Poor Tony Hawk. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time: a skateboard-shaped wheel-free controller with four built-in sensors, intended to respond to player movement, suggested an unprecedented level of immersion for casual fans of his beloved sport. And besides, Activision had done it before with Guitar- and DJ Hero. A plasticized sport peripheral must have sounded like a no-brainer.
But somehow the project went awry. The controller is, as widely reported, an erratic pain in the arse. Hawk’s iconic series takes the blow and his only recourse is to tweet in its defense.
Ride offers three levels of difficulty: Casual, Confident and Hardcore, but it is only on the first that the board demonstrates any kind of consistency. Rock back on its tail, and your little onscreen avatar will perform an ollie. Tilt forward and she might pull off a nollie. Shift your body weight from left to right and she will generally move in that direction. In Casual mode, the game handles steering automatically, meaning you only need concentrate on general momentum and tricks. Within these beginner specs, the game works okay, and might even titillate for a few minutes or so.
The problems arise when Ride requires you to perform more complicated tricks. To perform a flip trick, you are instructed to tilt the board following an ollie. To perform a flick flip trick, you must rotate the board. Because of its stiff shape, the board rarely differentiates between a rotation and tilt. In fact, all precise movement generally goes unrecognized, exacerbated by a bewildering half-second response delay. Impressive tricks are happy accidents. Bails are perplexing punishments. The game only really seems to understand Start, Ollie and Go.
One should be mildly grateful that the event modes in Ride are kept to Wii Sports levels of simplicity. Speed mode involves a downhill race, where you pick up bonuses by skating into icons or performing basic grinds, Trick mode adds up all your tricks into a final score, and Challenge asks you to perform a series of trick-based trials. These dull trials require the most exact tilts and rotations, and should therefore be avoided. There’s no option to restart a challenge mid-run either, so your little pissed-off avatar must miserably finish the course if she misses the requisite trick.
With this in mind, only a fool - or pro skater - would play Ride on any difficulty level beyond Casual. Confident and Hardcore require you to steer yourself by tilting the board left and right; managing tricks on top of this is an invitation to board-breaking frustration. Ride’s biggest fans might be little children, who enjoy the simple pleasure of standing on the board and watching their movements more-or-less repeated on screen. For anyone else, the entire experience is decidedly lacking in charm.
This is all particularly disappointing when considering the Hawk moniker. One of the most joyous experiences a player can have in a Tony Hawk game is the precise execution of a difficult trick, achieved with practice and patience. In Ride, lack of precision completely removes any sense of satisfaction. Gameplay is replaced by gimmick. Cut-corners such as under-developed graphics and buggy physics suggest developer Activision's blind confidence in the peripheral.
One can only hope that Tony Hawk: Ride marks the end of these pointless bits of plastic, and not the end of the series itself, which surely calls for a more sophisticated makeover.