There may be no game that evokes such strong memories of fun and friendship as the Tony Hawk games do for me. Throw in a bag of Doritos, a can of Coke, and about 4 or 5 sweaty dudes in a small apartment living room doing everything they can to upset the neighbors, and you pretty much just described a fondly remembered time in my life. THPS 1-3 occupied so many hours of my life during this period, that I found myself a bit worried as I watched my Xbox 360 download Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD, the lead off game in this year’s Summer of Arcade promo on Xbox Live Arcade. Would it feel the same? Would the soundtrack live up? Would I ever be able to successfully wallride those stupid bells? Most importantly, would the game still be fun, 10+ years later?
Before we answer each and every one of those, it is worth noting just exactly what this digital download contains. For your 1800 MS points, you will receiver a selection of levels from THPS 1 and 2, all completely remade in glorious HD. THPS HD is exactly what an HD remake should be – it makes the game look like I remember it in my fondest memories. Part of me wishes I could hit a button and switch back to the original graphics, like last year’s Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, but part of me is happy that I can’t. This is Tony Hawk as I remember it, and I worry that if I proved to myself that the game looked different, I might have to reexamine those days and maybe I would find that they, too, were not as glorious as I like to think of them in hindsight.
If you, like me, devoted countless hours to finding every gap, customizing your favorite skater (as if you were allowed to pick anyone other than Rodney Mullen), and tracking down every collectible in the original games, you will not be disappointed with this HD remake. The game is fluid, fast, and beautiful. It feels exactly like it should. Oh, and the soundtrack? Fantastic. Seriously, Goldfinger’s “Superman” hits a happy button somewhere in my brain, and I absolutely refuse to stop playing if Bad Religion’s “You” is in progress.
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Luckily, you need not rely only on nostalgia to enjoy Tony Hawk HD. The controls are tight, the objectives are good, and the game modes, both new and old, leave plenty to keep completionists busy for many hours. Many modes return, in addition to the obvious Career and Free Skate, there are newcomers Hawkman, which challenges you to collect color-coded orbs which can only be picked up by performing a certain action when you come into contact with them, and Big Head Survival, in which your skater’s head constantly grows, and eventually explodes when the counter hits 100%. Luckily, landing tricks lowers your percentage, and the goal of the game is to survive as long as possible until the inevitable “pop.” In all honesty, if the game included 5 or 6 more levels and had come on a disc at retail instead of a download, I would have happily laid down $30.
Multiplayer makes a return, with Graffiti mode of course, plus a multiplayer variant of Big Head Survival where the goal is, appropriately, to outlast your opponent. Unfortunately, multiplayer is online only. This is odd to me, considering so many of my Tony Hawk memories involved split screen multiplayer where the best way to win was to attempt to toss a cheeto in your opponents cup then land as many tricks as possible while he overreacted, spilled his drink, and had to complete the game in Mountain Dew soaked pants.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is exactly what an HD remake should be. A fresh coat of paint on an old classic that serves only to enhance the memory of the original. I could nitpick the UI, but what would be the point? The menus don’t matter here. What matters here is good times, insane combos, and awesome tunes in the background. My one and only real gripe here is the lack of split-screen multiplayer, but given that my days of sitting in a living room full of guys throwing food at each other are long since past, and I am far more likely to play online than with anyone sharing my couch, maybe it isn’t such a gripe after all. Either way, for fans new and old, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is a gem of a game and absolutely belongs in your downloadable games library.