It was supposed to be the cool new toy for me. I knew in the back of my mind that it wouldn’t last, no matter how much I liked it, but as I peeled away the shrink wrap and popped the batteries in, I felt the same way I did when I first opened Rock Band: excited and overly optimistic. Rock Band paid off; I was overly optimistic, but somehow the game lived up to my expectations. Tony Hawk’s Ride on the other hand… well, read on to find out.
Let’s start with the gimmick here. It’s actually quite a well crafted one, at that. The game is sold with a skateboard controller that you actually stand up and ride, tilt, and (lose your) balance on. Before you call it a Wii Balance Board ripoff or harp on about having too many unique controllers that only work for one or two games, know that this thing is constructed very, very well. With a gripped top surface, just like a real board, you can play with or without shoes, and it is rated for up to 300 pounds. It is extremely solid and very easy to maneuver with your feet on carpet. (Don’t get me started on hardwood. Let’s just say you’ve got to attach these velcro-like pads to the bottom to prevent scratching and, well, it ain’t pleasant). They’ve even got some nice touches like a full array of buttons on the board, and a start button that you can kick with your foot so you don’t have to be reaching down or grabbing at a normal controller to use the thing.
The four sensors on the board are the main attraction. Four camera sensors can ‘see’ where your feet and hands are to judge whether you’re trying to pull an ollie, nose grab, or if you’re crouching to get ready for a big jump. The hardware works well and it is a fantastic idea that is apparently going to be used in more games like surfing and snowboarding, but let’s be honest, the hardware is only one part of the game.
Which brings me to the software. Look, my favourite Game Boy Advance game (besides Pokemon and Zelda, of course) was Tony Hawk. That was back in 2002. Since then, they’ve made another half dozen titles for the portables and Ride is the tenth console game of the franchise. And I have to say, I had more fun back in 2002.
It’s really incredible to me that they got this wrong. The graphics are good. Not stellar, mind you, but this isn’t a game that needs to be outrageously gorgeous. And I’m willing to cut them some slack on resources and note that they probably spent more time developing the controller and implementation than the game itself (which might explain my verdict below). The audio is excellent; crisp, clear voices, good sound effects, the usual from a Hawk game. The hardware is among the best made third-party peripherals I’ve ever seen. Yet the gameplay rips it to shreds. All the components of a great game are there, but once you get past the twenty minutes of setting up the game and calibrating the skateboard, you’ll find yourself too tired to actually play a level or two.
You might want to also consider with Ride is that it is not exactly multiplayer-friendly. If you happened to have four friends that were stupid enough to each buy this game, you couldn’t all hightail it to one friend’s house with your boards and play at the same time. Instead, you’re encouraged to pass the board around as each person gets their turn. Are we back in the 90’s where kids waited around for that one brat to finish Cruisin’ USA so they could finally get their chance to play? (For those wondering, that kid never finished playing because he was either mean or always finished first, winning him a free play, or both. Jerk.)
The bottom line is that you can’t exactly come home and relax with this game. Unless you consider jumping, losing your balance, and twisting your body “relaxing”. Freak. You can’t play it without socks (or shoes, for that matter) because the back foot sensor digs into your arch and will have you walking sideways for hours.
I really wanted to love this game, and I’m going to go back and play it a bit more in hopes that I find a redeeming quality buried on the game disc somewhere. With hardware constructed so well, it really feels like they just slapped on some demo software to prove the concept of it. My verdict? Keep the hardware as is, redo the game. As in, skip Tony Hawk 1-14 and just make Tony Hawk 15. And it’s okay if it takes a few years. It might be a while before people get rid of the bitter taste that is Tony Hawk Ride.