($120; Xbox 360, Wii, PS3)
Three out of four stars.
ATLANTA - Tony Hawk: Ride is a groundbreaking video game that fits right in with the namesake skating legend's no-rough-edges appeal. It's a silky-smooth experience with an inventive wireless skate deck controller and a friendly learning curve.
But watch out. You can fall here, too. More on that later.
After connecting and calibrating the board in the Xbox 360 version of the game, I selected a character with skin, hair, and clothes to suit my taste. I grew up riding in Santa Cruz, Calif., a premier West Coast skateboarding town that enjoys a bit of the tattered and torn aesthetic. So I donned some digital duds to match the style I'd grown up with.
The moment of truth came when I stepped on the controller board. It felt like a real skateboard under my feet, and not some plastic toy (which it essentially is). The top surface feels like grip tape. The nose and tail slope up gently, like the cut and contour of a modern deck.
There are no trucks or wheels to steer with. Instead, motion sensor panels are located at the front, back and sides of the board. I ride "goofy" (right foot forward) and as I pushed my foot on the carpet past the sensor, my character obediently pumped his way down the cement in Venice, Calif., in the opening session. When I stepped on the tail to tilt up the nose, I ollied and popped the on-screen board off the ground. Just like real life, except higher and better, of course.
The game unfolds into daunting rides around and over obstacles, through dry river beds in Los Angeles, and other world locales. There are trick sessions to challenge your balance and speed sessions where you'll need to beat the clock to advance to the next level or unlock new trucks and wheels to outfit your deck with.
The basic ollie maneuver is the most important one to master in this game. You'll need it in the street skating areas to hop up on benches and rails to grind for extra "style" points, and you'll need it on speed runs because, well, things get in the way.
I had to remind myself not to try to pop the ollie too hard on the controller board. I found myself throwing my real-world balance off and working up a sweat when a lighter tap would have sufficed and kept my riding line tighter to the next obstacle.
I even scored enough points to unlock some tattoos for my character. I got a full chest tattoo of the Virgin Mary by Kat Von D of the TLC channel reality TV series L.A. Ink. I'm not sure how well this feature will go over with a mother when her 13-year-old gets Tony Hawk: Ride for Christmas and ends up riding in the bowels of Los Angeles with his arms sleeved in ink.
In most sessions, the board is positioned with the nose pointing toward the screen. When I was on the half-pipe, however, I had to turn the board sideways and wave my hands over the sensors to "grab" the board and bust some airborne tricks.
All told, Tony Hawk: Ride is a very well-thought-out advancement in gaming technology. The board feels real under your feet. The character response on screen is stylish and accurate. The graphics are polished.
With this game, Tony Hawk is now firmly entrenched as the most dependable brand in skateboarding. In his prime, there were always more stylish big air riders like Christian Hosoi and more aggressive street riders like Mark Gonzales. But there's something more marketable about the cleaner-cut Hawk, less of a gamble with his arms akimbo soaring high above the crowds.
With this game, Hawk soars again.
Sure, some kid is going to take a header running into the living room and pouncing on this gadget full speed in his socks. Moments later he'll snicker and try to figure out a way to tell his friends he busted his wrist "fakeboarding." That makes this game a welcome addition, if only for the sheer irony of it all.