October 4, 2015

DOOLITTLE| Doing the (Nosehook) Impossible

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The release of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 the first main entry in the Tony Hawk series since 2007 — last week raises some very important questions: Where has Tony Hawk been? Lil Wayne skateboards? And, most importantly, what happened?

Chances are, if you played video games in the early 2000s, you tried your hand at some part of the Great Triumvirate: Grand Theft Auto III, Super Smash Bros. Melee and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3. I call it the Great Triumvirate because there are three games on the list and I played them, but maybe you did, too. Three incredible series had new entries come out within a three-month period at the end of 2001 and changed the lives of adolescents everywhere, myself included. Now, your personal favorite may vary; if you had friends, you probably played a lot of SSBM, if you had an ignorant parent that you could trick into purchasing GTA, you did. If you didn’t meet either of those criteria, hollah, we totes should have had a sleepover and played THPS3.

The strangest thing is I couldn’t even tell you why the Tony Hawk games were my favorite as a child. You see, I am not what one would call “sporty” or “athletic” or “locomotive.” I’m more Squid than Reggie or Otto. My favorite part of baseball games are the hotdogs. I once dashed off a soccer field in tears and never looked back.

I’ve never ridden a skateboard in real life, but I had real cred on the Playstation 2. I must have played every entry between THPS2 and Downhill Jam, which killed it for me — I mean, what was that anyway, a racing game? I especially loved Tony Hawk’s Underground and it’s sequel, Underground 2, which I believe were the true innovators of the series. For the first time, you could get off your board and just do other stuff. Like graffiti or driving vehicles, for some reason. It also introduced Eric Sparrow, the worst asshat ever written into existence. I just remembered that I went through a serious Viva La Bam phase during this period. I ask for privacy during this difficult time.

I don’t have an explanation as to why I played the Tony Hawk games so religiously. I wasn’t really interested in skateboarding, after all. I haven’t played a sports video game since, Wii Sports and some pathetic attempts at FIFA aside. The only reason I can come up with is that the Tony Hawk games were good. Really, really good.

And that’s a complete and utter cop-out. The gameplay — skate around, do some tricks, string some tricks into combos, spell S-K-A-T-E with floating letters, collect some inexplicable VHS tapes — was immutable and consistent. If you flipped before you grabbed, you did an Anti-Casper and if you grabbed before you flipped, you did a Truckstand, end of story. What it lacked in innovation, it made up for in dependability, transplanted from one location to another (the Alcatraz level in THPS4 was pretty sick). You knew what you were getting yourself into.

Or so I thought.

Earlier this month, my brother shot me a text out of the blue. “They’re releasing a pro skater 5 [sic].” Of course, this came as a shock. The Tony Hawk series has been in limbo since 2007 when Neversoft, the series’ long-time developer, was restructured by Activision and given command of the Guitar Hero series instead. Every entry since has been a string of disappointing gimmicks, culminating in the coup de grace of the Tony Hawk series: the Ride skateboard peripheral. The entire point of the series was to skateboard without having to actually skateboard! It was a betrayal of all the things we held dear about the games. They never quite recovered.

I was excited at the prospect of a new Pro Skater; the name alone inspired hope for the game, a return to form for a genre that fell by the wayside years ago. My hope was short-lived, however. Reviews for Pro Skater 5 are universal in the savageness of their evisceration. I mean, Superman 64-level awful. If you manage to get past the dreaded loading screen boss without having your console lock-up, you are doomed to a life of falling through the ground, taking off a half-pipe into low orbit, and spontaneously dying at the slightest bump. They’ve also added the ability to ground-pound like Mario, because that’s something skateboarders can do. On the bright side, you can play as Lil Wayne, so there’s that.

I will not be buying Pro Skater 5, and neither should you. I will take the next few days to reflect on one of the greatest video game series ever made, and then promptly move on. Better to let the series live in the past, bathed in the warm glow of nostalgia, than to let it die painfully in the present.