Over the years, I have bought a fair share of games more out of curiosity rather than actually wanting them. Often times these are portable games, which I don’t think get talked about all that much beyond the more notable titles. Today, I’m gonna tackle one of those portable games I got on a whim, and it’s based on a rather iconic extreme sports star. (Plus it’s been a while since I wrote something about a game.)
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. An awesome skateboarding game that was fun, even if you were bad on a real skateboard. A long-standing franchise with an impressive series of games that eventually got the common Activision treatment of “pump these games out until they stop making us money.” Nowadays, the franchise lies dormant, mostly remembered through nostalgic memories of the early games in the series with an occasional new installment that’s often hit or miss. The less we talk about Tony Hawk Ride, the better.
Of course, a series had to start somewhere, and looking back at the first Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, it was clear the game had some good ideas that just needed some refinement. Naturally, the game came out on every platform imaginable for the time period, like the Dreamcast, Nintendo 64 and PlayStation. But to go back to talking about portable games, I forgot this franchise appeared on a system that I wasn’t expecting.
Yes. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was on the Game Boy Color. Naturally Nintendo’s handheld was still modestly successful — albeit mostly buoyed by Pokemon — and while the Game Boy Color wasn’t nearly as big as the monochrome original by this point, it did bring us a lot of unexpected games on the system, including this one.
This game was made by Natsume, publisher of the Harvest Moon franchise. I can’t think of a weirder choice for a developer of a portable Tony Hawk game. Honestly, I didn’t even know they made games beside Harvest Moon until I had played this. They’ve probably been games for a long time, and I probably played a couple of them, so please refrain from sending me corrections.
I don’t even remember how I got this game, honestly. I think a neighbor had it years ago and just gave it to me since they didn’t have a GBC. The only other thing I remember about this game is that I wrote a scathing user review of this on GameSpot. You can probably find it if you check the game page for it, but I’d rather not link it, it’s like a lot of my past writing where it’s… a bit rough.
The Tony Hawk games were known for having you skateboard around skate yards, warehouses, and schools to make massive points; while also doing challenges like finding a secret tape, spelling out the word SKATE, and other silly challenges here and there, depending on the level. You’d expect the Game Boy Color version of Pro Skater to have those same exact features, just in handheld form. Sadly, it doesn’t.
While it does retain some of the bigger console game elements, including picking a skater with unique stats, that’s where a lot of the similarities end. Instead, the Game Boy Color version has two different gameplay types: A half pipe score attack, and a top-down racing mode split into a Tournament mode, a system Link mode and a CPU race.
Half pipe just has you moving back and forth on the half pipe, hitting a directional button and A or B to do air tricks for points. There’s no guarantee that you’ll pull off the trick half the time, as you have to release the buttons and then hit them quickly before you land, otherwise you get a spectacular crash. There’s no competitive aspect to this mode, not even a versus mode with a friend. You just play for the highest score.
All the stages in half pipe mode are supposed to resemble real locations, such as the Burnside Skatepark here in Portland. Though in reality, the Burnside Skatepark is not as open as Natsume thinks it is.
The other game mode is a top-down race mode that’s much like the Downhill Jam concept in later Tony Hawk games. With the d-pad, you control a skater of your choosing as you jump on rails and other objects for points, while trying to race to the finish line for bonus points. It sounds rather fun on paper, and turns out to be a nice, fast-paced distraction from the boring half-pipe mode.
I soon realized that this mode is not very fun whatsoever. If the skater bails, you’ll be moving at a snail’s pace unless you double-tap up to get a speed boost, provided you have one available. I often ended up crashing at the worst places and at the worst times, and some levels like the Docks are especially dickish in its obstacle placement. Most of the time I was lucky to even get into the top three.
I’d be amazed if anyone can get first place in these races without cheating with tool-assisted software. With the zoomed in perspective, you’re not gonna react in time to an obstacle and you can’t easily avoid it, thus you’ll crash into it, losing all your momentum and often times finishing dead last. At least, that’s how it was for me every time I tried playing this mode.
Natsume also implemented the trick system in the race mode, where getting enough height and tapping a button and a direction causes the game to stop and show these sick trick images. In Tournament Mode, this is what you need to do a lot of if you expect to win the competition. But much like half pipe mode, I couldn’t get these to work half the time.
I really wish I could say more positive things about this game. Graphically it looks alright for a portable game, and it has a decent chiptune soundtrack. (If you’re expecting 8-bit renditions of “Superman” or “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver,” you’ll be rather disappointed.)
This GBC port doesn’t resemble their console counterparts in the slightest, and it’s not even a good skateboarding game like 720° or Skate or Die. It’s just a mediocre game overall. I feel bad for those who got this rather than playing the big boy versions on console.
Thankfully, from what I’ve seen, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 hit the GBC the following year also developed by Natsume, and this time it’s more faithful to its console counterparts. But this one should’ve bailed out and not got back up.
I do remember playing the first few games at some point, but since I wasn’t big into skateboarding, I didn’t really have much interest in the series. Thanks to being fascinated by Tony Hawk’s Underground speedruns and Giant Bomb playing Pro Skater 3 online for their then-weekly Thursday Night Throwdown, it fueled my interest into the franchise now, and I’m kicking myself for missing out on it when it was big. Maybe I should go find the older games and start learning stale fishes and benihanas.
Updated October 27, 2020 for image updates, clarifications and polishing up the text. A fair share of these early year posts are still me trying to find my style of writing.
In hindsight I should’ve updated this sooner, when Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 came out. Oh well. I heard that game’s pretty good, I should give that a try sometime.