Gamers have been buzzing about Tony Hawk Ride for months before its Nov. 17 release. No wonder: Hawk is a juggernaut in the skate-video world, having sold $1.6 billion in games since he introduced Pro Skater in 1999.
This time, he's ditched the controller for a 27.5-inch skateboard without wheels. Infrared beams are built into the sides, nose and tail, and they sense when you mimic a foot push to get the skateboard rolling or grab the side to do a trick. Accelerometers, like those in the Nintendo Wii, measure the up-and-down, side-to-side movements. The game is compatible with Wii, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
But does the Ride provide the full 900 degrees of thrill? We took it for a spin at the Activision offices in Santa Monica, Calif., and after a sweaty 35 minutes, can report that, yes, it can make an office cubicle drone feel like a rail-grinding pro.
The game opens to the sound of New Orleans funk by The Meters (the music is a kooky mix, from Iggy Pop to Kenny Rogers). Choose your city: Los Angeles, Venice, Chicago, New York, Frankfurt, Barcelona, Toledo, Tokyo. And choose your avatar: One of more than a dozen pros, including Paul Rodriguez, Mike Mo Capaldi and Christian Hosoi.
The skater you select doesn't change your on-screen abilities. But, just the same, we picked the man himself, Tony Hawk. And soon enough, we were hurtling--with stunning fluidity--along the concrete labyrinth of the L.A. riverbed.
The board felt a little unstable. The bottom is contoured so when you lean left, the character on the screen rolls left. Yes, you can fall off, and you probably will, especially when you first try to make a "jump."
Swipe your foot along the board's infrared sensor, and you propel your digital alterego faster. Soon, "Tony" was speeding through a drainage tunnel until he came to a wooden barricade--whoa! To jump it--a move called an ollie--you tip the board's nose up quickly and hope for the best.
Miracle of miracles: Our on-screen hang time was pretty sweet. And while in mid-air, you can grab the board's edge or wiggle the tail to pull off some impressive aerial maneuvers. We rocked some outrageous high-flying tricks that would be impossible in real life and picked up speed points by tagging floating green icons and avoiding obstacles.
Hawk says he's dreamed of a peripheral that would give gamers the feel for real pro skateboarding. He succeeded. How else do you explain a novice pulling off a backside rail grind on the first try? And without a trip to the emergency room afterward.