Editorial: Tony Hawk HD might be a little broken; what it could have done to make history

The following is an editorial. It represents the views of the author, and as such does not represent the views of the XBLA Fans staff as a whole.

I’m often in the minority around here. I’m not really a fan of the more “indie”-styled games, I like the more “franchise”-y ones. I’ve been railed multiple times on our podcast for my opinions (all in good fun, of course), and often find my views completely polar to other staff members. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD was a perfect example of that. I absolutely loved the game. Other staff, however, had varying opinions, some feeling it was downright awful.

Fair enough. To each their own, right? I’ve seen other staff gush about Bastion, LIMBO, Super Meat Boy, and pretty much every other big indie game. And in a way I can see why those games merit their love. They’re all solid games with tight gameplay. That being said, I often find that I’m not a fan of those kinds of games. But there’s a difference–I can concede that the more indie-esque games have solid gameplay, whereas the rest of the staff often finds gameplay issues in games I love–things I often am able to overlook. Such is the case with Tony Hawk, so let’s address what could have truly made it great, totally memorable, and what would have given it a better Metacritic score of 66/100. (which, if I’m honest, is probably an accurate blend of all the different opinions I’ve seen/heard)

Omissions, design choices, and wonkiness

I’ll address the biggest complaint first: it just doesn’t feel right. Specifics on what doesn’t feel right vary from person to person, but the most common chant is that of “it’s not accurate”. Again, I had no issues here. I’m realistic about the fact that not only was my muscle memory a bit foggy, but remembered the feeling of games from later in the series. I was used to how Underground and American Wasteland felt. But when I put the original side by side with HD I couldn’t see this massive difference that everyone else saw. Granted, I’m not a pro player, and maybe that’s why it felt fine to me. But maybe not. More on that later.

But why oh why were there glaring multiplayer omissions? Why was Horse, arguably the best mode in the series, missing? Why was there no splitscreen? Hey, online is great and all, but Tony Hawk should be a game about talking trash to the guy sitting next to you, not some nameless person you found through matchmaking. I’ll concede that if if a developer has to pick between online and splitscreen, they should almost always pick online. But this is not one of those games you choose between. It’s a game that includes both. I’m sure many fans would have gladly traded a level (*cough*downhilljam*cough*) and a skater in exchange for Horse and splitscreen.

And now we come to the realm of the weird, wonky, and unacceptable. Everyone’s thinking it, so I’ll just say it: Why does gravity get cut in half when a skater bails? I’m not sure what the issue is here, but the bail animations (ragdoll) are the absolute worst the series have ever seen. Skaters don’t become a floppy fish each time they fall of their boards, they try to recover, they tuck and roll, they try to not get racked by the rail in front of them. Maybe having animations for every bail wouldn’t work, but there was no effort made here. This same sort of issue comes into play with the game’s apparently bountiful glitches. I’m lucky enough to have only experienced a few so far, but these are downright unacceptable to many folk, especially when using an engine so robust as Unreal Engine 3 is.

Content choices

The choice to limit the game to levels from the first two games was, well, interesting. Whatever the reason, new downloadable content will bring levels from Pro Skater 3, along with the revert. But why can’t we revert on old-school levels? Leaderboard/score issues you say? Fine, let the score purists have their fun, but for many this game is a much more casual experience. Why can’t we enable reverts on the old level, and in doing so our scores don’t get posted to global leaderboards? It seems simple enough: the original high score integrity of the levels remain, and folks like me can play the game they way they want.

Speaking of having things the way we want, I was sorely bummed about the lack of a character creator. That was a big selling point of the games. Finally I could have a virtual me, or at least some exaggerated avatar of myself, grinding rails and pulling off 900′s. Instead we get avatar support. Not that I’m not grateful for that, but given the environment my avatar (and everyone else’s) looks like some school mascot on a skateboard. Omitting the character creator removed a lot of the depth of the game. As much as I love it, I have to admit that it doesn’t feel mine anymore.

But is it the game, or is part of it you?

I’m in love with the Xbox 360 controller. I love how it forms to my hand, and I have to praise a higher power that it isn’t the size of a pack of gum like Sony’s. It’s the perfect controller for so many games, except those that use the D-pad. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is a D-pad game. Yes, the analog stick can be used, but nothing beats a good D-pad, and there isn’t one on the Xbox 360 controller. The new transforming D-pad is better, but not good enough. As much as I hate to admit it, I bet this game will feel much better on the PlayStation 3, where the controller’s D-pad isn’t an afterthought.

And I have to be frank here, part of this relates to memory vs reality. I’ll totally concede that there are issues with the game, but on the inverse so many of us look at the classic games with beer goggles or rose colored glasses. Lest we forget, they were just as buggy, too. We also have been conditioned to later games in the series like American Wasteland, and there are enough subtle differences to make it feel like the physics are off in comparison to the original games and HD. Again, HD has its issues, but let’s not cast off the good with the bad.

The bottom line

Some players have issues with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD, many of which are totally valid, and the few that aren’t can be brushed off. But when you’re dealing with people’s childhood, you don’t get a lot of freedom to leave things out and put new things in. Just ask George Lucas. This reboot should have been an embodiment of the best of the franchise, and unfortunately as much as I love it I have to admit that it falls quite short of that. Omissions of features that represent Tony Hawk, game-breaking glitches and not-precise-enough controls are unacceptable when you’re looking at a series of this magnitude. A patch may be able to bring back missing features and fix bugs, but as we’ve seen with so many games before, the damage has been done.

Maybe the issue was the budget. If that’s the case then the accountants should have looked at how huge this franchise is. It was the Call of Duty of its day. If you’re gonna reboot it, give the developer the money to do it properly. Out of the virtual box it should be a total and complete masterpiece to each and every player. That’s how you hook them, and that’s how you keep them coming back. Unfortunately as it stands Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD will forever be a dividing line amongst players. Some, like me, will be more forgiving and casually enjoy what’s being offered. Others will consider it almost an insult to the series, the game-breaking issues having soured their tastes permanently.

About Steve Melton

Steve is an Indiana native with a degree in Computer Information Systems and a background in technical writing. He has also written for the newspapers and other periodicals at the schools he attended. A gamer for over 20 years, Steve finds that Xbox Live Arcade is the perfect fit for most of his gaming needs; classic gameplay at a bargain price.