In 1999, I was a pompous seventh grader. I listened to The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and The Specials because I was nominally a skateboarder and that’s what skateboarders listened to. This was also about the time that the X Games were becoming a mainstream event and Tony Hawk completed the first 900 ever in competition—a spin move that requires two-and-a-half rotations in the air. Skateboarding had never been more popular, and when Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater came out in late August, it was a blockbuster event. By the time the sequel came out, I was spending more time playing as a digital skater than working on my own kick flips.
At the time, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was a great game. Its physics engine was realistic enough, but more importantly, the environments felt real. There were a few hammy moments, but on average, the maps felt like areas that you could actually skate. This was the game’s greatest achievement. Skating games in the past, though built on inferior hardware, generally had the basic gameplay of skating under wraps. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was the Super Mario 64 of skateboard games: transposing environments into 3-D for people to explore while maintaining traditional control schemes.
The announcement of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD struck me as odd. It may be a cash grab for a franchise that has long since lost its way. Or it could be an attempt to reclaim the success of early-series titles. But this HD remake doesn’t really add anything to the core game beside a graphical upgrade on par with later-series sequels.
The Tony Hawk franchise began to slip after the third in the series, mostly because they began trending toward the fantastical, but that’s what happens when you start hanging out with Bam Margera. The sequels also failed to improve the gameplay much, which is the greatest knock against Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD. With a mediocre physics system in the original that lent itself to wonky animations and inconsistent motion, the lack of any discernible upgrade in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD makes the game feel stale.
The biggest problem with the remake, however, is the lack of any customizable skaters. You’re able to play as any of the established pros from the series, as well as using your Xbox avatar (oversized head and all), but you’re not able to create your own skater and advance him through the game. Otherwise, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD is the same game that came out in 1999: intuitive gameplay, small-but-interactive levels, and oozing with personality. It just hasn’t aged particularly well. The series made a name for itself when skateboarding was hitting the mainstream. Now, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD feels as insignificant as the sport it helped elevate over a decade ago.