Remember back when pretty much any video game could be for any gamer, when the gameplay so vaguely resembled the actual act it represented that it could be appreciated by anyone. It was times like this that got fat children to play Track & Field on the NES and clumsy fools like me to play skateboarding games on the PSX. Despite being incredibly indifferent to the concept of actual skateboarding I found a surprising amount of enjoyment in games like Grind Session and of course the first few Tony Hawk games. For me they were less about pulling off sick tricks then they were about exploration and puzzle solving but as time wore on the series evolved and I grew away from it. Thankfully someone over at Activision remembers the good old days and has decided to put away ill-conceived skateboard peripherals and make me some of the good ol’ fashioned gameplay I used to love.
Things are back to the old ways gameplay wise as it is pure Pro Skater business up in this joint. There is no open world bullshit, no annoying NPCs giving you missions, and no getting off the god damn board; it’s all just you with some to goals to complete and bunch of fun tricks to execute. The most important thing for me here is those goals as one of the things I liked most about those old games is when it would ask you to do something in the environment (smash all these boxes, collect the SKATE letters, etc.). At that point the game stops being about skateboarding and becomes the puzzle of “how do I get to that thing?” as trying over and over to complete the perfect jump that lets you grab that last floating McGuffin is classic gaming’s bread and butter. This game does these little challenges perfectly and I had a great time trying and failing and trying some more to execute perfect runs. That’s not to say the trick systems and score challenges are pointless, they feel fluid and once you get the hang of everything it’s a lot of fun, but they were never the true high point of this series for me. Fact of the matter is I know next to nothing about skateboarding and if I gave a shit about that I would play Skate but instead I want to have fun so here I am.
The other half of the nostalgia equation here is presentation, you can make gameplay classic but if it looks and sounds like the crap from today it’ll lose a lot in the translation. The developer Robomodo understood this and as such this game is a nigh perfect recreation of what you used to know. There are 7 classic levels here, all from the old games if I’m not mistaken, that despite being all shiny still have the same awesome flavor they did 13 years ago (that’s right the first Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater is old to be bar mitzvahed). Basically it’s just classic Tony Hawk levels rebuilt from the ground up in glorious HD which is nothing special in and of itself but exactly what we wanted. The real key here is the soundtrack which is infectious to say the least. It’s full of the weird late ’90s to early ’00s musical styling that we have all tried to forget; remember when we were really big into ska? Well Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater sure does and it’ll have you humming the one ska song on the soundtrack non-stop for a week. The problem there though is that there’s only one ska song, the soundtrack overall feels a little limited and you’ll hear the same songs repeated a lot. All the soundtrack choices are quite good and fitting for the vibe the game is trying to establish but hear anything enough times and it’ll quickly become just more white noise.
If there’s one compliment you have to give this game it’s that it understands its audience. The presentation and dedication to classic gameplay show a love of the original games that fans will immediately be able to pick up on. The menus and loading screens are filled with skater slang you’ll enjoy, even if it’s just to see words like “Sick” or “Slay” used in such way again. They were even smart enough to realize that a large portion of their audience probably does not follow professional skateboarding all that much so they made Tony Hawk available from the start and the first character you see as realistically he’s the only one you’ll recognize. They even let you play as your avatar which I (and the majority of people I ran into online) used because I don’t know or care who’s professionally skateboarding these days. On that note apparently Tony Hawk’s son is a professional skate boarder now, doesn’t that make you feel super old?
This game is a wonderful little love letter to some classic games I grew up with and while it does feel a little content light for $15 and the modes that aren’t Career or Multiplayer Trick Challenge seem ancillary it’s still a lot of fun and it does its job as a nostalgia piece well. Is this the game for current skateboarding aficionados? Probably not. They’ll get a kick out of it for sure but probably be a little put off by the gameiness of it all. This game is for people who played the originals not because they were about skateboarding but because they were games. So for an awesome grind down the railing of memory way, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD gets a 3 out of 5 stars but it’s a high 3. It’s a little overpriced for what you get but the nostalgia value here is priceless for the right consumer.