Tony Hawk was a real nobody to most people only years ago. Of course renown among fellow skaters he (or more likely the games bearing his name) finally introduced professional skating to the broad masses. Four console and PC games, with number 5 about to hit stores sold millions of copies worldwide, making it perhaps the most valuable franchise in the possession of its holder Activision. Porting such a successful game to retail it on the handheld market too was of course always a long time goal (companies don’t hate money you know), and now for the first time on Nokia’s N-Gage Tony Hawk fans’ dreams come true. Do I hear objections? Well of course we are all aware that there are already several Tony Hawk games for the well situated, market controlling handheld from the competition, but without judging the quality of these titles I believe one can truly ask: “Is this really Tony Hawk?”
Most people are aware of the pros and cons of Nokia’s N-Gage. but in the end everybody has to agree on one fact: it IS more powerful in the technical compartment compared to any other handheld at the moment. But the first 6 titles - just see our reviews and articles covering the N-Gage’s launch – allowed, if at all, only short glimpses at the power sleeping within the N-Gage, and summing it up were more or less a disappointment. There I said it.
But already back then I promised faithful readers interested in all the N-Gage stuff I produce, that they shouldn’t abandon all hope yet as there are better games to come. Tony Hawk is definitely the first title making the acquisition of an N-gage interesting again, but like all N-Gage owners I sure hope that there is more to come.
360 frontside-backside Madonna tailgrap thingy in Leipzig
I have played them all. Starting on the good old PSone I have played the whole bunch of Tony Hawk titles, and while some sometimes lacked any innovation compared to the prequel, they all were fun to play. I admit, I had my doubts when I read the announcement that there will be a Tony Hawk game for Nokia’s N-Gage (don’t forget that the N-Gage wasn’t due for release back then any time soon), since I expected some generic game only bearing the name of the game without featuring “the real thing” yet again.
But the Game Convention in Leipzig proved me all wrong. You may not know, but evil journalists and editors like me were allowed to enter the “sacred” halls one hour earlier while videogame addicts had to wait an extra 60 minutes outside. Since I happened to have my first appointment at the Games Convention with Nokia I went and visited their stand right away on Day One. Troubled technicians were running around securing N-Gage Preview units and various soon-to-be-busy promoters were using their last free minutes to give the N-Gage a try themselves. I did the same and guess what, the game deck I picked up (attached to a VERY sturdy steel cable *sigh*) contained a beta copy of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater for N-Gage.
Used to the fact that going 3d on a handheld until now was more or less impossible (unless you really liked pixel clouds) I was really stunned by the visuals. Real 3D environments, animated 3D models, textured objects and all this at a constant frame rate - a real revolution. Although I only had 10 minutes before I had to leave because of the aforementioned appointment I was certain that I just played a title that could be a real blockbuster on the N-Gage, and for some people maybe even a motivation to get themselves an N-Gage. I just couldn’t wait to get my greedy hands on the final product.
Because of a logistic problem our test sample of Tony Hawk's arrived a little late, but in the last 2 weeks we seriously tested the game and while smoking our cigars (No Cuban cigars for us if you're wondering... Being an independent online games magazine we have to suffice with Chinese counterfeit ones. *cough* - Editor) we are happy to announce: It’s Tony Hawk!
The technical specs
The graphics are well comparable to the original PSone titles, but “thanks” to the small screen the graphics look crisp and sharp. The range of visibility is surprisingly high as well, and like stated before the framerate –if at all – only hardly drops in graphically “complex” situations.
A little disappointment is the in-game sound, more exactly the music. Although like in all Tony Hawk games various renowned artists are featured, the number of tracks is quite limited and the music from the loudspeakers is quite tinny. A higher sampling rate would have been a good idea, although it is quite possible that the stunning graphics already consumed too much processing power, which would be a legit excuse for the poor sound quality.
Thankfully the controls are well thought out, although old school Game...*cough* old school competition’s handheld players like me will have to get used to two things: the additional number of buttons raises the number of possible tricks, but also the complexity of the button layout and the 8-way directional pad of the N-Gage just isn’t the same as the 4-way pad you are maybe used to. Other sites claim that the N-Gage’s pad is less accurate in this situation, but personally I believe it is just a matter of training. I myself have seen the fall animation many times before I (sort-of) mastered the controls, but now I normally twist through the air like in the original games, and I’m quite positive everyone can master it in time.
It got the looks, it got the touch
But besides the fact that it *looks* like the “big” Tony Hawk titles it even plays like them.
Racing up the sides of a half pipe you can do many of the tricks (although not all of them) you can do in the other games. Flips, graps, nosebleeds and turns, even my personal favourite rail and wall grinding are all included in this little MMC card. A total of 13 (yes *thirteen*) levels await to be explored in Career and Free Skate mode, the 9 levels of Career mode featuring challenges identical or similar to the infamous ones known from the other games: getting a good overall score, collecting the hidden letters needed to spell S-K-A-T-E, break or grind a given number of objects throughout the level or simply find a well hidden secret tape. I named only a few, but I take you got a good idea of what to expect.
Online and offline Features
Online and multiplayer – one of the key features of the N-Gage. While most of the already available games neglected these features, Tony Hawk makes good use of them. While the N-Gage Arena again features worldwide Shadow Race challenges and the possibility to upload proofs of your 1337 skating style, the offline multiplayer features are in my opinion even better.
The first mode, multiplayer with only one game deck, is called “Horse play”. You and a friend (or enemy?) both are allowed to do ONE trick and if you or your friend aren’t able to beat the others score you get a “letter”, and the first to “collect” given number of letters loses.
The “real” multiplayer mode on the other hand uses the powerful built-in Bluetooth adapter. This time you have 4 different gameplay modes.
“Graffiti” is my personal favourite. Every obstacle or object in the level can be tagged by means of tricking off them. The objects are marked with your colour, and your opponent needs to do a bigger trick to steal it back from you. Mean and fast multiplayer – just the way I like them.
“Trick Attack”: 2 players, 2 highscores, higher highscore wins. There is no second place in this mode.
“SKATE Race” is all about speed. 5 letters are hidden in the level and the first to collect – you guessed it – S-K-A-T-E wins.
“Tag”. Each player does a single trick and the player with the lowest score is “It”. While you are “It” a timer counts down and if it reaches zero you lose. Your goal: catch one of the other skaters but be assured that they won’t be standing around waiting for you!
The multiplayer modes are the real challenge in Tony Hawk, and although I spent many hours with the career mode, the multiplayer games are still the way to go for me.
Better late than never...
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater didn’t make it in time for the N-Gage’s launch. Instead only 6 mediocre titles were available at start. Many sites, magazines and gamers condemned the N-Gage itself because of the lack of decent titles at the start, and I myself agree that N-Gage’s launch was by no means a successful one. Nevertheless now the first title is available that shows off what gaming on the N-Gage could be like if the developers put some work into it. If future titles prove as well that the launch titles were by no means everything to expect from the N-Gage, then perhaps Nokia still stands a chance against “Big N”. But they still have a long way to go.