IGN Review of Tony Hawk Ride
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater put the alternative sport videogame in the spotlight. Countless imitators have popped up through the years, but until recently it carried on as the premiere franchise. Iteration after iteration saw it slowly fall from grace until Electronic Arts stepped up and took the lead with Skate. Rather than continue on in a head-to-head competition, mega-publisher Activision took a step back, some time off, and decided to reboot the franchise. Inspiration from Wii Fit and its own popular Guitar Hero series has resulted in Tony Hawk Ride, a US $120 game that comes with a fancy skateboard peripheral. The idea? A more immersive skateboarding game that would ride the recent wave of hit games featuring their own custom controllers. The result? An expensive proposition that neither casual nor hardcore gamers will get much out of.
Tony Hawk Ride is a vastly different beast from past games in the franchise, and that should be readily apparent from the moment you see it on store shelves. You can't use a traditional controller. Instead, you'll have to get up off of the couch and use a custom controller shaped like a skateboard. This board is covered in sensors that detect which way you're leaning, whether the nose or tail are raised, or even if you're reaching down to mimic a grab. It's quite sturdy, too, so you don't have to worry about kids breaking it.
In theory, playing Tony Hawk: Ride should be fairly intuitive. Brush your leg along the ground next to the board and your character on screen will push off to gain speed. Raise the nose and you'll do an ollie. Raise it half-way slowly and you'll do a manual. Variations and more complex tricks can be done by twisting the board or leaning forward or back while in the air.
Reality is a little less kind. Ride can be played on three different difficulties. On the lowest, called casual, the game does most of the steering for you. Players only need decide when to jump and trick. On the higher levels, steering and other assists are turned off. The trouble with Ride is that it feels like it plays itself on casual and the learning curve for anything higher is far too steep.
And when I say it feels like it plays itself, it really does. Face away from the screen or simply kick the board around on the ground and you're just as likely to pull of big tricks on the lowest difficulty setting. Toss the controller around like a mad monkey and you might find yourself with a high score. Doing a specific move, however, is frustratingly difficult. That turns the game, at least on casual, into the skateboarding equivalent of button-mashing.
Once you turn the difficulty up, you begin to see the failures of Tony Hawk: Ride. Steering is incredibly difficult, as is pulling off moves regularly. Lose your balance and lean to the side just a little and you'll start spinning in circles, bouncing off of pieces of the environment and failing challenge after challenge. It pushes the sensitivities to the extreme and makes the transition from casual to anything else punishing and, well, not fun.
The more you play, the more you'll also begin to notice that the physics and collision detection aren't up to speed – I once watched my skater go straight through the wall of a half-pipe and then fall through the world. Other times you'll watch your skater's head slide right through a cement wall. The camera has plenty of difficulties, too, once you take the game off of the casual rails. Ride simply lacks the polish that is necessary to match the hardcore controls. All of these things are problems that would absolutely not fly in past Tony Hawk games, and they're more than enough to make any serious gamer walk away.
If you're rich and want to spoil your kids, Tony Hawk: Ride might be worth a look. Though the game plays itself on casual, I could see little kids having a great time hopping around on the board and watching things happen on screen. It may just be random moves and total nonsense, but I've seen far less entertain little kids for hours on end.
However, if you are looking for more, you'll want to start with the campaign. It's the main single-player draw, though it is possible to simply hop into a park you've unlocked for a stress-free exhibition that just allows you to skate around and practice. The campaign pulls every available mode and stage into one package, including a half-dozen or so cities from around the world and several different game types. There's a race where speed and grabbing time bonuses is the objective. Trick sessions are all about scoring points under a time limit. Challenges require you to do specific tricks. Then there's a game like basketball's horse. Do well in these and you'll earn session points which will in turn unlock new areas and challenges to play, as well as new gear and pro skaters.
There isn't much of an actual career progression or any real reward for moving through the game. Screens periodically pop up telling you that you've unlocked new gear, but they won't tell you what gear that is or why you got it. Little videos of pro-skaters either tricking around in real life or telling you how great you're doing are the only real rewards. At the end, Tony Hawk appears and tells you that you've been on some quest. Who knew?
The levels themselves are nothing special, and there aren't many of them. Many look bland and uninspired; others just look and feel dull. The level design and freedom simply can't compete with Tony Hawk games from years ago, let alone the current competition on the market. Just because a new controller is introduced, it doesn't mean level design, visuals, and the total amount of content should suffer.
Before you can even get into the game, Tony Hawk Ride does its best to ruin the fun. The presentation here is about as bad as it possibly can get. For a game that is purportedly casual-friendly, this is a major issue. The load times are absolutely atrocious. Redundant, advertisement laden menus abound. In between every time you skate, Ride requires you to select goofy or regular footing on your board (for some reason you can't just select a preference and keep it, even during the campaign). Play a game of "eS Ride," the Tony Hawk version of horse, and you'll sit through a load screen and then a footing selection screen in between every 10 second trick attempt. Sound like a great party?
On Xbox 360 and PS3, there are D-pad and face buttons on the side of the skateboard controller that do not work in many menus. They simply don't do anything. You can't navigate these menus with the skateboard, either, like you can some other menus. This means you'll have to get off the board and pick up a separate controller every time you get a high score or decide to try a new challenge. On Wii, those buttons do work. However, if your Wii Remote turns off from being idle too long during one of these menus, the game pauses itself and forces you to turn it back on.
Tony Hawk: Ride even fails on the most basic of presentation elements. Upon completing a level in the campaign, session points are awarded based on how well you did. For some reason, the game never tells you how many you won, or even if you did better or worse than your previous attempts. To find out if you got all of the session points, you have to quit out to a different menu and scroll through your campaign progress. At the end of the game, I failed to meet the requirements for one level, yet the game still played the video telling me I had won and that there was one last challenge to complete – a challenge that was still locked. Fail.
About the same amount of care was put into making the multiplayer game fun. There's an eight-player offline Party Play mode. Only one player skates at a time, passing the board off to another hot-potato style in between rounds. Some rounds last several minutes while others just a few seconds depending upon the game type. Remember, load times and unnecessary menus are interjected incessantly here; making the shorter game types a disaster.
On PS3 and Xbox 360, you can also play online. Barely anybody is playing online and it's easy to see why. There is no interaction between players and no reward for winning. You simply do your race, trick or challenge by yourself, a winner is declared and that's that. Up to four people can participate in this soulless endeavor.
The Wii trades online play for the option of using your Mii in the offline game. This is a cute addition and a goofy good time. For some reason, however, it must be unlocked by playing through the campaign piece-wise. Each level and each difficulty on that level has its own Mii mode unlock. This is a failure to recognize that a casual-friendly feature might be something casual gamers don't want to work for.
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