As what sets apart just standard “arcade ports” from the “high definition” models is the presentation. This one went surprisingly well. When I heard Robomodo would be slapping the HD tag on the back of this title, I figured it would have just enough “retouch” to constitute the distinction, and not much else. But this was a total graphical overhaul. All the character models have depth and focus. Remember the original on PS, and you knew the Hawkman himself in the game as the “jaggie” dude with a gray t-shirt on? Yeah, here in HD, it actually resembles him. As it does with the rest of the cast that includes classic faves like Eric Koston and Andrew Reynolds with Nyjah Huston and Chris Cole in the group of newcomers. And as with Tony, all the selectable skaters have their own individual style while also re-creating the real life counterpart as well as a PSN game probably can.
The levels have also seen major visual renovation. Fear not, they didn’t change around the layout any. So all of your most beloved jam spots and high score lines are completely intact. But when you see the seven maps (Warehouse, School II, The Hangar, Mall, Venice Beach, Downhill Jam, and Marseille), it’ll take a few minutes to get used to them being so colorful, defined, and toned. Of course this makes for better eye candy, but it also does something useful. All of the objects have a considerable level of “pop” to them. This makes it much, much easier to navigate things from session to session. The distance of ramps becomes clearer, the relative height of rails is more attainable; even your own flight path and hang time mean more in this new resolution. Great work.
The audio also is more than just a tick better. Trucks grinding on rails sounds wholly different than coping. The velocity and height off a vert wall has a related effect on how “loud” your landing will be. Even the courses themselves have more audible things going about. The decision for music, for me, was the first misstep in HD. I absolutely adore the half of the track list that is taken off the “greatest hits” from THPS1 and 2. Thrashing to classics including P.E. and Anthrax’s “Bring the Noise,” Lagwagon’s “May 16,” and everyone favorite “Superman” by Goldfinger is the biggest thread of nostalgia running through this title. However, I feel like there are enough awesome tracks from these two texts, that making the other half all new stuff is completely unnecessary. In their own right, most of the new stuff rocks, like “USA” by Middle Class Rut and Lateef the Truthspeaker’s “We the People.” But with this sweet jr. high vibe going strong, it’s jarring to hear something that doesn’t fit. Kind of like having a dream of a childhood memory featuring people you’ve recently met. Sure, they’re cool too, but they don’t belong.
In terms of actual gameplay, most is strong, but not all is well. Basically, it feels like the same game. Flip and grab tricks have the same animations as they once did. So your “mental timers” when determining what tricks you can squeeze in at a particular spot by your speed and height will be the same. To this, increasing stats in HD has a more noticeable effect this time around. I played the single player with Eric Koston, and completing check marks along the way predictably earns you cold hard cash. And while you can purchase items like new boards, tricks, and the lot, overwhelmingly most of my earnings went to boosting up notches in Air, Rail Balance, Ollie, Spin, ect. Right after I made the upgrades and rolled back in, I instantly felt better and more confident with harder tricks and trick combos. All of this is good. What isn’t so peachy is the subtle, but note worthy “lag” in controls. Perhaps this was designed, perhaps not, but turning seem to have a pause between pad input and action of the character. Unlike newer skate sims like Skate, where street is king, THPS is at it’s best when hitting vert. I would spend countless (and I mean countless) hours at different pipes. My personal favorite being the one under the bridge in the Philadelphia map from 2. Executing spins while kicking and grabbing is still done primarily with R2/L2. But I got used to handling “finer adjustments” with the D-pad to ensure I landed. There is a good half a second delay when pressing right or left, and the corresponding turn being done in the game. .5 might not sound like much, but when you do something over and over again for years, it’s a big sensitivity shock. Again, this could be a conscientious decision. Nevertheless, it’s distracting and can be really frustrating.
Old school game modes are put together with a few new ones. Career has you once again accomplishing the laundry list of high scores, tricks, and item snatching from the levels’ original runs two minutes at-a-time. Single Session puts 2:00 back on the clock, with points being the only objective. And Free Skate returns as the never ending/afternoon stealing play type you remember from ’99. Two new ones of note is Hawkman and Big Head. Hawkman sounds odd, but actually starts to make sense after a few attempts. Scattered about each stage are “pellets” or orbs of different color. Depending on their shade is how you can collect. So, yellow ones around rails and lips must be grinded through. Red spheres conveniently placed near ramps and jumps just require hitting them. A good, clean, proficient line is a must to collect them all within the staggered time limits. Again, sounds funky. But it’s really fun, difficult, and can offer up some great scoring paths for the next new “thang.” Big Head is a race for the clock instead of against. Time ticks up, and the goal is to still be alive when the target is reached. How you ensure your livelihood is by tricking big and often. Failure to do so causes your dome to increase in size until it reaches 100%, at which time it explodes and looks like a round of Firefight with the Grunt Birthday Party skull on. Online play is possible for the first time on these retro kick-push locales, where you and up to three others can partake in the new Big Head, as well as Trick Attack, Free Skate, and the forever awesome Graffiti.