Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 - GBA - Review
Vicarious Visions has done it again. Ever since the initial launch title, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, VV has been taking care of development for the hugely successful skateboarding series on the GBA. This game marks the third installment of the franchise on Nintendo’s handheld unit and believe me when I tell you that THPS4 is no Sunday skate through the park. This game improves on the previous titles in nearly every conceivable way. Thanks in part to the new free-skate style of progression that no longer restricts you to two-minute sessions. The updated visuals, intelligent level design, and wickedly entertaining in-game objectives don’t hurt matters, either. How the developers were able to pack so much of that trademark action seen in the console ports of this game into such a tiny bite-sized package is beyond me. Nearly every combo that can be pulled off on the 128-bit systems is also possible on the GBA version, it can be a little tricky at times due to the undersized D-pad and sometimes-annoying isometric vantage points, but alls said, I am hardly inclined to complain.
For those going into THPS4 expecting a scaled-down yet completely faithful translation of the console games of the same name: you will not be disappointed. GBA owners who have past experience with THPS2 or 3 will pretty much know what they are getting into with part 4. The true-3D polygonal skaters are a touch larger and more detailed, and you can expect to see realistic motion-captured animations that transition flawlessly, but essentially this game doesn’t offer a whole lot of incentive to purchase compared to the recently released Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 on the GBA. That said, this game is the best skateboarding experience you’ll find on Nintendo’s cute little system, and the few enhancements that this version has received do successfully enhance the overall enjoyment of the title considerably.
One of those enhancements comes in the form of the aforementioned free-skate dynamic. Instead of being given a scant two minutes to skate around, fulfilling as many objectives as time will allow, you are instead given the ability to skate around freely and tackle objectives at your own pace and discretion. In order to get the clock tickin’ you’ll need to talk to a bystander and then attempt to do whatever they tell you. Hitting the L-trigger when near a person will initiate a conversation. The objectives you’ll need to perform range from seeking out the secret tape, getting a pro-score, tracking down all the letters in S-K-A-T-E, or pulling off high-score combos. This new method of completing objectives is an excellent addition to the series, it was a great idea in Aggressive Inline and it proves itself here as well. Though fans of the console versions may be disappointed to find out that the cool tennis and baseball mini-game objectives were not included on the GBA game. This may have been a necessary sacrifice but the off-kilter action that these objectives purport really made part four stand out on the console platform.
Since THPS2, the one feature, in my opinion, that was really missing from the series was the ability to land high-flying yet ill-positioned vert-tricks on flat-ground. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one to notice because Tony Hawk 4 addresses this issue and literally squashes any complaints regarding it. By holding L and R while in the air you’ll be able to reposition your skater so that when he lands it’ll be on all four wheels instead of his head. This same method of gameplay can be used to easily transition between two back-to-back vert-ramps. It is a gameplay addition whose ease-of-use is only outdone by its usefulness. Again, another advent that Aggressive Inline introduced that is used to great affect in this title.
As you progress through the game by completing more and more objectives you’ll be able to unlock a plethora of goodies. These include the obligatory new stages, boards, and cheats, but you’ll also be able to watch movies of all the available skaters, unlock new outfits, and even a hidden park. Multiple slots are available to save careers on and the auto-saving feature comes in handy for gaming in short bursts. There is even an included contrast slider in case you do not have the most optimized lighting solution at your disposal (ie: a high-powered searchlight).
Visually, THPS4 is a definite improvement over the previously released Tony Hawk games for the GBA. Levels are laid out in a more playable fashion, fans of the past games know what I’m talking about here as the fixed perspective in the past titles could make for some really confusing maneuvering. That problem is still present but it is not nearly the issue it was with THPS3 and particularly THPS2. The animation is very fluid and the transitions between tricks, especially vert-tricks, seems to have received an added boost in amount of frames used. Unfortunately, the cool musical tracks found in the console versions are MIA, though it is to be expected since including them would have meant an inflated overall size beyond what is feasible for the solid-state memory used in GBA games, ‘nother words, it would cost too much money. The music they have used in place of the licensed tunes are appealing and entertaining enough, lending themselves nicely to the experience. Sound effects on the other hand sound eerily similar to that of its 128-bit big-brothers. The sound of grinding on metal, landing tricks, and bailing feel like direct digitized-facsimiles of the console versions.
As far as skateboarding games on the GBA go, you really can’t do better than Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4. Owners of the previous game may not be able to justify a purchase on part 4 since the upgrades the game have received in the transition are marginal at best, but the new spine-transfer move, updated visuals, and highly improved level design do make Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 the hands-down best skating experience on-the-go, period.
Pulling off mad-stunts is done with relative ease despite the GBA’s somewhat limited gameplay functionality. Nearly any combo you’ve grown accustomed to on the console ports can be replicated on the small-screen with minimal effort. The added spine-transfer maneuver adds a whole new sense of strategy to the game: you can finally land miscalculated vert-tricks on flat ground!
The 3D skaters seem to have received a slight bump in polygons and look somewhat larger as well. The static background images are crisp and clean, and brimming with detail. Overall though, not a huge technological leap in contrast to THPS3.
The instrumental tunes that have replaced the console version’s licensed musical tracks are completely fitting, though the music plays a large enough part in the 128-bit series to make their absence really felt in the handheld version. Sound effects, thankfully, are spot-on with realistic digitized clips for nearly every on-screen action.
Most of the included objectives in THPS4 can be completed with minimal initiative, but some of them will keep you fervently banging away for longer than is optimal in order to progress.
By now, releasing a new Tony Hawk game to coincide with the console versions is practically instinctual on the part of the publisher. We know it’s coming and, for the most part, we know what to expect. Nevertheless, the novelty has yet to wear off and the game is of such high-quality that there is no room to complain.
Expect precisely the same m-player options in this game as that which was found in part 3: HORSE, Tag, King of the Hill, and Trick Attack. Multiple carts are needed but this time around four people can simultaneously get in on the action.
The fact that you are no longer limited to two-minute runs coupled with the ability to land vert-tricks on flat ground make THPS4 a game that must be experienced for Hawk fans. Those new to the series will find that its satisfying trick-system and simple-to-learn gameplay will prove to be quickly addictive. No matter which side of the fence you’re on, this is definitely a title you won’t want to miss.