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Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4. Still Good After 15 Years?

Today we’re talking about Tony Hawk 4, which I’ll be playing on the Xbox. I always prefer the Xbox versions of these games because the graphics are a lot better. In this case, it’s actually 720p wide-screen with surround sound.

This game was a huge step in the series. The timer is gone, and it’s all about big open levels that you have to find challenges in.

The controls have been changed a bit in this entry. You can do spine transfers now, which is pretty cool. It doesn’t work so well on Xbox though. Since there are only the 2 triggers, you hit them both to do it, and you might spin a little bit if your timing isn’t exact. Reverts are the same way. You can hit the black button to do reverts to avoid that, but that’s hard to get to. The PS2 plays a little bit better because of that, but I think the graphics upgrade of the Xbox is still worth it.

Getting off your board isn’t a thing until Underground, but I can see why they decided to add that in. In some of these levels, like the shipyard, they’re just so dense with stuff – like little ankle-high rails and walls – that you find yourself getting stuck and wishing you could just walk over it.

So on top of spine transfers, now the full double tap stuff is in place. Hit flip twice on a varial flip and it turns into a 360 flip, and it’s the same with hardflips, inward heelflips and varial heelflips. I never really liked how it felt and I don’t particularly like the sound effect either. And although on paper it’s better to have more tricks, at this point, you can just literally hit any combination of buttons and you’ll do SOMETHING. They aren’t always animated right either: if you do a nollie double impossible, it switches directions in the air.

And we should take a second to talk about the hardflips. I know most of you have seen my video about how Tony Hawk ruined hardflips. But if you haven’t, the basic idea is that the Tony Hawk games animated hardflips wrong – regular hardflips, special tricks, all that stuff. A lot of kids learned tricks from these games, and got the wrong impression. I always thought they finally fixed them in 4, but apparently I was wrong. Let me show you. So it’s a little tough to tell because of the double tap animation thing. It will start the regular animation and jump to the double version. Let’s watch it real slow. As it comes around, the heel side comes up, finishing like a heelflip. The same as a laser flip does. But it’s weird, the two tricks are animated separately, even though it’s the same motion. I don’t know why this was so hard for them to get right.

But the fact that there are SO MANY tricks really changes the gameplay from this point forward. It’s more about getting somewhere or collecting something instead of doing skateboard tricks. Compare that to Pro Skater 1. To get a high score, you would have to mix things up and use all of your tricks, and they acted differently too, so you’d have to plan for the different amounts of air time you’d need. Sure, it was never a sim, but at least it felt more like skateboarding.

And speaking of tricks, Pro Skater 4 is the beginning of the really weird special tricks too. Kareem Campbell will dribble a basketball in a grind, Chad Muska teaches you a spray paint graffiti grind in the game. I know they just wanted a bunch of specials to brag about, but they kind of reached the limits of creativity here.

Cash makes a comeback, after being missing in Pro Skater 3. They changed all the unlockables again. You collect cash, but stat points and special trick slots are unlocked as you finish goals. So what do you buy? You can buy decks and special clothing items and stuff, but don’t overdo it. You actually have to buy the last 2 levels, and that’s going to cost you a few bucks. You can also buy videos, like clips of the Neversoft team skating. I always liked watching these. It seemed like such a cool place to work, and I can respect that so much of the team at least tried to learn how to skate. I also used to love these because it was more relatable to me. I had only been skating a few years at this point, and seeing these guys struggle with more basic stuff was pretty cool.

Before, you would have to play through the game a bunch of times to unlock that kind of stuff. Now, probably because of the time it takes to get through the career, the focus is more on playing through the game once thoroughly.

That said, they did include some perks for multiple playthroughs. Each pro has a special challenge, based off of their career. As Kareem Campbell, I had to do tricks over a roof gap… for some reason. It plays just like the other trick matching challenges, but it’s harder, and it starts throwing out combos too. It took a couple tries to get a strategy down, and it felt good to finally beat it. When you beat it, you get the pro video, then the extra pro challenges. It’s the same kind of stuff, like the SKATE letters, but harder, and designed with full stats in mind.

So let’s talk about the regular challenges. Pro Skater 4 adds in some story elements, which became a lot more important when Underground came around a year later.

The downside to having this story stuff is the cutscenes and the acting. Sometimes you’ll have to restart a challenge if you didn’t see the locations of the stuff you have to collect, and you have to sit through a stupid cutscene. It’s annoying because there always has to be an excuse for everything. You have to collect stuff, but it’ll be because something happened. There was a storm and everything blew away. Someone needs you to test something out for them. And the big downside is that you can only do one thing at a time. In earlier games, you could collect the spray cans, and find the magic bum and VB transfers all at once. It was easier to explore and try to figure things out as you go.

But in the new game, you get 2 minutes PER random thing you have to collect. You have to Ollie the magic bum again in Kona, and also find the loose pads and the waivers and all kinds of other stuff. And you get a new timer for EACH ONE. So the levels take forever. Look at the high scores. In the older games, you could work on collecting SKATE, and just try to do a lot of tricks while you were at it. If you were good, you could get the high score, pro score and sick score WHILE you were getting the letters. But in Tony Hawk 4, you have to find the person to challenge you do get a high score, then finish that. Then, you have to find them again somewhere else in the level to get the pro score. Then repeat the whole process for the sick score. Suddenly, something you could do in the background in older games takes an extra ten minutes.

