The Tony Hawk games, at least the first four, are arguably the most important games ever released in the genre of "extreme sports" simulations. See, back in the early '90s, "extreme sports" was a marketing term that was employed to describe any sport that didn't involve team play and also including the riding of something, like a skateboard or a snowboard or a surfboard or a bicycleboard. Riding on something is what separated X-Treme Doritos Brand X-Plosion SPRTS from regular individual sports like tennis or bowling.
My Horse is a free-to-play iOS game that has everything other sports games lack: pageantry, unlocking pretty horse gear, and chores. "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD" is currently 1200 Microsoft points on Xbox Live (that's fifteen Earth dollars) while My Horse is "freemium," which means you can play it for free but if you want to eschew grinding through the horse levels you can buy in-game currency with real-world money to get things moving.
So which is your best bet for fun and excitement?
Tony Hawk Pro Skater HD
When I first heard about this game, I kickflipped in my pants. I spent a lot of time in my youth becoming the best THPS player in my group of friends. By the time the third game in the series was released, I worked so hard to be the best at it that while I was practicing alone in my darkened dorm room, my friends decided to buy Matt Hoffman's BMX game so they wouldn't have to deal with my shenanigans anymore. When I was finally able to pull off a one million point combo I felt like I had reached my personal goal and I shelved the game. Just kidding! I kept playing, trying to reach two million. The fact that I spent so much time with the Tony Hawk games over the years explains my excitement for the re-release. I downloaded it on day one, eager to best my friend Jeff's score in real time, over Internet-connected Xbox Live leader boards. Each time he bests my score in the Warehouse level, I spend a few minutes (or a few hours) working to beat his score. And he does the same. It's kind of sickening, really. I've put a lot of time into this game so far, which is no small feat considering I am not enjoying it at all anymore.
Seriously. I am not enjoying THPSHD at all. I was at first, when I was just so excited to be playing a game I had loved in the past, but it wasn't long until that excitement disappeared. The problem with re-playing a game you've played the hell out of in the past is that...well, you played the hell out of it in the past. The goals from the original game, collect the "SKATE" letters, find the hidden VHS DVDs, etc., are the same. That's good, I guess, since it faithfully replicates the originals, but collecting random garbage in the levels isn't really fun, especially when doing so is the only way to unlock further levels. I would have liked to have seen at least something new tossed into the mix.
Would a kid who has never played THPS find it fun? I can't really answer that question, since I'm not a kid, but if a kid is interested in playing a skateboarding video game, they probably already played through the entirety of EA's Skate series. In Skate, tricks are pulled off by finessing the analog sticks in addition to pressing the controller buttons, making pulling off tricks more like...well, pulling off a trick. In THPSHD, the controls are essentially the same as they've ever been. it's a more arcade-like experience, so to pull off a trick means you just need to push the stick in a direction and mash a button. Also, do kids these days even skate vert? Tony Hawk is arguably the greatest vert skater of all time, but do kids see him as anything other than an old dude who skates an old-dude style of skating? Do kids see vert skaters the same way we used to view freestyle skaters like Rodney Mullen? These are questions I need answered, dammit.
My relationship with the HD remake is best described as "love-hate," because I love-hate it. I enjoyed it at first, and I have many fond memories of playing the games alone in my hermit cave, but after the initial nostalgia factor wore off, I lost interest in doing anything other than beating my friends' scores. Also, we live in a world of Spotify and Pandora and Last.fm, so couldn't there have been some sort of integration so I wouldn't have to listen to the same 14 songs over and over again? I almost feel like I can't really recommend this game to people simply because there is nothing new other than the graphics. I KNOW, I KNOW, it's an HD remake, but couldn't they have just added something else to the game from the get-go to freshen it up a little?
"My Horse" isn't a new game, but it's one of the best free games on the iOS platform. The concept is simple: you are the owner of a pretty horse and through the gentle guidance of a hunky, approachable, and most of all safe stable-boy, you train and groom your horse to make it the prettiest horse of all. Your stable-boy friend will drop by to give you hints like "We need more than just the awesomest tack to look good, we also need rider outfits!" Which is totally true, but I feel like my hunky stable boy is trying to manipulate me into spending actual money to buy in-game coins. Who am I to resist that hunky, flannel shirt wearing dreamboat? Nobody, that's who. I'm just a stupid nobody and no one as hunky as that will ever love me in real life...which is why I can play My Horse alone in my room and lose myself to its equine charms. Corey doesn't judge me. He wants me to succeed.
All joking aside, this game is great. Sure, I downloaded it initially as a joke, and urged my friends to join in the My Horse joke-a-thon, but what happened was we enjoyed it so much that one of my friends ended up being in the top 5% of My Horse players in the entire world. He maxed out his horse at level 100 without spending a single dime of actual, real-world money. Guys, seriously, his horse is the prettiest.
The game is constantly updating, throwing in more gear, more competitions, and more barnyard chores. It's basically a whole new game in its most current incarnation than it was when I first downloaded it a shamefully long time ago.
So which game is better: the skateboarding game with the hallowed history, or the horse game that's designed to make slightly overweight young girls feel loved? The choice, to me at least, is clear. As much as I want to love THPSHD, I just can't bring myself to enjoy it. It would be like trying to enjoy an orange after I already sucked from it every molecule of juice and fibrous pulp. I like oranges, but that particular orange has been flattened by the weight of my painfully strained metaphor. My Horse, on the other hand, just keeps on giving. I just got a horse mail about Olympic paddock tack for my horse. That's a whole new wardrobe for my horse. The only thing Tony Hawk has given me is a new-found hatred for Goldfinger's "Superman."
Pass on Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD, but add My Horse to your iOS device. Of the two, only one simulates an Olympic sport.
Seth Macy is Co-Host and Co-Writer of Gizmonic Institutes Radio, where this week he interviews J. Elvis Weinstein! Check it out and look for more Game Fight! every Thursday! Now let us know in the comments who has the prettiest horsey in town.
Flickr photos Travis on his Skateboard by born1945, skateboard by Karen_O'D used under a Creative Commons License.