Oh how the mighty have fallen. There was a time around the turn of the century where I would have told you that the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater franchise was one of video game's strongest. It was right at the time when Neversoft had perfected the controls, figured out how to design incredible levels and added online multiplayer. But as the years went on and the installments kept coming, the brand started to lose some of its spark. They tried adding story, an open world and other gimmicks to the franchise, but none of this made the series feel fresh and new again. By the time Tony Hawk's Proving Ground came around I was sick of complaining and ready for something completely different. Had I known the difference would be Tony Hawk Ride, I would never have complained about lackluster efforts like Tony Hawk's Proving Ground and American Wasteland.
Seeing the success of the Guitar Hero franchise and Nintendo's WiiFit Balance Board, Activision decided to give the Tony Hawk franchise a brand new plastic peripheral. Instead of using your hands to pull of tricks and impress the pros, Tony Hawk Ride offers you the opportunity to stand on a fake plastic skateboard and mimic tricks similar to that in the game. On paper this sounds awesome, especially for people with fond memories of arcade skateboarding games like Top Skater. But don't be fooled, because Tony Hawk Ride is the biggest disaster of 2009.
But let's not jump directly into the negative just yet. When I opened my copy of Tony Hawk Ride I was surprised at how sturdy the board felt. I'm not exactly the skinniest games journalist on the planet, but I never felt like I was going to break the board with my enormous frame. I was also impressed with the size, which is only a few inches shorter than a standard skateboard. The only real difference is how thick the Tony Hawk Ride board is and the fact that there aren't any wheels.
No matter how impressive the board actually is, what matters is how well it handles. Unfortunately this is where the game completely falls apart. After a quick video showing you how to calibrate the skateboard, Tony Hawk is ready to teach you some tricks. He starts with the basic, including the ollie (a standard jump), which you perform by leaning on the back and bringing the board to a 45 degree angle. To pull off a flip trick you do an ollie plus lean to one side or the other. As the tutorial goes on we learn how to do a number of impressive tricks, all with the use of the fake plastic skateboard.
The problem is that many of the more complicated tricks require a superhuman level of precise maneuvering. The videos that teach you these advance techniques make it look easy, but the game requires you to be exact when attempting a trick. For example, to do a flip trick you are supposed to go into an ollie and then rotate the board 90 degrees to the left or right. This is something I have no problem doing, but getting it to register in the game consistently is a real chore. The game often refuses to recognize my moves, even when I've done exactly what the tutorial taught me to do.
Things go from bad to worse when you start trying to add grabs and inverts to your repertoire. The skateboard has four different sensors, one of the front, back, left and right of the board. The idea is to put your hand down around the sensor when you want to grab the board during a trick. Like everything else in the game, this action only works once or twice out of every ten attempts. It's also extremely awkward to kneel down and wave your hand over the sensor; you might as well be touching your toes while keeping your eyes on the TV screen.
Think things can't get any worse? Wait until you realize that there's a slight lag between what you are doing on the board and what the character is doing in the game. Early on this slight delay isn't a deal breaker, but the more you play the game (and the more advanced the challenges get) this lag really becomes noticeable and detrimental to your enjoyment. The game teaches you that in order to pull off the perfect move you will need to start everything a little early (and have a lot of luck).
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