Tony Hawk's Pro Skater is easily one of the most visually impressive N-Gage games to date - it certainly makes the likes of Virtua Tennis and Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell look rather unambitious, and it even puts the 3D graphics of Pandemonium! to shame. Happily, the game controls smoothly and the frame rate is consistent on N-Gage - neither of these things were true of the initial builds of the game, so it's thankful that the development team at Ideaworks 3D have managed to overcome these problems. Controlling the game isn't easy to start with - 5 acts as the jump key, while 4 handle your flips, 6 handles your grabs and 2 allows you to grind on rails etc.. The main problem is that the keys are so close together (although this is more a problem with the N-Gage design than with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater); for most people, it will take a half an hour before you've adjusted to the somewhat cramped control scheme, but with practice it does begin to feel more comfortable.
N-Gage Arena functionality notwithstanding, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater is an exact port of the 1999 PlayStation classic - you'll be skating your way through a variety of big levels, aiming to achieve high scores, grinding on or collecting a certain number of items and finding hidden tapes. As you achieve these objectives (which you must do within the time limit set for each run on a level), you'll receive more cassette tapes, which allow you to unlock new levels. In addition to these levels, you'll also find tournament areas where you must compete with other skaters for high scores; your performances are marked in three sets by a panel of judges. Outside of the career mode, you'll find a free skate mode (allowing you to ride freely around the unlocked levels) and a multiplayer mode, where you and a friend can compete in a variety of game types via Bluetooth. Game types on offer here include Tag, Graffiti, Trick Attack, Horse Play, and Skate Race, and all of these modes are highly enjoyable, but if you have as much trouble finding another N-Gage owner to compete with as we did, chances are you won't use them too often.
A mode you will use quite frequently is the game's N-Gage Arena option, allowing you to shadow race (race against other player's recorded data) or participate in global rankings for highest scores. The latter option is extremely competitive though, so if you're not entirely confident about your Tony Hawk's Pro Skater skills, you'll probably want to save the money your carrier will charge you for the data use and stick with the single player modes.
If you've never played a Tony Hawk's Pro Skater game before, you'll love every second of the N-Gage version, but for veterans, the product may be a little disappointing. That's because, being a port of a 1999 PlayStation game, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater on N-Gage doesn't feature any of the improvements made in the four console sequels. Most importantly, the game lacks the revert and manual maneuvers, which means you won't be able to link multiple tricks for big combo scores. This may sound like a minor problem, but if you've been playing a more recent version of the games, these omissions will seem quite fundamental, and indeed they are. The game also lacks the ability to design your own skate park, though this is a minor complaint.
Although direct comparison reveals that the PlayStation version looks slightly sharper, most people will say that the N-Gage port of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater looks just like the 1999 classic, because the differences are hardly noticeable. The game's large, open-ended 3D worlds are lots of fun to skate through, and the terrific character models, believable animations and great stacks (complete with injury effects) make the game great to look at. If more N-Gage games featured this much attention to detail, surely the system's sales would be a little more positive.
The game's sound design is also brilliant - for the first time, a developer has bothered to include decent audio in an N-Gage game, and it really makes a difference. There are a great variety of near-CD quality songs in the game (best listened to via the N-Gage headset, rather than via the internal speaker), including tunes from bands like The Dead Kennedys. The sound effects are all also intact here, resulting in a game that's as fun to listen to as it is to play.
If you've rushed out and bought an N-Gage, chances are you're feeling a bit short changed. So far, you've had a few ancient platform games, some truly terrible 2D ports and one enjoyable 3D adventure game (Tomb Raider) to choose from. All that's about to change, because, no matter who you are, it's hard to deny the quality of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater - it may not be the original piece of software Nokia needs to drive N-Gage sales, but if you own an N-Gage, it's certainly a must-buy.