The Tony Hawk franchise has certainly had its fair share of ups and downs. When the game first landed on the scene back on the original PlayStation it was celebrated as being the pioneer of bringing extreme sports into the mainstream of the videogame realm. Here we are nearly a decade later with the latest release in the franchise and with it comes what the company is calling the most evolutionary step for the series. Tony Hawk Ride takes the series into a new era by introducing a peripheral that lets you separate yourself from the controller and actually get on a skateboard to perform the tricks yourself. What we end up with is a great idea that feels rushed and faulty in its execution.
As you have probably seen if you have frequented any store that carries games lately, Tony Hawk Ride is more than just a disc-based game. Bundled with the package comes a peripheral shaped like a skateboard that gamers can hop on and perform the tricks within the game. It has four sensors on around the board that detects your motion. In theory this is a brilliant and obvious next step for the series, but it doesn’t come without some growing pains. While extremely durable in design, the functionality of Robomodo’s creation leaves a bit to be desired.
When I first booted up the game I was greeted by the Hawkman himself as he proceeded to help me calibrate the board. Funny thing was he sounded just as disinterested in doing it as I did. The game recommends that you have several feet of space around you during gameplay, which already poses a problem for people with tiny living rooms. Personally I calibrated the board just fine with much less space and now it was time to dig into the tutorial and get my shred on. The general basics are pretty simple fair, and playing on the casual default setting made me feel like things were going smooth. You see Ride implements three various difficulties and on casual the game actually functions much like it is intended; however, once you step up the challenge the real drawbacks of the peripheral rear their ugly head.
Response time on some of the actions is downright broken. To perform an ollie all you do is give the board a swift tilt back. You can also manual by doing it slower and holding this motion either forward or backward. Grinding is automatic and performing tricks is done by tilting the board after performing an ollie. Things become more complicated when you are tasked with performing specific functions such as grab and flip tricks. Now let’s be honest here I am certainly no spring chicken. I loved to skateboard when I was much younger, but now I simply found myself falling off the board and failing to keep my balance most of the time. This is fine, I am not a skateboarder, but for a game aimed at the casual audience, chances are they aren’t either.
If you keep the game on casual things really don’t become too much of an issue as things simply seem to fall into place. However, if you bump up the difficulty even to the next setting things become hairy. You almost feel the need to be a veteran skateboarder to perform some of the more intricate moves. This really draws a line in the sand between appealing to a casual audience and the hardcore crowd. In all honesty anyone seriously interested in skating is probably out on the half-pipe. This game was intended to appease younger kids and families much like the Wii fad, but when you step up the challenge it becomes less enjoyable and sometimes downright frustrating.
The career mode has you performing the traditional series of tasks from previous games such as performing tricks, racing through environments etc. The problem lies within the progression. In the beginning things are explained to you and the game tends to hold your hand through most of the moves, unfortunately after a while it just stops. You will be asked to perform tricks that are never taught and the frustration continues to set in. The later challenges also task you with being more precise, which can become a challenge in itself thanks to the less-than-responsive controller. However, my biggest complaint about the career mode is the length. For the price tag on the game you feel like Ride is simply a showcase for the hardware as the career mode lasts only about three hours.
There is a free skate option, but the environments are so cramped that you feel like they just were not designed to be used as a playground for the board. There is also an online mode that runs perfectly fine when it comes to lag concerns, but the community is nearly a ghost town as most of the game’s audience is likely playing in the comfort of their own living room with a group of family members as opposed to trekking online. The Wii version substitutes online for Mii support that has to be unlocked before you can use it, another questionable decision for a game that seems to want to harness the casual crowd. I also have serious concerns with the setup and presentation. The menu system is clunky and hard to navigate with the board alone. I constantly kept a controller in my hand to navigate through the menus. Also why do I have to choose my stance before every level? This is another example of how the game just feels rushed out the door.
The presentation is also littered with advertising endorsements, heck even the main menu system is designed to look like a mobile phone from T-mobile. It feels almost like a sponsored title that you actually had to pay for. The visuals have taken a downgrade in terms of design and animation and the environments as I mentioned before, feel entirely too claustrophobic. Then there were the glitches. I am sure most people have seen the online videos showcasing skaters traversing the ceiling of areas and even falling through the environments. This is commonplace in the game and really breaks the experience when it happens. The one redeeming quality about the presentation is the soundtrack. The Tony Hawk games have always supplied a solid offering of musicians and this outing is no different.
Tony Hawk Ride is a prime example of a fantastic idea that has not been fully realized yet. The concept is a sound one but the technology simply falls short. I would love to see this idea fully realized and perfected, but I fear that hefty price tag and poor reception may hinder future iterations in this direction. There is fun to be had for anyone who doesn’t mind inconsistent hardware and limited progression, but the presentation and core mechanics simply feel rushed out the door. This is one ride that will disappoint fans of the series, myself included.