N-Gage Review: Tony Hawk's Pro Skater

Activision's over used skateboarding series did everything to make the extreme genre, well, a genre. It was the controls, the real athletes, and the multi-player that made it such a joy. That was six years ago, and since, the Tony Hawk franchise has seen a whopping 35 different incarnations across the many platforms it's landed on. The N-Gage was the first fully 3-D version on a handheld, and that's the only thing it can be remembered for.

Even when it was released in 2003, the franchise had already taken numerous steps forward. Three years since its appearance on shelves, this N-Gage version is nearly unplayable. All the combo stringing with reverts and manuals are gone. The trick system feels outdated, even for hardcore fans of the franchise.

Trick buttons are crammed onto the top six keys. It's hard not to hit more than one at a time, and the 1 and 3 keys spin the skater once in the air. An Ollie is easy enough (quick tap of the 5 key); it's the buttons surrounding it that make it such an issue.

The frame rate problems don't help. Most of the stages are blacked out in the distance to help the processor keep things moving. However, when it's only running at around 15 frames to begin with, the sluggish feel makes it difficult to time tricks properly or keep a string going. Items are hard to see in the distance, and given the time limit, a few seconds chasing after something you don't need is critical.

Even with the gameplay outdated and tough to adjust to, the developers have pulled off a fully featured title. There's nothing missing from these menus. The career mode is just like it used to be, without a create-a-skater, but plenty of objectives to complete. All the stages are here, and most of the soundtrack has survived the downgrade in medium (it's heavily compressed though).

Multi-player modes, even with the other problem areas, are still incredible fun. In all actuality, the hardware means everyone is on level ground with no real advantage. It's a cheap way to create competition, there's limited chance a pro will stick around very long, and newcomers will never adjust to the timing on other consoles, but there's no denying wiping out repeatedly brings with a sick, perverse pleasure.

That's hardly a reason to keep torturing yourself with a lackluster translation. With their skewed angles, even the Game Boy Advance versions are slightly more accurate and easy to play. Tony Hawk simply wasn't meant for the N-Gage, at least not until the developer's grasped the hardware better.

(** out of *****)

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