It will come as little surprise to boarders, real or virtual, that Mike V: Skateboard Party HD is heavily influenced by the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series.
According to skating lore, it was Mike Vallely’s stellar rise from the worn-out half-pipes of New Jersey to the international arena in the ‘80s and ‘90s that inspired the story behind Tony Hawk’s Underground back in 2003.
So it’s a shame that Ratrod’s game lacks the finessed excess of the early Hawks-branded titles it so desperately wants to imitate with Skateboard Party HD.
While the slick visuals look the part, and there are stacks of parks to conquer, the clumsy controls and hidden freemium costs take a lot of shine off Mike V’s endorsement.Humble beginnings
Although there’s a mention of a Party in the title, this is very much a solo affair - with only the ability to compete on leaderboards, or spam Twitter and Facebook with updates on your progress, to combat the loneliness.
Instead, the game centres entirely on you and your board. After updating your choice of Mike V character model with some improved attributes, like balance, speed, and jumping height (all of which can be boosted with Experience earned in-game), you’re whisked off to a humble Community Centre to show off your skills.
With the digitised voice of Mike V stressing, “Enough talk, show me what you’ve got” ringing in your ears, you’ve only got three minutes to demonstrate just how competent you are on a four wheel-powered slice of wood.
Newcomers to virtual skating may, understandably, be unnerved by the lack of any sort of tutorial (beyond a dizzying list of tricks in the pause menu), but Hawk or Skate veterans will be on pretty familiar asphalt.
It helps that the visuals, while lacking textures up close, are eerily similar to those of Pro Skater 2 (a benchmark in the genre on the original PlayStation). The soundtrack also blasts west coast punk at you like it's mid-afternoon on the Kerrang channel.Plant-ing doubts
While moving around with a virtual joystick is simple enough, the big issue is pulling off trick combos.
Unless you choose to customise the button layout, the icons for Ollies (jumps), Spins, Grinds, and Tricks are clustered together at the bottom-right of the screen. This means it’s easy to slip with a careless thumb and end up in a broken heap at the bottom of an empty swimming pool.
The responsiveness of the virtual buttons needs some serious tweaking, too, as quick taps are often missed by the game - with typically disastrous consequences.
While you can work around the fussy controls by limiting the boldness of your tricks, the game’s progress system then becomes a near impossible hurdle.Not so gnarly now
To unlock the next of the five arenas (from an Indoor Skate Park to a Downtown Plaza), you need to pull off four of the five different achievements built into each stage. While finding hidden areas and performing simple jumping or grinding tricks are feasible, the sky-high combo score challenges are a real stumbling block thanks to the haphazard controls.
Instead, you’ll find yourself reluctantly paying out for incremental in-app purchases to boost your stats, or just forking over another 60p to unlock the next skate park to crash your way around.
So, while Mike V: Skateboard Party HD looks and roughly feels like a Tony Hawk-branded experience, the lack of polish to the controls means it will never be more than a pale imitation of a classic.