In 1999, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater showed millions of people the world over that their fingers could talk. There’s a language that comes built into certain video games. Buttons become verbs, launching virtual figures into new landscapes. Combinations of inputs string together whole sentences that make you fluent in physics, aesthetics and sometimes even ideas. And the whole while, you’re learning how the subjects and the objects of gameplay grammar inter-relate, what they do to each other and what you can do to them.
All of this happens because you’re having fun. And Tony Hawk HD is an ungodly amount of fun. It’s also a lumbering Frankenstein of a game, sewn together from old parts and forced to shamble out into the light.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD reminds you that the legendary skateboarder’s first video game efforts were the kind of experiences that ate up whole chunks of your time. Hours will go by as you grind the rails in the Mall level or collect the S-K-A-T-E letters on Venice Beach.
The appeal here is that the gameplay consists almost entirely of reflex responses that, when knitted together correctly, reveal the expanse of the experience to you. Get enough speed to power a mighty leap and suddenly you’re on top of a ledge you barely could see before. Tie a flip trick, rail grind and lip trick together with manuals and suddenly your score balloons. Modes that weren’t in the original releases, like Big Head Survival — where you need to keep pulling off tricks to prevent your head from exploding — add some replayability but feel gimmicky compared to the purity of the core game.
Yet, when you compare what’s on offer in HD with the original versions of THPS 1 & 2, this week’s release feels slight. Pulling only seven levels from the first two THPS games comes across stingy and swapping out tunes from those titles’ beloved soundtracks for a bunch of new songs adds insult to injury. Part of what’s being offered up with this remaster is access to your nostalgia, so it stings when fondly remembered elements or levels don’t show up.
The online multiplayer experience so far with Tony Hawk HD hasn’t been a smooth ride, either. Matches have been hard to find and, even when I hosted sessions, glitches hobbled their stability. Other players would spawn in mid-air and drop onto my head, making me bail and ruining combos. And then when some matches ended, I was stuck for nearly a full minute before I could click into a menu.
THPS HD still succeeds in delivering a sensation that games specialize in: letting you feel creative in a hyper-fast, amazingly intricate way. Putting together an incredible thread of tricks and nailing the landing that will make them count continues to be a emotional high like little else. Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD isn’t a best-in-class remaster like Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. The areas where the game could’ve used more polish practically scream out at you. Nevertheless, there’s no denying how much fun there is to be had in playing THPS HD. I’ve stayed up very late for the last few nights with it, denying myself precious sleep not because I had to but because I wanted to. None of the flaws can stop me from recommending it. Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD may be a Frankenstein but it’s one with a very good skeleton.