I guess it’s synesthesia.
You know that moment when you go up to your attic, open a box of your old comics or board games, and this giant wall of smells hits your nose, but it’s not just a fragrance by the time your brain gets with the program; it’s a memory. Sometimes it’s a taste or a particular sight that does it, but an olfactory response is common because it is one of the strongest triggers to the hippocampus after memory consolidation. Whatever the sensation, though, it always ends the same: you close your eyes, and suddenly you’re 20 years in the past, sitting on your bedroom floor, playing with your legos and eating a grilled cheese sandwich.
And it’s something that definitely becomes a factor when playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD. You start rolling down that ramp in the Warehouse, Guerilla Radio already playing in medias res, and you’re transported back to your summer afternoons of a bygone and largely forgotten time.
But, as is the case of THPS HD, you notice something is off. That sepia filter can’t mask all the problems, though it helps. Little by little, the issues stack up like a plate of pancakes until, once twenty-something high, the tower begins to topple and you’re ripped back to reality. You take another whiff of that dusty box, those crusty book pages, trying to desperately to hang onto what was in your hands just moments before, but it’s too late; the moment is gone. Those smells now are just smells. You’ve lost the trail and no one knows the way back.
It’s these little inconsistencies that similarly break down THPS HD. It’s not technically a remake but rather an HD amalgamation of several Tony Hawk skateboard games. The soundtrack is a mishmash of THPS1 and THPS2 and newly selected tracks, the levels include some Downhill Jam recreations, and the roster of available skaters includes new faces and neglects old staples. It’s almost as if you moved back into the house that you grew up in, but in the intervening years since you’ve moved out, someone has come in and touched stuff, some posters out of place and the colors of the walls just a little bit different than you remember.
The levels you’ll play are ones you probably remember like the Warehouse, the School, and Marseilles and they’ll still have their usual objectives like find the Secret Tape (which is now a Secret DVD) and hitting score milestones but with a significant facelift. Well, they look crisper, at least. The game itself now runs in the Unreal Engine, and that infamous UE texture pop-in is ever present in THPS HD. The skaters themselves look pretty decent, but when laid over the low resolution geometry of these classic levels, you get a feeling similar to when you see a really bad Photoshop job.
The game itself plays largely the same in that you’ll be finding half pipes to bust out back-to-back Christ Air 720s or doing a Boneless between buildings to earn gap bonuses, but one slight problem is the manual. In fact, let’s go ahead and upgrade that to a sizable problem right here, right now. The manual was added to the franchise in THPS2, but you’ll be playing some THPS1 levels that were never designed for that mechanic. You don’t even have to be moving and you can gin up a hefty six-figure score. I’m glad in this case that reverts aren’t an option.
And despite the quibbles, I couldn’t help but keep playing THPS HD. It wasn’t just that I still love busting through to the pool or getting chased by the golf cart in the School (or still hate trying to get the wall rides just right on the alarms), but this remake should actually be called a distillation. You can’t hop off your board and run around, you don’t have to go through a story about competing against a former-friend-turned-rival, and you don’t have to navigate an open world hunting for quest givers. It’s just you, your skateboard, and a two-minute timer. It is the arcade experience at its most pure.
But it doesn’t handle like an arcade experience. That is, unless you like playing House of the Dead with brick attached to your gun. You rotate slower, you turn strangely, and you accelerate on a flattened line instead of a speedy Bézier-curve. Your recovery time is just long enough to be annoying rather than a necessity and more than long enough to notice how your limp body clips through even the inconsequential parts of the environment. The near-perfection that Neversoft had previously achieved (and so quickly and almost effortlessly, for better or for worse) has been shattered and Robomodo attempted to glue it back together like how a child attempts to hide the fact that they broke their mother’s favorite vase. But you can see the dripping bonds. You can see the cracks.
The little changes—those small additions and minute subtractions—break whatever perfect nostalgia you have for THPS. It’s as if you’ve returned home after a year at college and your mom makes you your favorite dinner (mac ‘n cheese), but she’s changed the recipe. It feels familiar but not quite right. You can taste the memories trying to come out but they just won’t. That attic full of boxed history has been cleared out and replaced with something trying to pass as your originals. There is no synesthesia, just dust.
At least there’s still Papa Roach.