Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD will be a question, not a statement
Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD doesn’t look like a huge jump in graphical quality from the previous games, but that actually works out to be one of the new game’s strengths. Everything looks just as your brain remembers the Tony Hawk games in retrospect. You didn’t see a game with crappy graphics when you played the first Tony Hawk game, you saw something that looked state of the art. The HD versions of the levels deliver the same cutting-edge graphical appearance without sacrificing the unique playground feel of the maps. It’s a neat trick, and during my demo a member of the team turned on a television so I could see how the old game looks when compared to the new one. The contrast was startling, and showed just how much work went into making these environments stand up to the eyes of modern gamers. “This is exactly how I remember the game,” I told Josh Tsui, the co-founder of the game's developer, Robomodo. “That’s what Tony said,” Tsui responded. Tony Hawk was not in the room during my demo of Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD, but his fingerprints are all over the game. The game will ship with seven levels from the first two Tony Hawk Pro Skater games, and the man himself asked what levels fans wanted to see included. “School 2” was one of the most popular suggestions. Tony Hawk wanted to see Downhill Jam included in the game, despite the lack of fan consensus on the level. The level's inclusion in the final game hints that game development may not be a perfect democracy. Hawk also wanted the game to feature all new songs. That way fans of the game could be introduced to new bands, the same way a generation of gamers were turned on to the punk and ska bands from the first games. The fans demanded the return of the original soundtrack. While we don't know what songs will be returning and which ones will be added, we know that half the soundtrack will be the songs from the original games, and half the songs will be new to the franchise. There have been other concessions to the passage of time: The hidden VHS tapes have been converted to DVDs. Each level will receive extra objectives that will be new to those of us who grew up playing the classic games.
What do fans want?
The good news is that the game feels wonderful, even with the unfinished physics and a few glitches seen in the early code. This is Tony Hawk the way we remember it: You have two minutes for each run, and you can't get off your skateboard. There is no open world to worry about. This is the format that made the past games classics, and returning to this style of play shows just how badly the series has faltered in the last decade. Your virtual character should never be asked to get off their board to do something that isn't skating. On the other hand, you should never be asked to get on a plastic skate board to play the game. We can only hope that both lessons have been learned. The game is expected to sell for around $15, and should be released this summer on the PlayStation Network and the Xbox Live Arcade. There is a small possibility that the game could come to Steam as well. I was told that everyone involved will be watching sales of the game very carefully. If the fans come out in large numbers to support the release, we could see other classic levels added as DLC. Perhaps even new content. If the game takes off in a huge way, who knows? There is always the possibility, even if it is remote, of a new large-scale Tony Hawk game created with the classic mechanics and feel. Imagine, a game built from the ground up with new songs, levels, skaters, and content, but still featuring the same two minute runs and competitive game play. There is something very special about the first few Tony Hawk games, and it's wonderful to see a game that looks back at what made the “good” Tony Hawks so much fun. We can only hope that this downloadable experiment is a success, and the series is re-launched with these values in mind. The two minute time limit was a challenge, not a limitation. The parks in the game were places to explore, not cages that kept you boxed in. You don't need an open world to make an addictive video game, and there's nothing wrong with being defined by the limits you give players. Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD offers you a few minutes inside wonderful playgrounds, and then lays down a challenge: Do something cool.