XBLA Preview – Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD and The Cave

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Cave Skating…

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD

Tying into expensive and generally ill-conceived peripherals made the most recent Tony Hawk games a rather tough sell, and saw them subsequently bailing their way to a bargain bin with the kind of speed you’d typically expect of motorsports as opposed to skateboarding. With this in mind, it’s refreshing to see this is but a distant memory to this latest outing – a peripheral free, digital download title that’s set to capture what made the original titles so compelling without any of the fluff.

A trailer that’s been released from the show demonstrates the no-nonsense approach nicely; no sales pitch, no fast-cuts between shots, not even any music. Just Tony Hawk, in the classic ‘Warehouse’ level from Tony Hawk 2, skating around, doing (an insanely exaggerated version of) what he does best. Getting hands-on and spending some time trying to re-create such sights was re-assuring too; whilst the core control system is dialled back considerably (everything post-Revert is gone, and Reverts themselves are excluded from scoring) from the more recent outings, there’s still enough in there to keep the constant scoring one-upmanship tightly competitive.

Although a full list of levels is yet to be unveiled, it’s understood that key THPS1 & 2 tracks feature first and foremost, with THPS3 levels planned for inclusion via post-launch DLC. It’s not quite a HD port of the first two games, and it’s not a completely new game either – but with it leading this year’s Summer of Arcade promotion it’ll soon be at your fingertips to try out.

The Cave

Double Fine stole headlines recently when their Kickstarter-backed adventure game vastly exceeded even their own wildest expectations. Whilst The Cave is not the spawn of this particular venture, it is still a product of the team’s long-standing belief that adventure games aren’t dead, being headed up by no less than Ron Gilbert. In a demo being shown off, a short introduction exposes the narrating voice as being that of ‘The Cave’ (yes, it talks) – a destination for many who believe that within lies what their heart desires most. We’re also introduced to a cast of 7 such characters, each fitting a rather obvious stereotype; an oblivious but well-intentioned knight, a lonely hillbilly looking for love, a lab-coat clad scientist, and so-on – full details for these are all a little thin on the ground right now but it’s clear that each has their own motive and their own abilities that make them unique.

After selecting a team of three characters your adventure then begins, with each moving around the cave via 2D platforms, and performing different tasks that open up new ways to progress. Whilst you can only control one character at a time, a lot of the puzzles rely on you switching between them seamlessly; a switch may be some way from the door it opens for example, and requires you to change to someone stood next to it after opening, rather than trying to run back there with just one character. Those familiar with titles like ‘The Lost Vikings’ or even ‘Trine’ more recently will find common ground with the basic team puzzle-solving mechanics, which really seem to be the focus here rather than trying to introduce any combat or other action-based elements. Whilst explanation of a full range of unique skills is still forthcoming, we did get to see the knight’s “Guardian Angel” ability allowing him to fall great distances and survive other painful experiences, as well as the Hillbilly’s impressive underwater breathing – both of which being good examples of how character selection will make certain areas or paths exclusive to your choices.

It almost goes without saying, but from what we’ve seen there’s a typically humourous undertone to the whole undertaking too; the narration in particular is rather witty, and whilst the characters have remained silent so far, there’s still plenty of effective characterisation in the way that they move and interact as they go about their tasks. The promise of being able to tackle any situation with any combination of them makes for an especially interesting concept, and is looking to be another notch on the belt for Double Fine as one of the last bastions of traditional adventure games.

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