Now, I can hear what you're thinking: Why is the first review of a 90's retro blog a game from 2002. That's a fair question, but think about the franchise in general. 1999's Tony Hawk's Pro Skater perfectly encapsulated the late 90's extreme fad, from the pop culture icon in Tony Hawk as its lead, to the packed 90's alternative soundtrack; this game fit the time perfectly. and with its tight level design and fluid controls; it managed to become one of the more endearing franchises of the modern era.
While many debate where the franchise has fallen to now, the consensus among fans is that the peak of the franchise came with Pro Skater 3. THPS 3 made the leap into the next generation in a big way, with bigger levels with tons of interactivity, a massive soundtrack filled with the likes of Motorhead, Xzibit, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers, a brand new skate park creator, and exclusive for the PS2: online multiplayer. Future installments would add things like free-roaming ala Grand Theft Auto, plastic skateboard controllers (looking at you, Tony Hawk: Ride), and a debatable "welcome" cameo by the Jack-Ass crew, but those games just tended to muddy the waters of the series into what its become today. When it comes to the perfect balance of simple-yet-effective skateboarding gameplay, THPS 3 is where its at.
So, what happens when you take an amazing game known for launching a franchise in the 21st century, and cram it into a console that still had its hooks in the last generation even in its own time? Answer: a game that completely misses out on its own potential.
Now, before i say anything negative, I will give the new development team credit. Released as the final official game for the Nintendo 64 in America, Edge of Reality took the original game, made by Neversoft, and did their best to shrink what was a massive game into the confines of the limited N64 hardware. And to their credit, all the meat of the game is here. You still have the core gameplay, all the levels, all the modes (sans the online play, which is fine since not even the Xbox version had that), all the main characters, and all the new moves (including the revolutionary Revert). Sadly, everything on this game, while present, is woefully scaled back.
From the moment the game loads up, you see that the cartridge was not made for a game like this. Gone is the full motion video intro to the game, as well as all the FMVs of the characters you unlock through career mode. In fact, all the unlockable characters (with the exception of Wolverine) are not included in this version. So while you do get the play the same starter roster as the next-gen version, those of you hoping to play as Darth Maul, Officer Dick, or the Neversoft Eye mascot will be SOL. Another glaring omission is the full length soundtrack. While most of the songs are present (and I say most because as of this writing, I can not confirm or deny if all the songs from the next gen versions are in the game) its clear that they were only able to fit the instrumentals of said songs, with barely a line or two of actual lyrics just to remind you what it is you are actually hearing. For a franchise that's most notable for its soundtracks, this is a huge blow.
Level design also takes a hit as well. Gone are any interactive elements. People in the background? Trigger-specific missions? Secret areas within the levels? All gone. What you see is what you get, which takes alot of the charm out of the levels, like the massive earthquake in the LA level or the avalanche you can trigger in the Canada level. Speaking of what you see being what you get, the levels themselves are seemingly scaled smaller. while all the key set pieces are present, they all seem much closer-spaced than in the next gen versions. I cant say if it hurts or helps the overall level design, but its noticeable. Also noticeable is the presence of low visibility, or as i like to call it "N64 fog".
But for all the faults, this is still THPS. And while it loses alot of the shine, its core is still there. Control in this game is still as smooth as ever. All the maneuvers are mapped to the C Buttons, so if you're familiar with the controls from the PS1 versions and beyond, this will feel right at home. Surprisingly enough, the gameplay actually rarely if ever suffers from slowdowns, a challenge for most N64 titles. Its not as fast the 60 frames per second the next gen versions have, but it doesn't ruin the gameplay. And like I stated before, while the levels are scaled back, they are still just as fun as ever.
So what do we have? A version of a game that feels less like Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3, and more like Tony Hawks Pro Skater 2.5. In the end, playing this game is like watching a bare-bones DVD of a great movie. Yes, the core is still there and as good as ever. But knowing that there's so much more out there just makes you want to go out and pick up the Special Edition Blu-Ray. Like I stated earlier, it was the last N64 game, and was more of a pop than a bang.