|Tony Hawks Pro Skater: Whats left to say? If
youve been paying any attention at all, you know that THPS has been an amazingly
successful title, and has done a lot for the extreme sports genre of gaming. Prior to
THPS, many reviewers and gamers scoffed at snowboarding, rollerblading, and skateboarding
games like Cool Boarders, 3Extreme, Rippin Riders, and ESPN X Games Pro Boarder. But
those four titles dont even represent a third of the massive explosion of these
kinds of games. Weve seen over a dozen extreme sports titles in the last several
months, and most of them failed to impress us.
However, THPS did something different. It captured the sport of skateboarding, and broke through the barriers that prevented other extreme sports titles from being considered among the best games available. There are many reasons why THPS was so successful, and I plan to explore some of them. First, especially for those new to THPS in its Dreamcast incarnation, lets run down the basics.
THPS on the Dreamcast is virtually identical to the PlayStation version, with, of course, much improved graphics. You get to play one of ten professional skaters, ten of the most successful and respected athletes in the sport, through nine levels. On each of the levels there are five different goals to achieve: Two high scores, a hidden videotape, S-K-A-T-E, and a level-specific challenge. You earn a videotape for each of the goals you accomplish. To get S-K-A-T-E you must find each of those letters on the level. The level-specific challenges will have you grinding cop cars, breaking "No Skating" signs, and tricking off picnic tables among others. Three of the levels are competitions where you must score first place to receive a gold medal.
You unlock levels by collecting videotapes, as well as new boards and improved statistics for each skater. After collecting all the tapes for any one skater, you unlock Officer Dick. Crave has added in an alternate Officer Dick character, Private Carrerra, a woman with maxed out stats who is much easier on the eyes. As you get all golds in the competition you also unlock videos of the different skaters in action, so when youve completely opened up the game you have a nice little skate flick to watch. In addition, there are three different two-player games: Graffiti, Trick Attack, and HORSE. The multiplayer games are great, and the variety in them is appreciated.
Those are the basics. Consult the PlayStation review for more detailed explanations of game modes and options. Odds are, youve played this game, or youve seen it played, and youre just reading this to see if the DC version is worth picking up. Well, it is. Crave has done a perfect port. The addition of Private Carrerra (who rides Crave and Treyarch boards) is a great bonus, but the real shining moment of the DC version are the gorgeous graphics. Dont get me wrong, Neversoft did a great job wringing the PSX for all its worth, but the DC just makes so much more possible. You can see the designs on the bottom of the board as it spins around. Tony and the gang have noses, and their clothes look better than ever. You can see the texture of the grip tape on the boards, and it gets scuffed by your shoes as you play. The lighting effects are top notch, which adds to the levels. The Warehouse is barren with spots of harsh light and dark shadows, while the Downhill Jam is in a beautiful state of perpetual twilight. Even the oil reflections on the puddle in the Warehouse level are lovingly rendered. The shadows no longer look like artists dummy representations. They are now smooth and change according to the light source, even changing appropriately for multiple light sources.
Many people have asked me: But what about the DC controller? While nothing has yet surpassed the perfection of Sonys Dual Shock controllers, the DC controllers arent too bad. The triggers take a little getting used to after using the PSX shoulder buttons, and the direction pad on the DC is generally a little more awkward, but overall it works fine. Crave also added in little VMU displays that rate your last trick. The only problem is that you cant really take the time to read the rating while youre playing, so the only evaluation I ever saw was after the time ran out. Its great if you finish with a good trick, but is otherwise pretty negligible.
Overall, if you have any excuse for picking up THPS for your DC, do it. If you already own the PSX version, youll love the better graphics and quicker load times. If you dont own it at all, it is considered required reading everybody should play THPS. Why? Thats a good question.
