The latest edition of the venerable Tony Hawk skateboarding video game franchise slides across your carpet on a plastic skateboard in Tony Hawk: Ride.
Losing ground to EA's Skate franchise, Activision tapped developer Robomodo to help take the Tony Hawk franchise in a whole new direction, eschewing standard controllers for a new plastic skateboard peripheral, attempting to bank on the success of peripheral-dependent titles like Guitar Hero. In Tony Hawk: Ride, players stand atop the included skateboard peripheral, tilting and raising the board to pull off tricks as high-tech sensors track the board's movement.
It's definitely a bold move, but as any skater can tell you, bold moves have a nasty habit of ending in a face-plant.
The Novelty: The concept behind Tony Hawk: Ride is certainly an intriguing one. A skateboarding game that uses a plastic skateboard controller had my attention from the moment it was first announced, and I have to admit that at first I was a charmed by the novelty of the whole thing. When you first get on the board and finish calibrating everything there are moments of giddy enjoyment. They quickly fade, but I'm giving Robomodo credit for at least trying.
The Board As An Object To Stand On: A plastic controller with delicate innards that can handle close to 300 pounds of frustrated man jumping up and down on it without shattering into a million pieces is a worthy piece of plastic indeed. I've broken real skateboards doing less.
The Board As A Game Controller: While it's great for standing on and looking vaguely ridiculous, the Tony Hawk: Ride controller falls short when it comes to actually controlling the game. At times it seems too sensitive, while other times it doesn't feel sensitive enough. In the game's "casual" difficulty, which guides you along on rails with diverging paths, one doesn't have to worry about steering, instead focusing on performing tricks using a combination of tilting, lifting, and turning the board. At no point in the Road Trip career mode did I truly feel as if I were in control of what I was doing, attempting to do one thing and doing something completely different instead. I particularly had difficulty getting the game to decide whether it wanted to ollie or manual.
Switching from "casual" to "confident" takes you off of the rails, giving you full control of your movement, which is great if you want to ride around in circles while the camera breaks. It takes a great deal of patience to master movement... unfortunately much more patience than I possess. Adjusting the sensitivity of the board helped, but not enough to make "confident" difficulty entertaining. It feels to me as if the game was designed with casual play in mind, with not as much fine-tuning done for the more advanced modes.
Another point against the board that must be mentioned is the fact that while it features many of the controls of your standard Xbox 360 controller, many of them simply don't work at various points in the game, requiring the use of a normal controller to navigate menus. Why would you go to the trouble of adding all of those buttons if you couldn't use them? It makes no sense.
A Visual Throwback: While previous entries in the Tony Hawk series gave you interesting places to skate, Ride's levels are mainly linear, meaning there isn't that much to see. The visuals are drab and uninspired, which wouldn't have been as much of an issue if the gameplay fell into place, but here we are. It's a definite step backwards for the series, but the board probably won't register that step anyway.
Loading Time: The only thing worse than looking silly trying to control your skater as he or she speeds through the various courses in Ride is standing still for ridiculously long periods of time, staring at the loading screen. It doesn't help that between each new course or new challenge you have to not only wait while the game loads but also indicate your riding stance (goofy or regular), over and over again. It's frustration on top of more frustration, with a side of frustration.
Glitching Is Not A Skateboarding Term: Little graphical and gameplay glitches abound in the game. Oftentimes my skater would clip right through obstacles, or drop from seemingly solid ramps to the ground below. Furthering the feeling that the game was designed with the casual on-rails gameplay in mind, the graphical hiccups only intensify when you take the training wheels off, not aided in the least by the aforementioned camera.
All The Small Things: On top of the big issues I've detailed here, there are a bunch of other nits I have to pick that didn't warrant a full Hated paragraph on their own. Issues like tutorials that don't quite tutor; online multiplayer that consists of playing alone and comparing scores after the fact; and an overall lack of information provided in the menus and navigation. It's hard to care about unlocking new gear when the game won't tell you what that gear is.
During one of my play sessions with Tony Hawk: Ride, my girlfriend looked up from her random knitting and said, "It's a pity you can't play it with the regular controller. It looks fun." For me, that simple statement sums up everything that is wrong with the game. Ride is a game built completely around a plastic skateboard controller that doesn't come close to getting the job done. Since the board is required to play, it drags everything else down with it—the integrity of the Tony Hawk franchise included.
Tony Hawk: Ride was developed by Robomodo and published by Activision for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on November 17th. A Wii version of the game was developed by Buzz Monkey. Retails for $119.99 USD. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through the Road Trip mode on the Xbox 360 version on casual difficulty. Played through first stage on confident before giving up out of frustration.
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