Tony Hawk Ride Preview: Feet On, Most of The Time

Tony Hawk is moving into its tenth year as a video gaming franchise and with competitor Skate bringing the heat, was beginning to show its age a bit.

Instead of overhauling the graphics, or coming up with some new gameplay mode, Activision decided to turn it into a motion-sensing game complete with its own plastic peripheral.

Will Tony Hawk Ride be worth filling a bit more closet space with yet another controller?

What Is It?
This complete overhaul of the storied Tony Hawk franchise ditches the controller for a motion-sensing skateboard that has you shifting your weight and waving your hands to skate and perform tricks.

What We Saw
I played through an early practice session several times and tried pulling some tricks in a halfpipe.

How Far Along Is It?
The board I used was the final version and the game is due out this fall.

What Needs Improvement?
Light Sensor Sensitivity: The board uses four light sensors to detect movement, one each on the front, back and sides. The idea is that you wave your hand or foot in front of the sensor and it translates that into a grab. When I played it the sensor didn't really work unless I really reached down, something that the developers told me they were still looking to tweak. It would be much more fun, and playable, if a gamer could just wave their hand to the side, instead of bending down and waving.

Tricks: While riding the board and steering felt natural and relatively easy to do, things started to get a little sketchy when I started pulling tricks. Doing manuals, flips and grinds all require a gamer to physically shift the board around. You have to lean back on the board and do a wheelie to do a wheelie. If you want to do a flip you have to make the same motion, but slap the board back down. Shifting the board in either direction while doing a manual also pulled off tricks.

I was able to do all of these, but about half the time would lose my center of balance and eventually have to step off the board. This isn't an issue of me falling, just not being able to sustain gameplay, which in many ways is a bigger issue. Perhaps tweaking the sensitivity, or teaching gamers to be a bit more subtle in their movements would fix the issue.

Learning Curve: The basics are very easy in Ride, the tricks not so much. Dropping in to play with the game for ten minutes or so makes it hard to judge what the final experience will be like, but I suspect one of the biggest issues Ride is going to have is a fairly steep learning curve. The developers are going to need to build in a lot of carrots to keep players trying until they get it right.

What Should Stay The Same?
Concept: The idea of playing a skateboarding game with your feet, not your thumbs is a great idea. Taking the over-the-top arcade games of the 80s and 90s and turning them into a (hopefully) affordable home game is fantastic on paper.

Turns: Straight skating is a pleasure on the Ride board. You get started by pretending to kick off with your foot and then just lean into the turns. The board does a phenomenal job of translating shifting weight into movement and makes it feel like you're really skateboarding.

Board Design: It may look fragile or unsteady, but the board design for Ride is very solid. The controller is a tad smaller than a standard board and curves up on the front and back to make tricking easier. The bottom of the plastic board is broken down into flat sections instead of being a smooth curve. The very bottom is completely flat and when you shift to the side you move from the bottom flat section to a side flat section. This makes balancing much easier than if the bottom of the board was smooth.

The board feels solid enough to stand up to years of abuse and the top has a rubber coating.

Final Thoughts
Tony Hawk Ride is a great concept, I'm not yet convinced it's a great game. So far I've really only had enough time with it to get an inkling of the controller and how well it translates movement into gameplay. It would take much more time for me to be able to tell if Ride is something I can adjust to and feel fully comfortable with.

And that's not even addressing the game itself. Even with the neatest technology, the coolest new concept, you need to have a fun game and really we haven't had a chance to dive into Ride yet.

What will make or break this game is how a person will feel both physically and emotionally after playing it for a few hours non-stop.