"And between every area you can grind, there's a smooth path that lets you manual. That means that, in essence, the only limit to your score is your lack of elite skills. I have a severe lack, there. Fortunately, there's a tutorial."
For a long time, I managed to avoid the goodness that was Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, back when it first released on the original Playstation. Not until just before it came out on the Nintendo 64 did I get on the bandwagon. My brother-in-law came over and we played the demo for the Playstation version. Suddenly I was hooked. I bought the Nintendo 64 version shortly thereafter. As you know if you've read my review for that title, it kept me hooked for a long time. Still, I didn't go out and buy its sequel when it released. Never quite got around to it. So now I have the third game in the franchise. The only reason I tell you this is that I think it does affect my perceptions of this game. Some things I find refreshing may already have been refreshing for someone else the last time around. With that said, I think it's time I got into the review proper.
The first thing you'll notice when you boot this up (after the refreshingly twisted logo intro for Neversoft) is that there's video. That wasn't true on the Nintendo 64, obviously. So it's nice to see video on a Nintendo system. A small thing, perhaps, but it adds to the experience. It's nice to see the skate footage, even if you never watch it more than once. Skip past that and you're to the menu, which has changed at least a little from the one I knew before. You can create a skater, now, as I hear you could in the franchise's second title. And you can make your own park, something I haven't bothered with. Little details like that matter to some people, though, so I'm quite glad they're included. Thing is, they take up space on the digicard, and I want to save all the space I can for other titles.
While I haven't bothered with creating the park, though, I did take the time to create a custom skater. I was playing with my cousin at the time, and I thought I'd just whip out a fellow real quick and we could go. Not so. Things began simply enough. I selected a name for the dude, then I chose from a few preset body shapes and skin tones. That's expected. What wasn't expected was the sheer depth that followed. As I went through menu after menu selecting new details, both my cousin and I were blown away by the sheer number of options available. You can adjust so many features that listing them here would be pointless. When I was done, I actually had a skater that looked reasonably like me. He even had a backpack that I was allowed to customize so it's the same color as the one I actually take with me when I drive up the hill to college. Even the number of sunglasses you can choose from, and the number of logos you can slap on almost anything, is dazzling. I'm not sure how much space this takes on the digicard, but it has to be a lot.
Of course, the custom skater isn't the only thing you care about when you play a skating game. So when I play, I usually choose the old stand-by, Tony Hawk himself. And let me say that he looks good. Not good in the 'oh, I'm fruity and I'd like to bone him' sort of way, but good in that the textures are all smooth and he looks quite life-like. Each skater, in fact, looks amazingly realistic. It's not photo quality, but games as a whole aren't yet to that point. Still, you'll be amazed by how good the skater looks in action. He leaps from ramps, clings to his board, and so forth all in good form. True, the movement doesn't look vastly improved over the animations on the Nintendo 64, but the level of detail in each frame of animation is just stunning.
Then there are the levels to consider. The most obvious improvements you'll notice are the graphical ones. Everything has nice textures, good detail... Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I'm sick of writing about how many games look nice in certain areas. Yeah, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 looks amazing at every juncture, and no, I'm not sure it really matters all that much. More important is the fact that these beautiful levels are a joy to play. I can only compare them to the original. In that game, I liked the mall and I liked San Francisco or whatever it was. Well, those levels suck. I see that now. They were fun for a while but now that time is past. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 blows away anything we've seen before. You won't know it from the first level, which is reminiscent of the one in the first game. But things quickly improve. Canada has all kinds of cool features with which you will wish to grow intimate. Then there are the competitions, which seem so much more like complete levels than those in the first title did. The airport reminds me a lot of the mall, except it's a lot more open. You really feel like you're skating through an airport. Well, the feeling comes close. Then there's the suburbs, which are just so much fun on so many levels I could probably write a fairly lengthy review explaining just why I like the area. And so on, and so forth. Each stage has enough personality that you don't feel like you're experiencing a re-run (how could you feel like it's a re-run when one of the stages takes place on a cruise ship?). And not only that, but the levels have so many more areas where you can grind. That, or I've grown drastically better, but I think it's the former. You'll find so many things that are simple to grind that you'll never want to stop.
Sometimes, though, you do need to stop grinding. And that's where the manual comes into play. Now, I know it existed in the second game. But coming into it new, it just seems so cool that I think it's worth mentioning again. When you're looking for ways to improve your score, there's nothing like a manual to keep it going. And between every area you can grind, there's a smooth path that lets you manual. That means that, in essence, the only limit to your score is your lack of elite skills. I have a severe lack, there. Fortunately, there's a tutorial.
The tutorial is everything you would expect, minus only a few small details. You can go through it like a guide, going from one trick to the next, and mostly it works. Tony Hawk's voice (I assume it's his) walks you through different concepts. Then you try it on an area. The bad news is that if you miss a trick, you have to manually restart to have the same optimal area on which to practice it. So the interface feels slightly clunky. Still, not a big issue. The whole mode is optional and the developers never even had to include it. It is useful for learning those new tricks. And while some won't need help learning the manual, they might want to find out about the revert.
Just what is the revert? It's the new concept that snuck its way into the franchise for round 3. Suppose you're in a half-pipe and you fly up into the air. You do a crazy monkey or whatever the move is (there are so many odd names here that make no sense to a non-skater such as myself) and then you're on your way back down to the cement. In the past, that was the end of your score. Not anymore. You can tap the 'r' button real quick and suddenly your score keeps going. You pull into a manual, glide over to another rail, grind to regain your speed, and your score never stops. There are all kinds of strategies that can come from this. While the revert is nowhere near as useful as the manual, discounting it would be downright foolish.
Another thing it would be foolish to discount is the fact that you can customize your skater quite nicely, from balance to air to ollies to whatever you like. I don't remember how much previous titles allowed that, but this time it's just too cool. You really do notice a difference as you change your skater from the default one to a lean, mean machine. Tony Hawk is doing really good for me, now that I've found most of the stat badges that will let me increase his abilities. It's quite addicting, really.
Addicting. That's a good way to sum up the game. Around my apartment, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 has been the main game in the system. However, it's not so good for two players as I had hoped.
I have fond memories of playing the original. Maybe it was the stages that were less cluttered with grinding opportunities. Maybe it was just my time and place. But the newest one in the franchise seems a little different. Sure, you can adjust the screen so it splits vertically or horizontally according to what you choose. But even horizontally, it's hard to see and fully appreciate the environments. Only when both players have memorized an area completely will you be truly capable of having good matches. Still, 'horse' is as much fun as it ever was. And yes, you can change the word to your liking. I was glad that feature returned.
In conclusion, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 is everything gamers had a right to expect it to be. The graphics are wonderful, the music and sound effects (which I didn't touch on in this review but still consider very important) are better than ever, and the stages leave everything before them in the dust. If you have a Nintendo GameCube and you're wondering what other title you need to add to your collection, this is the one. Buy it now.
Staff review by Jason Venter (Date unavailable)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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