Haven't I Seen You Somewhere Before?
Our Tony's first outing on the GameBoy Advance in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 impressed us mightily with its sexy pseudo-3D graphical trickery, yet at the same time baffled us with some dodgy level design quirks born of the isometric perspective we were forced to live with. It was hard to see how Vicarious Visions might overcome these troubles. The forced perspective was a thorn in the side of THPS2, an otherwise fantastic title, and has duly reappeared in the inevitable sequel.
Trouble is, the problem has gotten a whole lot worse in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3, as the levels are enormous by comparison. Getting hopelessly lost is easy when you can't see where you're going, and the sheer amount to explore and discover in each of the game's seven levels will be daunting to even the most seasoned of THPS masters.
This is bad, but deceptively so. Nobody could have expected Vicarious Visions to completely alleviate the perspective problems, and so casting that aside we have a wonderfully competent port, which explores the original's features admirably. In fact, if you already own or have played THPS3 you might be pleasantly surprised to find out the sections and objectives Vicarious have adjusted in order to make the GBA version more suited to the platform.
The complexities of the larger levels are particularly well realised in maps with varying surface heights to explore, such as the Foundry. Instead of drawing the upper gantries over the already confusing floor layout, access to this area is granted through the completion of a certain objective, giving you access to a lift and subsequently new areas to explore.
Graphically, THPS3 is a stunning achievement. The levels practically bustle with colour and effects like coloured lighting tinting your player as he rolls by, and particles of sparks and grass flying from surfaces. The detail of each intricately modelled skater has also increased. Not only are the characters bigger, but the fully 3D rendered models are also texture-mapped down to the very last detail. If you don't like the way your board-bound buddy looks, you can customise not only clothes, but skin and hair colour too, and even add tattoos and change their face in the Create A Skater menu.
Controlling your skater and pulling off miraculous acrobatics is as intuitive as we have come to expect from the series, though the challenge is again increased in the handheld port, as lining up for vert ramps and rails and jumping for icons (like the S-K-A-T-E letters or extra statistic points for customising your character skills) is a great deal trickier from an isometric perspective. However, the handling and feel of the game is slick, and new additions to the control of your character such as the Revert (allowing you to link tricks from a vertical ramp to other ground-based methods of point grabbing), fit in seamlessly.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 is again a splendid port. The problem of getting used to the perspective is something that the player must overcome personally, as the game itself is not to be missed. This is an addictive, engaging and downright impressive title, ideal for a quick burn on the tube or bus, and exploring the fabulously designed levels at length adds untold longevity to the equation.