Ryan Scully revisits a childhood favourite that aims for the air, but bails on landing.
Another month, another HD re-release. However often we scrutinise Hollywoodâ€™s perverse reimagining of our favourite films (a trend from which The Wicker Man may never recover), the gaming industry is perhaps just as guilty. Bionic Commando, Turok, Syndicate; none have survived their transition to next-gen without major casualty.
Itâ€™s what makes HD re-releases so much more tantalising, childhood memories left completely unaltered besides one last lick of next-gen paint. How else would we relive the seminal Guardian Heroes or Ikaruga besides a triple-digit eBay investment? Tony Hawkâ€™s Pro Skater HD is the latest in an ever-expanding line of re-releases, and no doubt an apologist rebuttal for the seriesâ€™ declining quality. But while the gameplay remains intact, the package feels less like a celebration than a trudge.
Thereâ€™s a pleasing familiarity to this release, combining the first two gamesâ€™ most memorable stages and rekindling memories of endless manuals, effortless 1080 spins and magnetic rails, tricks linked with an almost cartoonish ease. The seriesâ€™ most successful entries have always been the most basic, yet thereâ€™s a purity to their design that made them such a teenage favourite. Levels, in spite of their basic warehouse, schoolyard, and urban decors, were always just playgrounds for the endlessly-careening skater, all sharp angles, curved walls and huge gaps. The way the objectives catered to the various available tricks, often requiring specific jumps or a certain quota of grinds, not only encouraged perfection and experimentation, but also made a rather tough game feel like a surprisingly liberating experience.
Itâ€™s relieving that so little of this is lost in translation. Whilst some levels fare better from their HD coating than others, this is the decades-old Tony Hawk that many a gamer grew up on complete with â€“ for better or worse â€“ the same controls and design as before.
Yet whilst the classic skating games have never disappointed, the overall package here fails catastrophically as a re-release. Problems with design as well as presentation threaten to puncture the enjoyment at every turn. Coupled with some baffling omissions, some of which series aficionados will find very difficult to forgive, Tony Hawk HD is one of the strongest examples of how not to re-release a classic.
Thereâ€™s only ever one chance at a first impression, and the bare-boned nature of Tony Hawk HDâ€™s is immediately underwhelming. The lack of options is a chilling omen. Thereâ€™s an unceremonious proceeding to the gameâ€™s main screen, most notably a lack of options and an impatient insistence on getting into the first of the gameâ€™s meagre selection of 7 levels. The levelling up options and skate shop remain intact, though you wouldnâ€™t know it from the way they bleed into the stage select screen without emphasis or explanation. Those well-versed in the series will of course be actively seeking these options, but newcomers will be left baffled by a system that feels almost unfinished in its ambiguity.
At least they wonâ€™t lament the lack of options and extras in the same way that series fans will; the skate park editor, which lent a timeless quality to the originals is entirely absent, making the paltry handful of stages seem even more limiting. The excellent â€˜Horseâ€™ mode from the originals, which tasked two players with scoring higher than one another within a set time limit, is another loss to lament, though this too is worsened by a painful â€“ if not blasphemous â€“ subtracting of local multiplayer, the game eschewing split-screen altogether for its online-only multiplayer modes.
Such oversights poke their way into the game proper; the moves list is only available from the title screen, rendering its use as a reference point entirely redundant when it canâ€™t be accessed mid-game. The soundtrack too, rattles off one song after another like a schizophrenic mix tape, a soundtrack option once again omitted from the pause menu.
Yet the gameâ€™s progression is perhaps the worst offender, with levels opening up only when the ones before it have been perfected, subjecting players to the menial task of perfecting one specific level before another opens. With the gameâ€™s cash reward system and the multitude of objectives, a much less restrictive approach to unlocking would have been perfect. As it stands, the motivation for unlocking a certain level can drain in an instant if it means endlessly replaying the one before it.
If previous Tony Hawk games were an open box, this HD re-release is just a flip-chart of stages, the limitations it burdens the player with even harder to swallow given how few criteria it successfully manages to meet. The gameplay remains untarnished, just about salvaging those precious teenage memories, but it seems that Tony Hawk HDâ€™s only objective is preventing you from ever fully reliving them.