After three weeks of heavy playing, has the handheld skating wonder proven itself? Jonny Metts knows what evil lur...~ahem~, knows whether you should get this game or not.
Before I dive into this review, and really before you play and/or evaluate the Game Boy Advance version of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 for yourself, I think something needs to be said about this port. In the past, handheld versions of current console games have been simple adaptations...hell, look at Tony Hawk 1 and 2 for Game Boy Color. Part of the problem is that handheld systems have never had enough power to handle accurate ports from the console systems. However, I believe the other part of that problem is that developers (and I suppose publishers as well) have been too scared to attempt a console-type game on a handheld. Many people on both sides of the handheld market have a very deeply ingrained assumption that handheld games must be shorter, simpler, and dare I say it, inferior to their console brethren. I don’t want to over-dramatize what developer Vicarious Visions has done with Tony Hawk 2 on GBA, but the fact that they plowed through the old way of doing things truly is significant, and the game’s quality aside, I want to congratulate them on having balls enough to port a Playstation game to Game Boy and actually doing it right.
When dealing with ports, having a good game to start with makes all the difference. Although I’ve never played a console version of Tony Hawk 2, I did play its predecessor extensively on N64, and in light of that experience, this GBA version is obviously very faithful to the franchise. In some cases the detail and devotion to the console games is almost frightening. The “gap” list and trick selection are nothing short of exhaustive, for instance.
Interestingly enough, THPS2’s extreme closeness to its console counterparts has downsides along with the more obvious advantages. If you can live without the multiplayer and level editor, this GBA cart can literally and justifiably replace all other versions. At the same time, Vicarious Visions wasn’t able to add in any new features to speak of, so if you’ve already played the PSX or Dreamcast versions to death, you’re not going to find a new gameplay experience with Tony on Game Boy Advance. It’s a technically amazing, beautiful handheld title, but it’s no more a new game than the upcoming N64 port will be.
The other double-edged sword is the game’s depth; suffice it to say, THPS2 is so deep that even Konami’s launch games seem simple by comparison. Although the main mode (Career) is broken down into neat little two-minute bursts, getting anything done might take two or three exploratory runs and then several attempts per goal. The game is definitely challenging, and the skill required to advance will come only through practice and persistence. The possible downside is that getting good enough to even see the later levels can take many, many hours of playing, and some people may just not have that kind of patience for a handheld game...even one that is actually a console game. Absolutely everything has to be unlocked or purchased, and considering the rather steep learning curve, I’m afraid some players will never get past the first or second level simply because they’re not willing to invest the time necessary to get really good at the game.
With all that said, the GBA version of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 can be a fantastic game for some people and a totally unsuitable choice for others. Hardcore, obsessive gamers who haven’t played the console versions to death will love it. More casual players or those who already know THPS2 inside and out won’t be able to appreciate this handheld beauty nearly as much.