Another game from around that same time that handled this better is Aggressive Inline. It’s set up the same way – no level timers, big areas, characters who give you challenges. But the big difference is that this game very rarely uses timers at all. If you have to find or collect something, you just go do it. That means that you’re more free to explore the level and find stuff on your own instead of specifically looking for it. I liked Pro Skater 4 a lot more until I played this and realized how it could have been.

Now, there are 16 goals, and it goes up to 21 after you unlock the pro challenges. I wish you were able to pick them from the menu and jump to them, but that only works after you’ve manually found the person and talked to them. So you’ll waste some time riding around the levels looking for stuff to do. And you’re going to end up doing the same stuff for a long time. Like doing tricks that pop up on screen. Tricks are called out by kids, or ghosts in Alcatraz, or even birds at the zoo. But it doesn’t make any difference in how it plays. It’s a fun enough challenge the first couple times but you’ll come to dread seeing it come up again.

Some of the other goals are pretty lame too. Like the luge racing. It just seems like they made a physics engine and then decided to do everything they could possibly do with it to pad the play time. Back when I paid full price to get this game, I was happy for all this extra content. Now, it just feels a little tedious. There are a bunch of challenges where you have to hold lip tricks. It’s cool that they finally tried to give lip tricks a purpose in the series, but I wouldn’t say it’s any fun.

They aren’t all bad though. They added in COMBO letters, which you have to collect while doing a combo. They don’t overuse it either, so it’s pretty cool. Some of the other stuff can be fun too.

I like the way they handled the contests. They’re just part of the normal level, but when you start one, you see that they set up ramps and stuff for the event. So it actually changes the level, which is cool. It makes more sense than having a special contest level in this new system. This stuff happens a lot for other events too. You’ll open up a new area in the zoo, or a new ramp will appear for a certain event. It makes the world feel a lot more alive.

There are also little hidden challenges in the levels, like hitting baseballs in the Alcatraz level.

You can also try to grind around the flagpole and set a record. I like these little things. They didn’t need to put those things in and they aren’t part of the career mode, they’re just little bonus things that you can mess around with.

Another great thing is the inclusion of a freestyle trick system. Tony Hawk 3 had a few freestyle tricks, but this is the first one that really lets you make combos and actually compete in a freestyle competition with Rodney Mullen.This had a huge effect on me and lots of other new freestylers at the time. There wasn’t much info on the internet and magazines and videos didn’t cover freestyle, so if you wanted to learn about different tricks and learn their names, this was the only way to do it. One weird thing though is this trick. It used to be called a no-handed 50/50. But the game calls it a truckstand. I don’t know if Mullen came up with that new name or if the developers did. Maybe they thought it would be confused with 50-50 grinds. And a truckstand flip should be called a no-handed fanflip. Aside from that, it’s all pretty accurate. They even use rail instead of primo.

Pro Skater 4 also did one more important thing. It made a huge difference to skateboarders everywhere around the world. It introduced millions to… Muskabeatz by my man Chad Musssska.

I wish I could play more, but I don’t want to get sued. Do a search for Muskabeatz and listen to some of this stuff. I don’t know why, but I always really liked his songs, even though I’ll admit they probably aren’t actually GOOD.

The whole soundtrack in this game is good. Pro Skater 2 has a famously great soundtrack, and I don’t think 4 is better, but it’s huge and there’s no doubt you’ll find some new favorites in there.

We should also talk about the Playstation 1 version. When I reviewed Pro Skater 3, I checked out the PS1 version of it, and was surprised by how great it was. It’s an excellent way to play the game, and is worth checking out even now. So I was hoping that Pro Skater 4 would also be good… but it doesn’t really survive the transition to the new format really well.

For starters, all the people and cars and stuff are gone. Of course, I didn’t really like the bad acting and stuff in the first place, but it’s almost worse just having floating icons. At this point I would rather it just be like the old games and have all the challenges at the same time with one timer. There are a lot of technical limitations here, or maybe just laziness. For example, when you start a challenge, you might have triggered it from the wrong direction, and so you’ll be facing the wrong way every time you restart. So if you have to collect COMBO letters or hit a certain gap, you’ll have to turn around right from the starting line. It can make some of this stuff a lot more annoying than it needs to be.

Plus, trying to find stuff is a lot less fun on an original Playstation. Trying to collect flyers and trash cans and stuff isn’t so bad in 720p widescreen where you can move the camera around, but in low resolution on the PS1, it’s just a chore. The camera is a lot closer to you (and you can’t freely move it), there’s draw distance to worry about, and it’s just tough to make out what stuff is.

Another downgrade is the contests. When you start one, you just keep on rolling from wherever you were. There are no special ramps that go up or anything. It might as well be another high score challenge.

There are a couple more differences too. Instead of collecting cash, you collect stat points and songs for the soundtrack. They made Kona a night level, and mixed around some of the other levels too. All in all, I would definitely skip this one.

So what’s the verdict on Pro Skater 4? Going into it, I was expecting to love the game, I haven’t played it since it was new, but I had such good memories with it that I was sure it was going to be a classic. But playing it now, it really doesn’t hold up. There’s nothing glaringly wrong with it, but it’s clearly suffering from growing pains in the transition from 3 to the later story based games. The new types of events are all pretty weak and need to be refined, and the new timers for everything make for some slow progress. To be fair though, it’s only a couple of bucks. If you have good memories with this one, it wouldn’t hurt to pick it up.

I’ve asked before what your favorite Tony hawk games are, and very few people said 4. Maybe only one person. But Underground got a ton of votes, so if you’re looking for the best game of this Era, maybe check that one out. I’ll be reviewing it soon, so look out for that.

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