One of the most anticipated titles for the Tapwave Zodiac
was Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4. After all, Activision's prolific
skateboarding series had a good pedigree, and the handheld
titles were top-notch. But somewhere along the line, things
got screwed up. This title tried to grind the rail, but it
just ate pavement.
The gameplay of THPS4 is practically nonexistent. Like in
all the other hawks, you go on assorted missions, this time
from pedestrians, to find items, or get a high score, or
collect letters. However, the duration of the fun in these
missions is surprisingly short. Many items are placed in
ridiculously difficult-to-reach areas, and if you fail to
get it, most of the time you need to do it from the beginning.
There is a noticeable lack of significant rewards for your
painstaking efforts, with perhaps another trick or an upgraded
stat for an hour of trying to reach that last damn dollar
bill. Many times, you may just be wasting your time in missions,
trying to figure out how to get onto a ledge. The poor level
design makes it hard to string together a satisfying combo
chain, with rails too far apart or ending too abruptly, unless
you're a master who can manual your way across a map, or
pull off a diagonal rail transfer, which is actually quite
difficult in this game. The frustration far outweighs the
rewards. The game does have the standard Hawk repertoire,
with the ability to customize your deck, stats, tricks, and
to a certain degree, your looks. It's hard to notice the
little details, but its a little fun to toy around with.
Bluetooth multiplayer is there, but the range of options
is pretty limited. It also has your standard free skate and
career modes, as well as the ability to get missions from
pedestrians, though most of them are the same from level
to level. It's actually quite easy to perform scoring missions,
which takes away the challenge and satisfaction. On the first
level, I found that grinding a roundabout three times around
will almost always net you all the points you need.
The controls are okay for this title. The character turns
intuitively, and once you get over the view, it's relatively
easy to maneuver your way around the levels. However, it's
hard to correctly line up your skater after a vert trick
unless you're almost spot-on with your direction. You'll
find it hard to jump rails that aren't lined up, or tilt
your way into a half-pipe without falling off the board.
The buttons also feel a bit clumsy for transitions, but you
get used to it after a while. Diagonal rail transfers are
a pain, as the overly-sensitive balance meter is assigned
to the turn directions, so most of the time, instead of jumping
to the other rail, you'll simply bail off the board.
The graphics for this game are one of the truly low points.
The isometric view is confusing at times, and really hurts
when trying to re-orient your controls to the new direction
your skater is facing. The 3d model for your character is
really only a step above GBA quality, and the textures are
muddy and blocky. The pedestrians are a simple mass of pixels
without faces, and are strangely about twice your size. The
N-Gage has a fully 3D Tony Hawk game, and the Zodiac has
more graphical power, so there was really no excuse not to
make it fully 3D. It's practically below the quality of the
GBA Hawk titles, and the fact that this system's games thrive
on graphical prowess is yet another blow to the title. However,
most of the graphic trouble belongs to the earlier levels,
but even the later levels still look blah-tastic when compared
to what the Zodiac is capable of. Most of the graphics are
pretty bad, but my biggest gripe is that they could have
done so much more with this game.
The sound is average at best. The rock/rap soundtrack, while
muffled, is still a nice, yet expected, touch to the game.
Aside from that, the sounds are pretty limited. There's the
sound of your board switching, landing, grinding, and you
character grunting as he hits the pavement, and that's practically
it. The game is simple, so the lack of variety in the sounds
is somewhat excusable. However, a system that can crank out
MP3s would have more a punch if all was well in the land
This game simply falls flat in almost every category. The graphics
are muddy and pixilated, aside from the somewhat decent character
model. The sound is average, the isometric viewpoint and missions
are frustrating, and the lack of significant rewards will take you
out of the game. The replay value is practically nil, and the only
saving grace is the decent controls. There is some fun in the later
levels, namely the skate park, but it really can't save this game.
This game is strictly fan-only, and even in that case, it's a love-it-or-leave-it
affair. Don't get me wrong; the potential is still here for a Tony
Hawk game on the Zodiac. Just not this one.
Playing Hints and Tips
- When trying to score big points, most of the time you can find
a single rail or pipe to net you every point you need real fast.
- When attempting a new mission, scope out the area or route you
need to take first to make sure you know all the surprises that might
be coming your way.
- Look for ramps or rails with a special bonus for pulling off tricks
on them. They will act as a score multiplier and make a high score
that much easier.
- Spring for the SD card of this game. If you end up hating it like
I did, you can always return or sell it.
- If you're intent on keeping this game, try and stick it out to
the more entertaining later levels.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Muddy, blocky, pixilated, and generally
unattractive. This could have been so much better, especially
on the Zodiac.
The soundtrack can get on your nerves,
but for what it is, it’s standard for a handheld Hawk.
The missions are frustrating and repetitive.
They quickly become more of a chore than a pleasure.
You’ll find it pretty easy to
put this one down once you realize how near-impossible it is
to do certain objectives, but for some reason, you’ll
keep on tryin’.