There was a time when anyone could pick up a pad and chase high scores in a skating game. Then the Tony Hawk titles withered away, the Skate games came along with realistic physics and complex controls and I became sad.
I have no ill will toward EA's Skate series, it was an impressively authentic realisation of skating and, as a person with multiple friends "about that skate life," I got a buzz off how much they enjoyed the series.
But it was always bittersweet, as the thrills of a realistic skating experience in a video game were lost on me. I preferred the arcadey feel of the Tony Hawk series. In particular, the way it was so eager to positively reinforce my pathetic attempts at tricking with points -- however meagre they were.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 is a return to that classic skate-first-ask-questions-later gameplay, where the fingers take priority over the brain. I'll be the first to admit that I was not very good at the THPS games and, if the reactions from the developers watching me play the newest entry are any indication, I'm not very good at this one either. But I still had fun.
There's an unmistakably retro feel to Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5. It feels fast, loose and forgiving. Its developer, Robomodo, is taking every opportunity to include callbacks to previous titles. Our demo, for example, started off in the Bunker, an amalgamation of Warehouse and the Hangar.
From the moment you get your hands on the game, it feels familiar. Reverts, manuals and most of all the tricks of the Tony Hawk trade are still there, and gameplay is still all about racking up points and rubbing it in your friend's face when you break his or her record.
However, Pro Skater 5 makes a few new tweaks. First among them is pushing, which lets players pick up speed by using the right trigger button and slow down using the left trigger. It's a great way to reduce downtime after eating floor during a failed trick, and lets you fine-tune your approaches.
Another tweak is the special meter, which is now activated with a button press instead of just automatically kicking in when it fills up. When the bar is filled, your board glows blue, and you can pick exactly when you want to put it into effect, avoiding annoying situations where it pops while you're doing a transition.
The third big change relates to grinds. Robomodo has introduced a new mechanic called Slam, which lets players shift weight and bring the board down immediately, which is handy for rescuing any overshot jumps and controlling when you want to hit a rail.
It feels like there's a good mix of familiar and friendly old mechanics, and smart new tweaks. They help in making it more accessible and more responsive to play, but without overcomplicating a game that thrives on simplicity.
Our demo also took us to a level known as School 3, a new version of the classic School. This time around, it will be playable in multiplayer sessions running on dedicated servers, so in the words of its developer, the park is going to be there "long before you get there, and long after you leave."
Levels in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 can be played with up to 20 other people in a freeskate mode where everyone just hangs out and tricks together. Once you've gathered friends, you can queue up to do missions together, challenge everyone in the session to a high-score challenge chases.
Pro Skater 5's online mode is designed to serve as a player lobby, without the pressure of having to find something to do, and the inconvenience of sitting through menus to do it. It should feel like a real skate park, where friends can compete, teach or learn, and generally just chill out with each other.
Finally, Robomodo has introduced the ability to create skate parks, with on-the-fly editing and remixing. As you character jumps into the air, you can slide into the creation mode and place a grind or a ramp in the perfect place. All of your creations can then be shared online for others to enjoy.
There's a classic feel to Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 that -- thanks in large part to the soundtrack -- ignited a feeling of nostalgia for the originals and then immediately satiated it. As as unskilled Tony Hawk player, I'm excited to see the series return, and glad to see that it's sticking so close to its roots.