One interpretation of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD, a re-mastered collection of levels from the much-loved PlayStation 1 series, is that it is a celebration of our gaming heritage. Rather than disappearing into the mists of time, a fondly remembered game is now available instantly and cheaply, and with new features and graphics to boot. Another interpretation is that, after years of diminishing returns, it is an admission of failure for its publisher, Activision. Making new Tony Hawk games obviously wasn't working. Why not make the old ones instead?
All of which puts THPSHD in a strange spot. It is a faithful rendering of the first two Tony Hawk games, which kept gamers up nights back in the late 1990s trying to perfect their runs. Players are given two minutes to perform as many tricks as possible, with score multipliers for combining them, and penalties for repeating the same moves over and over. Each level is packed with contextual stunts and cartoon-style payoffs for nailing them. If you've never made a helicopter take off by grinding along its rotors, now's your chance.
Gunning for high scores is as addictive as ever. (As is the impulse to restart the level the second you blow a huge combo.) While the levels seem sparse and empty compared to modern-day titles, each one contains its fair share of hidden score boosters. Clearing certain gaps, grinding specific rails, and smashing environmental objects can all act as major multipliers. You have a sense, making your way through a level for the 10th time, that there exists one single, perfect run, and that that next one might be it for you. It never is.
REPLAY "New" is a relative term when you're talking about a game this old — "dated" is more apt.
Less alluring is the game's reliance on picking up collectibles. Each level contains a bevy of themed items, and you'll need to collect several sets of them. Nowadays, collectibles tend to be well integrated into games, making sense contextually, but here they're just floating in the air. Even though some of them can be challenging to reach, finally grabbing one that's been holding out on you isn't nearly as satisfying as nailing a high-scoring combo. It feels more like a chore than an achievement, especially since collecting some number of items is mandatory for unlocking subsequent maps.
Yes, there are some new features, and I'll admit to enjoying the ability to use my Xbox Live avatar as an in-game skater. But "new" is a relative term when you're talking about a game this old. "Dated" is more apt. One of the major hooks of the series has been the soundtracks, but nothing could make it feel more stale than the music choices that seemed so hip more than a decade ago. Looking forward to enduring "When Worlds Collide" by Powerman 5000 ad nauseum as you struggle to perfect your run? Grab a Surge and get to it!
Ultimately, the specter of the skateboarding franchise that killed the Tony Hawk games hangs over this one, too. EA's Skate series, in which tricks were controlled with flicks of the analog stick rather than button presses, and in which a massive open world took the place of confined, gimmicky arenas, looms large. To play Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD is to understand why this series once dominated the market, and to know why it no longer does.