Tony Hawk's Proving Ground (Wii)
Tony Hawk's Proving Ground for the Wii feels like a lot of other third-party Wii games: unfinished. The graphics fall short, the controls are uninspired, there's no online component, and as a sequel it breaks little ground. Fortunately, the core gameplay is still a good time, and new environments extend an otherwise mediocre port.
It?s been eight years since Tony Hawk?s Pro Skater first released in 1999, and the remnant gameplay found here shows. Stringing together exaggerated tricks and absurd combos is still entertaining, but I would have expected Activision to innovate with more than just new surroundings, despite the groovy gameplay.
One area of noticeable improvement, however, is a much deeper career mode. As opposed to a linear starting path, players are allowed to select from three different skating styles, all with different objectives and side-quests. Career skaters, including Tony Hawk, Bob Burnquist and Arto Saari, teach you Nail the Trick and Nail the Grab moves and help you get sponsored (Nail the Manual is exclusive to PS3 and Xbox 360). Rigger skaters like Bam Margera encourage you to build custom ramps, rails, and whatnot using the Rig-A-Kit level editor, and hardcore skaters, who ride merely for the love of the sport, teach Aggro Kicks and Pushes for greater speed and bigger air.
While the distinct styles are refreshing, the effect merely isolates tricks for tutorial purposes. As the game progresses, you'll largely end up doing the same stuff while striving for the same goal: skater awesomeness.
In terms of controls, long-time fans will immediately feel at home upon getting their mitts on Proving Ground. The game plays the same as its predecessors save only some minor additions. You'll control forward movement by holding down the A button (release it to initiate an ollie), perform grinds and slides with B, nail kick flips and board variations with C, and do grabs using Z. Returning from Tony Hawk?s Project 8 is the bullet-time Nail the Trick mode mentioned above, which can be initiated by pressing B and Z in tandem. Overall, button controls are responsive and familiar. Sadly, the same cannot be said of the motion controls.
The Wii remote and Nunchuck motion don?t comprise a deal-breaker, but they fail to enhance gameplay, and even disrupt the flow where Aggro kicks and Nail the Trick moves are involved. Aggro kicks, performed using a hammer motion with the Wii remote, feel awkward and unconvincing. Nail the Trick controls using both the remote and Nunchuck don?t feel much better. The motion is just negligible. What's worse, Activision failed to include the one area where Wii motion typically shines: using the pointer for text input. Its exclusion just reeks of lazy porting.
As the case with any sequel (and at the very least), Proving Ground features fresh turf to grind. New levels include nine unlockable areas across three East Coast locations -- Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. -- all with varying degrees of terrain and objects. They?re not my favorite locales (here?s looking at you, Pro Skater 3), but they get the job done.
Regarding presentation, Proving Ground on the Wii looks like a dull PlayStation 2 game. Visuals were sloppily ported, dingy menus are difficult to read, and choppy animations will be seen from time to time. The graphics hardly get in the way, but it?s obvious the developers didn?t even attempt to take advantage of Wii?s graphical capabilities, however limited they may be.
Like previous Hawk games, players will be treated to a stellar and eclectic soundtrack, including some tasty classic rock. But where the music shines, the professional voice work from actual skaters is laughably half-hearted. The same can be said of the writing, which is unevenly balanced.
To prolong replayability, Activision has included some supplemental features in addition to new levels. Sadly, the Wii version gets the shaft when compared to next-gen contemporaries. Only the skater editor, two-player mode and standard unlockables are on tap. The video editor, customizable skate lounge, Nail the Manual and online multiplayer are all absent from the Wii version, though included on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions. Proving Ground on the Wii also lacks the Create-a-Park feature, instead using a preset park with customizable pieces, similar to Tony Hawk's Project 8.
Given the increasing number of Wii games going online, there?s no excuse not to exclude the functionality here, especially when the 360 and PS3 versions, from which the Wii version was ported, include the service. Long combos, hard-to-get objects and level idiosyncrasies are sure to keep you entertained for hours, but the lack of the additional content found in other versions is disappointing and further devalues an already imperfect port.
Despite its flaws, Tony Hawk?s Proving Ground on Wii is still a fun time, even if EA?s Skate is more realistic. Though casual fans may be better served picking up an older version of the game (assuming you missed one) for less money on legacy platforms, Wii owners still have something to hold onto. Let?s just hope for a better effort next time.
This review was based on a retail copy of the game purchased by Crispy Gamer.