Tony Hawk: Ride Review
Last year around this time, when the usual glut of high-profile holiday releases were piling up, I found myself—of all unexpected places—perched atop my Wii Balance Board. I'd received copies of Shaun White: Road Trip and Skate It, and thought “What the hell?” Both games, as it turned out, made surprisingly excellent use of the Wii's weight-loss peripheral, and engaged me more than any previous extreme sports titles. Now, this should probably tell you that I'm, by no stretch of the imagination, an enthusiast of this particular genre. It also probably explains why I had a pretty good time making a jackass of myself with Activision's latest peripheral-bundled offering Tony Hawk: RIDE.
This game has been largely dismissed by seasoned skate fans, and after spending hours atop its sexy skateboard controller, it's easy to see why. This is absolutely not the Tony Hawk fans have been playing year after year; it's a total reboot that caters more to casual fans than the series' dedicated followers. If Activision's recent insistence on forcing gamers to purchase a new pricey peripheral with every one of their games doesn't turn gamers against this one, this kick in the crotch to the franchise's loyal fans will.
Now, that said, RIDE is a gnarly good time for newcomers and fans of party games. For starters, the board is an impressive piece of tech, and damn stylish, too. If you managed to fool your brain into believing the Wii Fit peripheral was a skateboard, you'll have no problem getting lost in the moment on this immersion-aiding deck. Outfitted with controller buttons and multiple motion sensors, the sturdy board is curved on both ends, making a modest interpretation of an actual skateboard. It's also large enough that you won't easily slip off it when pulling some of the game's more complex tricks.
With the peripheral is placed in front of your TV—vertically for straight skating, horizontally for half-pipe challenges—players hop on and mimic the same moves they'd pull on an actual deck. Sweeping a foot along the side gathers speed, popping the front up performs an ollie, and reaching for its sides registers grabs. It's surprisingly intuitive and your moves are usually mirrored on-screen with decent accuracy. And, while the novelty obviously wears off after some time, it's pretty impressive to witness your in-game self so closely mimic your moves. As you begin to mix things up, pulling more complex tricks and air-based gestures, though, you'll notice your actions don't always register the way you intended. It's these fun-halting issues that more casual fans will likely forgive, but will infuriate old school Tony Hawk fans.
There are multiple skill levels, but the higher ones suffer from these same inaccuracies. And, as infrequent as they may be, those looking for a serious skating sim just won't have the patience when they can get a more authentic experience from the Skate series. At the same time, the learning curve gets pretty steep between the casual and two higher difficulties. So, while it's a blast tooling around in the easier mode—where you're practically on rails aside from the tricks—making the jump to a more challenging level could prove frustrating to the title's target audience. RIDE seemed set on appealing to both the hardcore and casual fan, but by not tuning the higher difficulties properly, neither group benefits from these modes.
RIDE does offer plenty of game options to strut your skills in; on top of a career that takes you to around-the-globe competitions, there's quick challenges, practice areas, and local and online multi-player. Again, playing to the title's casual appeal, I found competing with friends and family locally the most fun. Taking turns on the board, challenging each others' scores, and trying to one-up everyone else's bag of tricks offers the same kind of spirited play you might enjoy during a Guitar Hero gathering. Although, I'll admit, even after the holiday weekend company left, I did find myself back on the board, trying to conquer the solo career mode.
RIDE is a flawed, but fun entry that's probably going to receive harsher criticism than it deserves. If it sees a sequel, Activision should just bite the bullet and make it a more focused casual franchise, while dedicating a different development team to rebooting the series for the more serious skate crowd. The board is a great little piece of hardware, one that'll hopefully be utilized for future non-Hawk games. And the execution, while lacking polish, is packed with potential. If you enjoyed any of the Wii's boarding games, and are looking to take it to the next level, you'll have a trick-fueled blast with RIDE. If you prefer strict accuracy driven by analog sticks and buttons, however, stay far away from this one, lest your frustration finds you impaling your HDTV with RIDE's faux skateboard.