Monday, November 23, 2009

To Ride or Not To Ride

Ever since their inception, the whole point of video games has been to recreate a virtual world in which one could do things one normally wouldn't (nor couldn't) do.  Squashing Goombas, bombing dodongos, rushing Zerg; if any of these phrases make any sort of sense to you, then I'm sure you've spent you're fair share of time behind a controller or keyboard.  Anyway, the point is, video games were created to allow us to do the impossible in a virtual environment.  Of course, this didn't stop some developers from trying to create as realistic an experiences as humanly possible.

Which brings us to the topic of today's little temper tantrum.  Tony Hawk Ride.  If you're not familiar with the series, it's a skateboarding series in which you traverse various environments on a skateboard, searching for that ever elusive perfect score by performing tricks, stringing together combos, and generally goofing around on a skateboard.  The series began as purely trick-based, but as the franchise went on, it began to delve further and further into the ridiculous (particularly in Tony Hawk's Underground 2, in which the Jackass crew hijacked the entire game and all but ruined everything great about the first Underground).

Ride, the most recent installment, is apparently seeking to take things back to basics with perhaps the most pointless of all gaming peripherals.

It's a wireless, board-shaped controller that's essentially a skateboard without wheels.  There are sensors lining every corner of the board, which control your skater based on your own movements.  This seems like a simple enough concept (and frankly, one I'm surprised they haven't resorted to sooner), but what concerns me is execution.  Now, I'll admit, I haven't actually tried this thing yet.  I'm not about to drop $120 on a game franchise that hasn't seen a decent installment in six years.  ...Okay, Project 8 wasn't bad.

Anyway, just from looking at this thing, I can guess that the entire game must be predicated on the player's own hand-eye-foot coordination.  I imagine a veteran skateboarder like, say, Tony Hawk might be pretty good at this game.  A guy like me, who can't walk six steps without tripping over a pine cone, might have a bit of a problem.  And if the actual reviews are any indication, my assessment is perfectly accurate.  IGN refers to the game as the "skateboarding equivalent of button-mashing."  What appears to require a good bit of finesse to perfect is, in fact, a chore for the casual player and, to some extent, the hardcore gamer.  In essence, this makes Tony Hawk Ride the rare hardcore game that is only playable to someone who's hardcore at something other than gaming.

But my quibble isn't so much with the controls as the board itself.  In theory, it's not that bad an idea.  I mean, we already have fishing rods for fishing games and steering wheels for racing games, so why not a skateboard for a skateboarding game?  Well, does anyone remember an arcade game called Top Skater?

This game first appeared in arcades in 1997, and I vividly remember wasting many a dollar in an effort to figure the damn thing out.  Functionally, the two games operate the same way.  You're asked to control a stationary facsimile of a moving skateboard.  The problem with this approach is two-fold.

First, you have to maneuver the board the same way you would in real life, only in this instance the physics involved are completely different.  The primary agent involved in real skateboarding is momentum.  With Ride and Top Skater, though, it's imperative that you stay in one place.  Ride does, at least, have an advantage over Top Skater, in that it's operation is based on motion-sensors rather than mechanics.  The problem still stands, though, that you're being asked to manipulate the board in more or less the same way that you might in real life.  And you're just as likely to awkwardly trip over the board as you are to pull the tricks off effectively.  Again, it comes back to experience.  If you already know how to do this, then you're in no need of any tutorial.

Secondly, it dictates the style of gameplay.  Tony Hawk Ride's casual mode is essentially a souped-up version of Top Skater.  You're character is on-rails, so to speak, being thrust through the course by the invisible hand of Mr. Hawk himself.  According to the reviews, the free-roaming modes of the game are nigh unplayable precisely due to the awkwardness of mimicking the action of skateboarding.

Again, having not played it, I really couldn't say for myself.  So what's my point, then?  I'm not sure, exactly.  You could probably dig out a thesis for this post if you tried hard enough, but I guess what I'm more concerned with is that this once great gaming franchise has been reduced to pulling stunts like asking $120 for a gimmicky controller and a half-assed game.  It's not enough to pretend to be skateboarding.  They now want us to pay double price to pretend to pretend to skateboard.

Complain, complain, complain.....


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