I have to give credit where credit is due, and I think a large part of the success of THPS comes from the kind of development house Neversoft is. Neversoft developed the original THPS for PSX, and it was published by Activision. It has been obvious throughout the development and release of THPS and THPS2 that Neversoft really does have a love for skating and video games. What makes THPS so great is that it grows out of a real desire to represent the sport in a way that would make fans excited, and to create a game that would engender the same excitement in gamers. Resoundingly reviewers, most of whom have much less of an affinity for the sport than myself, have stepped forward and said that THPS is a game that satisifies beyond a simple infatuation with skateboarding. The attitude with which Neversoft approached the project has remained. Reviewers feel it, and it is obvious that the folks at Crave and Edge of Reality (who developed the N64 port) felt obligated to maintain that devotion to quality in their ports of the title. At E3 I was fortunate enough to spend a lot of time playing THPS on the DC with Richard Robledo, one of Craves testers and a certified THPS badass. (I saw him earn 984K on the Warehouse level. Wow.) Richard complained that the game was too solid when it came to them, and he wished it had required more testing. THPS does that to you. It is addictive, as any good game should be.
But why does it inspire this deep devotion, and why does it transcend a simple interest in skateboarding? Al, who most of you know as one of our PC editors, has sat through many a round of THPS, and he mentioned to me that the game lets him feel like he is gaining a better understanding of the skateboard culture by playing. I think in many ways that feeling is key to THPS success with an audience outside of the sport. The game provides the basics of what a game should provide: The visuals are pretty and fun to look at. There is a lot to it, and you can play it for a long time. You can play it with a friend. The play is not always the same; you can inject a lot of variety into how you approach each level. The controls are simple and effective, allowing for a direct stimulus-response satisfaction that comes from mastering different moves and combos. I would go out on a limb and say that any game that provides those basic elements will be fairly successful. Extras, such as a good storyline or unique vision are not required for a game to be played and enjoyed by a good portion of the gaming audience.
However, THPS does give us those extras. Whats the story in THPS? Many would probably say it is the story of becoming a "Pro Skater" with each of the different characters, and undoubtedly pretending to be your fave skater is a part of why this game is attractive. But THPS is also the story of skateboarding. Neversoft was thinking when they secured Tony Hawks name and participation. As anybody will tell you, the Birdman has played a pivotal role in the evolution of the sport, inventing tricks like the Madonna, McTwist, Stalefish, and 900 degree spin. He also runs a successful skate company, Birdhouse, and has remained highly competitive. In addition, Tony is a nice guy, which is not something to take lightly. Many skaters are not nice guys, and many have sought to make their reputations by being bad boys. Remember Big Brother before they got all wussy?
Tony has done as much for the reputation as for the technical development of the sport. He has not always been the most popular skater; when gangster rap and mosh pits were popular he was not the coolest pro. Still, Tony Hawk has clout, and that has helped THPS. Tony participated in the development of the game, and performed tricks for motion capture sequences. In his web diaries he mentions playing the game and that he loves it. Again, the dedication comes out in the finished product. In THPS tricks are correctly labelled, and you are not constrained by pre-constructed combinations of moves. And when you perform a trick it actually looks like the trick you can tell the difference between moves. In addition, THPS takes from real skate spots. Burnside, Portland's famous skatepark underneath a highway, is faithfully reproduced, and sites observed in skate videos influenced the design of the other levels. You can learn a lot about skateboarding from THPS, and the information is correct. The music is right. The style is right.
And, just as Coolboarders influenced snowboarding, THPS is influencing skating. On the ESPN X-Games Prelims, one announcer commented that the reason the skaters were doing so well was because their Special bars were full. That was just one of many allusions to THPS made by the announcers at the event. It is no accident that E3 hosted three different halfpipes, and the slew of skateboarding and extreme sports games due over the next year will be heavy. Keep in mind that many of these games will be knockoffs of more than just THPS; after all, THPS draws from many older games to create its perfection. But at no point in time should anyone mistake Tony Hawks Pro Skater for just another skateboarding game. This bird soars.