Note: This review is the result of roughly ten hours of shared gaming time with five other people (including my son, Griffin) for the most part. I got to play every aspect of the game except for online multiplayer, and got to watch others play at difficulty levels significantly more than I can handle. While it is certainly not possible to experience every aspect of the game within this limited time-frame, I feel that I was able to play it enough to pass judgment on it. When we receive a full retail copy we will determine at that point if our assessment needs to be adjusted.
Skateboarding has been a phenomenon that has consistently defied convention and lasted a lot longer than anyone thought it would. Deceptively simple in design- a wooden plank with four wheels attached via two axles- yet undeniably elegant in execution, the popularity of this sport has waxed and waned several times in its forty-plus year history. For years the undisputed king of skateboarding video games was the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series, with its arcade-esque style gameplay considered to be a staple by gamers everywhere. Recent years haven’t been too kind to the series, as it moved into the wacky (yet still very fun) THUG and American Wasteland titles, and annoyingly camera-centric Project 8 and Proving Ground. When EA debuted their Skate series as a more realistic take on the sport and longtime developer Neversoft found itself in Guitar Hero land, it was clear to everyone that the franchise needed to find a new line. Enter Tony Hawk’s RIDE.
RIDE is a considerable departure for the series, not only because of new devs Robomodo, but also because it uses a new motion sensitive deck peripheral. This controller is impressively sturdy, and looks and feels like it can take quite a beating. This thing is like a juiced up Wii Fit balance board with motion sensors on the edge of each side of the board that can detect proximity (as in covering the sensor or simply being in front of the sensor). The top of the deck has a nice grip to it though not too much- wouldn’t want to ollie the board into your nice flatscreen TV, now would you? The bottom of the deck is contoured slightly to afford better tilt control, and the lips on either side emulate the standard skate deck shape and functionality. One edge of the deck houses a full 360 controller scheme, though the only button that gets a lot of use is the Start button which is rather large and easy to tap with the foot. Once in the game you can navigate somewhat through the menus, but you may want to keep a standard controller handy for ease of use. Before each skate session you are given the choice between ‘goofy’ and ‘standard,’ referring to how you position your feet on the board. While they certainly don’t exist physically, truck adjustment is a vital piece of customization in the ‘confident’ and ‘hardcore’ difficulty settings, controlling how sharply you can turn and how much sensitivity the board has in regards to your balance on it. All in all, the deck peripheral is top notch, and possibly the best initial offering for a custom controller I’ve seen to date. Hopes are high that we will see additional games using this controller, such as a snowboarding or even a surfing game
But what about the game, you say? Well, I’m happy to tell you that Tony Hawk’s RIDE is a pleasantly surprising and addictive shot in the arm for the ‘been there-done that’ genre of skateboarding games. Don’t expect to grind telephone wires or pull off kooky juggling tricks though. This game is a little more rooted in a realistic skate experience. Each of six cities you visit has environments which are idealized versions of their real life counterparts (with the exception of Tokyo- more on that later), and each city has at least one street level, one vert level, one speed level, and one challenge level (specific challenges that fall under the previous three types). Naturally, most of these levels are available in a free skate option, and definitely seems like the best mode to try out Confident and Hardcore difficulties.
Street levels are comprised of trick challenges- no surprises here, it’s all about maintaining a line and stringing together as many tricks as possible. Depending on what level of difficulty you are playing, the game mechanics may differ slightly. Casual mode basically presents you with a line and practically auto steers your board freeing you up to attempt tricks such as grinding, ollie-ing, fliptricks, etc. It was a bit odd to get used to at first, but within 15-20 minutes I got the hang of it and was ollying and grinding with impunity. One of my biggest pet peeves from the previous games- the “wiggle both thumbtacks” controls needed to pull off the very basic and crucial manual- was MUCH easier to pull off with regularity using the deck peripheral. In fact, I found that most tricks were easier to pull off the more I tried to match my body’s movements to what the onscreen avatar was doing, such as spreading out my arms to maintain balance during a manual. At certain points on the levels yellow arrows pop up and branch off from your line- a well-timed tilt of the board switches you over. Apparently some of the pros love playing these levels in casual mode as it let’s them focus on just pulling off the sickest tricks they can. The board can be incredibly responsive- shifting the board while grinding actually shifts the board on the screen; grabs can be achieved by, well, actually grabbing the board or covering up one of the edged sensors.
Vert levels are all about half-pipes, ramps, and lots of air. For these levels you actually turn the board parallel to the screen and tilt from side to side to pull off tricks. These levels are incredibly fun but can be a bit of a workout! Most of the same motion controls and sensor grabs apply here the same as the street levels. Casual mode, again, let’s you focus on tricks with little fear of wiping out, but confident and hardcore modes definitely bring a more immersive and realistic experience (without the scraped knees, of course). Much like the first few times I played my first Tony Hawk game years ago, I found myself lucking into a variety of complex trick just by experimenting with various moves- including a 900! Definitely a blast as a beginner but it definitely spurred on a desire to get better and more knowledgeable of the game in order to intentionally pull off these tricks. On a whim, my son, Griffin, decided to try out a vert session manipulating the board in his hands rather than standing on it, racking up a pretty nice score which then promptly got demolished by the next player stepping up to the board. That said, you could certainly play the game this way but it just isn’t as intuitive and much less satisfying.
Timing is everything in the speed levels. Courses are littered with green and red markers that either keep your time down (good) or increase it (bad), and sometimes you have to jump and weave through various obstacles to avoid wiping out and killing your speed. This mode of play actually feels pretty weak on casual; not having to steer at all basically means all you have to do is ollie around to avoid/pick up the red and green markers and choose your line branch, though there are a few additional goodies like camera icons for specials gaps and such. Additionally, there are certain lines which trigger environmental events, such as breaking open the water pipes at the end of the LA River level. If you are looking for a challenge here I recommend going with the higher difficulty levels.
Challenge levels have more specific objectives on what you need to pull off to achieve success, such as a specific sequence of tricks or score level.. Most of them utilize environment in the other levels, but some provide new areas that are specific to the challenge. Of particular note are the two final levels in Tokyo- one an insane set of vert ramps stacked atop one another that stands as tall as a skyscraper, the other a speed challenge that takes you through a fantastical hodgepodge environment that has you skating down a dragons tail, grinding rails to attack ninjas, and zipping through a scaled-down Tokyo cityscape as if you were Godzilla! The guys from Robomodo decided to go nuts with these two final levels and have a little fun in the spirit of the old Tony Hawk games.
One very noticeable aspect of the game is that each skate session lasts around 3-5 minutes, and given the more physical nature of the game this is actually a good thing, providing a nice break in between sessions to regain balance, reposition (prolonged activity can cause the board to shift around a bit), and catch your breath. This isn’t a game one person can just marathon through, though it is certainly addicting enough to want to. In fact, this game really plays better as a social experience (in many ways just like real skateboarding does), with players taking turns via the ‘Hotseat’ mode. There was something very satisfying about watching someone play and pull off a crazy new trick or catch an insane amount of air and cheering them on. It’s a testament to the game that it is almost as much fun watching someone play as it is playing oneself.