Where Did All the Skateboarding Games Go?
As a child, I had pictured myself as the next pro skateboarder on my block. I had one of those huge skateboards with the colored wheels that my parents had picked up at K-Mart. I had a helmet, but rarely wore my elbow and kneepads. As a result, I managed to pick up a ton of scrapes and bruises in the early years of my budding skating career.
I think my parents got sick of paying medical bills and getting me stitched up, because when I was eight, I received one of my favorite gifts of all time; a Nintendo Entertainment System that included Skate or Die! I was going to become the best virtual skater on the planet! With cutting-edge 8-bit graphics and a soundtrack by Rob Hubbard (Road Rash, John Madden Football), this was the game that I had been waiting for my entire life.
I've played through Skate or Die! numerous times since my youth and still love it, but my favorite Skateboarding games ever are the Tony Hawk Pro Skater games from Activision and Neversoft. Mixing amazing graphics from my Sony Playstation, an insane soundtrack featuring Suicidal Tendencies, Millencolin, Goldfinger, and many,many, more; I couldn't get enough of these games. Throughout college, I became feverishly obsessed with them and made it my goal to be the best THPS player on campus.
I didn't think that skateboarding could feel more realistic than hitting X, and then hitting Triangle to grind until I fell on my face. Little did I know that in 2007, the skateboarding game would change, again! With the introduction of Skate, it was the first time we had a realistic skating experience. You had to use both thumbsticks to recreate the movements of performing an ollie, grind, or aerial maneuver. It made you use actual skill to get through your goals. You could also play in a massive online environment; something that the THPS had tried to do, but never quite perfected.
I loved the Skate series, but ultimately always fell back to THPS because I wanted to have more fun in my games than realism. If I wanted to ACTUALLY skate, I'd just take my board outside and fail miserably. Granted, it's a lot easier to faceplant in a simulated environment than a real one. I was a bit in the minority, as the Skate games gained popularity, and the THPS waned. They were becoming more unrealistic and needed a way to reinvent the wheel again. Hawk decided to do something completely crazy, that would spell the demise for the skate genre entirely.
Tony Hawk could see that the Skate games were winning out amongst gamers and decided that he'd create a realistic skating peripheal to counteract this. In Tony Hawk's RIDE, players could mount a device that looked like a skateboard and was is equipped with infrared sensors to detect motion and display it on-screen. Players would turn, lean, hop, and perform other actions that would emulate being on an actual skateboard. The game failed miserably.
RIDE was a critical and financial failure, yet Hawk decided to put out a sequel to the game called SHRED. SHRED served as the nail in the coffin and ultimately destroyed the THPS franchise and skateboarding games as a whole. I'm not sure if it was the wonky skateboard, kids lack of caring for movement-based games, or a combination of the two; but skateboarding games went the way of the dinosaur. Hawk has hinted at a return to the genre but has done nothing more than release an HD version of his first two games.
It's a shame that the genre died, but it's a direct reflection of the way that games are played today. Motion-based games seemed to be a fantastic idea when the Wii came out. I think it's successes more relied on the fact that the games were good and Nintendo is a trusted brand. Sony and Microsoft never saw the success with it's Kinect and Move the way that Nintendo did. Players want to feel like they're in the game, without actually having to do anything more than move a mouse or pick up a controller. If another Skate or Tony Hawk game comes out, I'm sure there will be an audience for them; but lets hope they keep the gaming in the console and out of the living room skate park.