Grinding The Cube.
The N64 got screwed when it comes to the Tony Hawk games. I mean, the games were fine, but they didn't come out until well after the release of the Playstation versions. By the time the N64 versions came out, most N64 owners had played the game on a friend's PSX or just went out and bought their own.
So when Activision decided to release THPS 3 on the Gamecube as a launch title just a few weeks after the PS2 release, millions wept tears of joy. Except Luigi, who didn't need the stress of such a cool cat moving into his neighborhood.
And indeed, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 continues the somewhat disturbing tradition of wowing the difficult-to-wow GR staff by taking advantage of the new hardware and pumping out another classic. The champ is still on top of its game, and with its fantastic graphics, control and gameplay, remains undefeated.
The amateur detectives out there might notice that this review bears a striking similarity to the review for the PS2 version. That's because it's almost exactly the same review, which in turn is because this is almost exactly the same game. For the most part, the graphics and gameplay are identical to its PS2 brother. However, the difference in hardware leads to some notable differences in the overall experience.
If you have never played a Tony Hawk game, you must be from the Moon and probably don't understand Earth language. Rest assured that you should go find a copy of one of the older games and become familiar with it, pronto.
THPS 3 keeps the basics from the series intact. You pick a skater and take to 8 massive levels (with several more to unlock) in an effort to accomplish a number of goals and nabbing extra stat points. More goals lead to more levels and the stat points can be divvied out in nine statistical categories.
The hallmark of the series has been its terrific level design, and nothing has changed here. The first level, The Foundry, is filled to the rim with ramps and rails, a nice introduction to the game. From there, however, things get tougher and tougher. Whether you're busting up in the treetops of the Canada level or riding the plethora of rails in the Airport, you'll be right at home with the best level design around. It seems that no matter where you are on the level, there are plenty of things to do and combos to try.
The setup is the same as past versions with three medal competitions. For that matter, the general game flow is pretty much identical to earlier games. You'll spend a ton of time just trying to nail the goals on each level in order to unlock videos and new characters. I would have preferred a little more innovation here, but the fact remains that it's tons of fun.
But even THPS vets will find THPS 3 to be a new challenge, because it assumes you're familiar with past iterations. While the basics are the same, there are some important new changes that lead to a whole new level of madcap trick mania.
The biggest change is the 'revert' maneuver, which allows you to link vertical tricks together. By pressing the Right Trigger right as you land an air trick, you can continue the trick into a manual, then off for more combos. It might seem minor, but when you get good with the revert you'll wind up with some incredible combinations and monster point totals.
To match this new skill, the point requirements on some of the levels are insane. Los Angeles asks for a 400,000-point 'Sick' score. It makes you scour the level for the best lines, and even then it's a tall order. This game was obviously made for fans, not newbies.
But newbie or otherwise, all will agree that it looks terrific. The framerate blazes at 60 fps with rare hiccups. The skaters look great, particularly when balancing on lips or manuals, swaying from side to side trying to maintain their balance Cirque Du Soleil style. The details are excellent. The colors in the Gamecube version are a little washed-out compared to the bright PS2 version, but unless you're intently staring at the two versions running side by side, you won't notice much difference at all.
The graphical depth can be found in the enhanced Create-a-Skater, which gives you a bigger wardrobe than Joan Rivers at the Oscars. From height and weight to hats, glasses, tattoos, socks, backpacks and kneepads, the creator is reminiscent of the one from the Acclaim WWF games. That one ruled, and so does this one. I actually made a skater that looks eerily like me, minus the super-sized head to hold my massive brain.
They even managed to fix a few old problems by adding other camera angles and the much needed 'free look' ability. Yep, you can finally just stand there and look around until you spot the secret tape perched several hundred feet up.
Past THPS games have been applauded for their eclectic, smart soundtracks. Well keep clapping, because THPS 3 offers more audio goodies. From the obligatory pop punk to wacky hip-hop to just wacky in general, the tunes are once again solid, fun and varied. Plus, they threw in the Ramones' Blitzkrieg Bop for old-schoolers like yours truly.
When you tire of the single player, you can always grab a friend and play a good old-fashioned game of HORSE, Graffiti or Trick Attack. Add to that King of the Hill matches (essentially an intense game of tag) and Slap, where you just run into each other at high speeds. They're all decent fun, but the real meat of multiplayer lies in the innovative online multiplayer option, the first of its kind...
...on the PS2, that is. Here is where the two versions differ the most. The revolutionary online component is sadly missing from the Gamecube version. This isn't really the fault of the developers so much as the Gamecube itself - it doesn't have any USB ports or built-in modem, so the online gaming aspect of THPS 3 is pretty much screwed.
The other big difference lies in the Gamecube controller and its undersized (and largely underused) D-pad. Tony Hawk has always been easier to play using the D-pad than the analog stick in order to really nail the tricks, but the puny D-pad on the Gamecube controller just doesn't work as well as the standard one for the PS2. Plus, the all-important revert button has been combined with the rotation buttons due to the lack of the extra R and L triggers (R2 and L2 on the PS2) on the GC controller. When you try to nail a revert, you also rotate a little. This can cause disaster unless the timing is perfect.
While these gripes are attributed more to the hardware than the game programming or design, they are gripes nonetheless and make for a slightly less thrilling experience than the PS2 version. If you own a Gamecube, you should own this game, no question about it. However, the lack of online connectivity and the somewhat tougher controls lead to the second-best version of THPS 3 currently on the market. Still a monster game, though.