be so deliberately offensive, and succeed. Conker drank, cursed, screwed, and belittled across an adventure that saw you go to war, get drunk, pee out giant fires, rip the skin off of a bulls ass, help pollinate a horny and well endowed flower, and (most infamously) take on a giant singing pile of poo. This game had pure humor running through its veins, and every second was filled with some sort of gag or movie parody (which were actually quite excellent) that demanded that you kept playing in order to see what absurdity the game had for you in its next set piece. If you were like me and played this at the tender age of 13, it was hard not to believe it was in the sliced bread pantheon of greatest things ever.

Time reveals a different tale of course. For instance though the game was beautiful for its day, (released at the tail end of the N64, its considered one of the best looking games on the system) it still carries that murky and dull 64 look. The gameplay is also pretty atrocious as it mostly consists of making your way from context sensitive action button to context sensitive action button, and fills out its time with annoying fetch quests and segments so frustrating that they were later trimmed down or taken out entirely for the games Xbox remake. Finally that humor just doesn’t ring as true anymore. The game is still funny in its own way, but unless you carry the same sense of humor I did at the aforementioned 13, you’re going to find little incentive to keep playing.

“Conker’s Bad Fur Day” is still a noteworthy and entertaining game (its multiplayer mode especially), but unless you played it when it came out, you won’t get that same punch in the gut feeling it delivered that pretty much forced you to bow down to what you were witnessing.

Modern Equivalent: That’s tough. You almost have to look at the opposite, and imagine Kratos from “God of War” starring in a cute and cuddly platformer. Or if they made “The Human Centipede” into a game where you played a cartoon centipede trying to stop a Saturday morning mad scentist. Even then, Conker is in a league of its own.

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