Can the best get better?
The other day I bought a new pen. Not an ordinary pen, mind you, but one of those state of the art, ergonomic masterpiece pens that exudes ink with style, grace, and chilling precision. Its sleek, cobalt blue exterior conveys a sense of power and professionalism rarely found in a writing utensil. When coupled with its dual padded comfo-grip and weatherproof cap, the pen's sublime ink delivery mechanism offers an unparalleled writing experience.
"Quite a pen!" I thought at first. "I mean, this is really an improvement!" But as it turns out, it wasn't.
Sure, it's a tad more comfy. Sure, it's got a designer name on the side to impress nerds. But in the end, it's still just a pen. It writes. And that's it. It doesn't cook, it doesn't clean, and it doesn't iron my pants.
What I'm getting at is that when you enhance an already proven idea, it helps to add something new, such as, for instance, the ability to iron my pants. Otherwise, you feel a little let down (and wrinkled).
So it goes with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater for the Dreamcast, a terrific, gorgeous, and addictive game. It's also exactly the same as earlier versions. Exactly. As in, not one new thing whatsoever. And while certainly the best pen in the pack, you can't help but be a little surprised that some extra flavor wasn't included in the port.
For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past year, here's the deal. You choose one of 9 pro skaters and grind, jump, and ollie your way across 9 huge, interactive levels. You can skate pretty much anywhere, from the convenient half-pipe to the inconvenient but equally pleasing parked cars, ledges, and so on.
Your goal in Career mode is to fulfill certain requirements to accumulate 'tapes.' These then open up new levels, increase your stats and lead to new boards. Beat the game and you'll get rewarded with cool video footage.
While the Playstation and N64 versions boast excellent graphics, the Dreamcast version makes both of them look shabby in comparison. The textures alone are simply incredible, from the various surfaces to the high definition skaters and boards (you can make out creases in the pants...they look ironed!). The lighting is dynamic and realistic. The framerate is smooth and there are few polygonal errors. Hands down, this is one of the prettiest games I've ever played.
The cleaned up graphics have a marginal affect on the gameplay, as you can see much farther off into the distance and split screen multiplayer games hold up better. But that's about it.
Everything else about the game is identical to other versions. You'll find the exact same levels with the exact same stuff in the exact same spots. Tricks are exactly the same, and since the DC and PSX controllers have similar button layouts, the control is the same as well. I did notice that changing the tightness of the trucks has a bigger impact on control than the earlier version, though this could just be my imagination.
The music? The same. The sound in general? The same in general.
On one hand, this similarity is a very good thing - if it ain't broke, don't fix it. But when you consider the enormous power potential of the Dreamcast, you can't help but feel a bit gypped that they didn't add something - anything - to give this version uniqueness. No new tracks, no new skaters, not even any new video or extra characters.
This was forgivable in the N64 version since the cartridge based system can't really handle much more. Adding more stuff was an unrealistic goal, and yet it still added the Trick Tutorial; a minor addition, but something new nonetheless.
Compound that with the fact that Tony Hawk 2 is set to come out in a few months, and you're left with a brutal feeling of déjí vu. This is why games are released on multi-platforms simultaneously - to avoid oversaturation or releasing a game that feels dated.
And when does it end? If this game gets ported to the PC in four months and is still exactly the same, what then? Still an A? What about a Mac port four months after that? There should be a statute of limitations regarding how many times the same game can be made for different systems without adding anything new.
Frankly, this is a nightmare to grade. In a vacuum, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater for the Dreamcast is the best skating game yet, but in the grand scheme of things, it offers very little new to a title that has already received two Game Revolution A's. A little effort to add some new sparkle would have done wonders for me.
In the end, Dreamcast owners who never got a taste of this gem in its earlier incarnations simply cannot afford to miss it. It's still the best skating game of all time and deserves a spot in every gamer's collection. I just wish it could iron my pants.