Animal Chin, where art thou?
Skateboarding almost killed me at the age of 10. I was riding my Sims E down the most threatening hill in the neighborhood, caught the front wheels on a rock, flipped end over end for about 20 feet and landed square on my head. I blacked out, only to awaken in a hospital bed. My mother, sitting vigilantly at my side, swore that she'd never allow me to ride a board again, thus ended my skateboarding days.
Or so I thought.
Late last year, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater blasted onto the scene and catapulted video game skateboarding to new heights. Its excellent engine, slick graphics, amazing level design and brilliant gameplay won it many accolades, including GR's Best PSX Game of 1999. It also managed to glue my old, jaded, Bones Brigade ass to the couch for literally months at a time. Look ma, no hands!
Like any good game, Tony Hawk seemed destined for porting. The upcoming Dreamcast version seems like a sure bet, but what about this N64 port? Considering the quality of most recent N64 games, I was hardly expecting much...and was totally shocked when I realized that this game is equal to, if not better than, the original PSX version.
For the most part, this version is identical to its PSX predecessor. If you're not familiar with the game at all, go check out that review to get a briefing on why this game rocks.
Too lazy? Fine, here's a rundown. You choose one of 10 skaters (the same as you'll find in the PSX version) and skate your butt off on one of 9 levels. There are several different ways to play, including a Career mode, Free Skate, and multiple two-player modes. That's all you're getting out of me. Sure you don't want to read that other review?
The bulk of the gameplay changes are due to the differences between the two console systems. While it looked great on the PSX, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater looks simply fantastic on the N64. The action is incredibly smooth and the skaters move as realistically as ever. The game is RAM enhanced, and you'll be hard pressed to find many polygonal errors or clipping problems. While some levels (particularly San Francisco) show some pop-up, this is to be expected and doesn't get in the way whatsoever. Pro Skater serves as an impressive reminder of the N64's graphical prowess.
New to the N64 version is the 'Trick Tutorial,' which is essentially a museum mode that gives you a trick list and move demo for each skater. If you're good enough, you can also unlock some special moves to watch here. Nice.
The control is great. This is mainly due to a terrific stunt setup, at once intuitive yet at the same time challenging. Tricks can be linked endlessly, producing some epic combos. With a little practice, you'll be pulling off some 20,000 point tricks in no time.
Multi-player has been retained as well, and has in fact gotten better due to the more powerful hardware. Graffiti, Trick Attack and Horse modes are all still here - without any slowdown whatsoever.
If there was one problem with the original game, it was the music. The songs were fine, but hearing them ad nauseum was not. Turning off the music was a necessary chore. The N64 version only includes about 20 looped seconds of each music track, but still must to turned off to preserve sanity. The rest of the sound, however, is fine. The sound of the skateboard on the various textures (street, wooden ramps, metal pipes) is particularly well done.
The brilliance of Tony Hawk Pro Skater lies in its freedom, which is retained perfectly in the N64 port. You can skate literally anywhere, from the obvious ramps and rails to the more 'mundane' objects like tables, cars and just about everything in between. If it looks skate-able, it probably is. This leads to a very kinetic, realistic experience, a skating game that -gasp- makes you feel like a skater!
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater is perhaps the best Playstation to N64 port ever. Frankly, I just don't have enough words to describe how pleasing it is to see that so much time and care has gone into what is too often a rushed afterthought. Fans of the original will love it, newcomers will love it, skaters and non-skaters alike will love it...heck, even your mom will love it. I know mine does.