"Most snarky critics had their minds set before ever seeing/playing the game.
I'm proud of what we created; it's innovative, responsive & fun."
-- Tony Hawk responding to the negative reviews for Tony Hawk: Ride
It's perfectly understandable why Activision believed Tony Hawk: Ride would be a success.
Veteran skateboarder Tony Hawk reportedly came to Activision with the idea of creating a peripheral-based evolution of his stagnating skating series. Based on Activision's success with the Guitar Hero franchise, the internal excitement for DJ Hero and the huge reaction Nintendo's seen with motion and hardware accessories on Wii, Tony Hawk: Ride was by all rights a sound business decision.
Unfortunately for Tony Hawk: Ride, its success was premised on a philosophically flawed notion about why these games click. In this crucial misstep, the game doomed from day one. The primary reason games like Guitar Hero and Wii Sports have been such monstrous successes and resonate so intensely both with gamers and large groups of people who on any given day wouldn't even consider themselves gamers is because they're rooted in fantasy. These games let them do something they cannot do in real-life.
I couldn't finish the tutorial in Tony Hawk: Ride, unable to progress past the introduction sequence. The start of Tony Hawk: Ride removes the ability to change the skater's direction, having the user focus on understanding basic manipulation of the skateboard peripheral itself. You start with ollies (accomplished by tilting the board back with one foot) and progress from there. It's a few sections before the game asks the player to differentiate between tilting the board up and then twisting it left or right, or tilting the board up and moving it left or right before setting it on the ground again.
I was, uh, unable to differentiate the two.
Instead of pulling off a flip trick or whatever, I knocked into the tiny Christmas tree next to the couch a few times. Before long, I turned off my Xbox 360 and concluded Tony Hawk: Ride just didn't work. I've been an advocate of games using peripherals to enhance experiences for years, but they only work as an extension to escape into a fantasy and pretend you're good at some thing you're not. Tony Hawk: Ride wants to teach you how to ride a skateboard for real. There is very little fantasy involved. In most respects, Tony Hawk: Ride is an interactive tutorial for actually learning how to skateboard.
It's not a surprise when someone wants to learn how to play the guitar after experiencing Boston's "More Than A Feeling" for the first time in Rock Band (though it's probably more Fall Out Boy) But there's also a reason individuals who are already well-versed on the guitar will still find themselves sitting down with this simplified version of the real thing and enjoying themselves: it's easier, an escape from the reality that most of us will never possess the same abilities as The Who's Pete Townshend.
Tony Hawk: Ride is an interactive tutorial for actually learning how to skateboard
I've never bought the argument Rock Band or Guitar Hero don't make any sense when you can just learn to actually play. Tony Hawk: Ride, however, is a different story. Pulling off random tricks is not difficult in Tony Hawk: Ride, as it's possible to create a string of stylized moves by just hysterically flailing about, but when tasked with doing specific kind of tricks, Tony Hawk: Ride requires a very real set of learned physical and mental memorization that's more akin to, well, real skateboarding.
That's the crux of Tony Hawk: Ride's failure and why Hawk's assessment of the critical response is off-base. The game is simply not fun and when I tried to play, it only served as a painful reminder that I can't skateboard. I didn't need a video game to make that any clearer, but failing to execute what the game was proposing to be a very basic skateboarding trick over and over only rubbed the fact in my face. Thanks, Tony Hawk: Ride, but I already knew pulling off a flip trick wasn't in my repertoire. No need to remind me.
Adding a realistic peripheral doesn't make me feel like a bad ass skateboarder, but the original games made that a great, accessible experience. Those games let me do something basic I can't actually do -- balance on a skateboard. Tony Hawk: Ride assumes that's something I want to learn. As it turns out, I don't (and can't). If I change my mind...you know what? Maybe I'll just buy a real skateboard.