Eric Koston in Tony Hawk Pro HD

Released yesterday, the downloadable game “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD” is certainly a skate down memory lane, but those expecting a simple re-release of the first couple of PlayStation One-era games will be surprised what developer Robomodo has in store. Here are five ways that Tony Hawk’s return to the old school is better than ever and easily worth the $15 price tag.

1. Best of the Best

When Activision gave the OK for “Pro Skater HD,” which is a pimped-out “best-of” collection of the first two Pro Skater games, Tony Hawk went to Twitter and asked fans what their favorite levels were. Six of the seven levels that made the cut were voted on by gamers -- Warehouse, School II, Marseille, the Mall, Venice Beach and Hangar. The seventh map? “Downhill Jam was Tony’s favorite so we put that in the game for him,” said lead designer Patrick Dwyer. For those scoring at home, that’s three maps from the original Pro Skater and four from the beloved sequel.



2. Big Boost in Looks

Sometimes nostalgia can do funny things to the brain. When we go back to the things we used to love, we find that they weren’t as awesome as we remember. So it goes for the visuals of the original Tony Hawk games, which look drab and barebones compared to most modern games.

“People remember the levels looking way better than they actually were,” said Jonathan Thompson, the lead environment artist on the game. “Our job has been taking all the old stuff and improving just about every aspect of it.”

The character models and the objects and the environments of the levels have been remade and received a ton of added detail. In Marseille, it appears a storm just passed and there’s a vivid purplish-orange haze in the background, something just hinted at in the original level. The warehouse, for instance, now looks dusty and abandoned with a decrepit ceiling and dust flying around in the air. Robomodo also added little graphic Easter eggs; for example, the taxi in the warehouse honks its horns and flashes its lights when you grind across it.

“Tony looks at every animation we make and reviews them to make sure they are perfect,” said Dwyer. “He wants to make sure everything is as realistic as possible.”

3. Includes a Pastrana

You knew Tony Hawk was going to return as a playable character for “Pro Skater HD,” but the rest of the cast is a mix of original skaters, like Eric Koston and Rodney Mullen, and a few new ones, including Hawk’s son, Riley, Lyn-z Hawkins Pastrana (Travis's wife), and skaters Chris Cole, Nyjah Huston and Andrew Reynolds.

Beyond the roster itself, “Pro Skater HD” has improved animation. You can actually see your character grab the board the right way. The developers have also added small details, like a skater losing his balance when he lands sloppy or cheering when he lands a particularly awesome trick. “Tony looks at every animation we make and reviews them to make sure they are perfect,” said Dwyer. “He wants to make sure everything is as realistic as possible.”



4. Rockin' Soundtrack

The original Pro Skater games introduced gamers to some new cool music, and the remake will bring back the best of that batch and more.

“Once press got out on what we were doing, everyone was begging for “Superman” by Goldfinger, so we had to do that, but we also got some brand new stuff,” said Dwyer. The 14-song soundtrack consists of seven classic songs and seven new indie tracks.

5. New Online Capability

The original games came in the era before the online revolution, meaning Tony Hawk leaderboards had to be created the old fashioned way. “Maybe you were in college in your dorm and got a high score and then you’d have to go yell at the guy across the hall to beat your score,” said Dwyer.

It’s not surprising that “Pro Skater HD” has built-in online leaderboards as well as several different online modes. In Big Head Elimination mode, for example, up to four players compete and their character’s heads start to expand. The rate of ballooning increases for as long as the round lasts, and the only way to not headpop is to bust crazy tricks. Rounding out the multiplayer modes are Free Skate, Time Attack and Graffiiti -- in which skaters compete to tag the most environments.

"Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD" is available on Xbox Live Arcade for 1200 MS Points ($15).

Follow Ryan Smith on Twitter @RyanSmithWriter for more news and updates.




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