If any franchise is in need of a new gimmick, it's Tony Hawk. The skateboarding series, now in its fourteenth iteration, turns ten years old this summer. Yes, a decade. I still remember grinding away my N64 controller with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. Now Tony's ready to leave controllers behind and take the action to the floor with an actual motion-sensing skateboard deck. I got the chance to try out Tony's new board on the show floor, and with heavy instruction and constant coaching, I had a pretty good time.

The first mistake I made was thinking this board is similar to the Wii Balance Board. It's not. Using the Balance Board is all about shifting your weight—you move, but the Balance Board always stays in place. The Tony Hawk board is the opposite: it does not detect weight or shifts in weight, only movements of the board. All movement in Tony Hawk: RIDE is performed by shifting the board or waving your hands or feet past an infrared sensor.

The motion board is shaped and sized to replicate a skateboard deck, complete with raised ends—there are no trucks or wheels here. The infrared sensors adorn each side of the board, and the two ends. Inside the board are accelerometers, gyros, and other motion technology. (All this technology will come at a price though: about $120.)

But this is not a standard, free-roaming Tony Hawk game. The demo level was a short linear course. The goal is to follow a yellow line across an obstacle course of jumps, grinds, and quarter-pipes. To start any level, you put one foot on the board and use the other to "push" your board and gain speed. Of course, you don't really push the board anywhere: it's just a virtual push, but it feels very natural. The sensor on the side of the board detects your foot moving past. Once you get going, a switch to standard stance—one foot on either end of the board—is necessary. It took me a few tries to get this right, and a little assistance from the Activision helper next to me, but after a few tries I had it down.

As soon as you switch stance, it's time to learn how to ollie (jump), which also has a bit of a learning curve. Jumping on the Wii Balance Board is as easy as bending your knees up and down. To ollie on the Hawk board, you have to thrust the front of the board into the air, like you're doing a wheelie, and you have to do it pretty quick too. I failed at the ollie in RIDE almost as regularly as I did in my middle school skating days. When I did make it over the first jump, which was over a barrel filled with fire, I did a neat trick. Twisting the board in different ways while you're in the air triggers different tricks, though I have yet to figure out how to consistently perform any of them.

This is an ollie.

Like previous Hawk games, grinding is an act of balancing a cursor inside of a meter. This time, however, the balancing is quite literal. Grinding was very satisfying and natural. I could do it all day. Interestingly, every time I jumped onto a rail to grind, I landed in a different grind style. I wonder how easy it will be to master different types of grinds and combine them with other moves.

Grabs are also very natural. You perform them by literally grabbing the sensor areas of the board. Holding the board is a great way to increase your points and make yourself look like a virtual skating badass.

There were a couple other jumps and grind rails in the demo, but you get the basic idea. I watched some people play the only other demo, a half-pipe, but haven't had a chance to try it. To play on the half-pipe, you twist the board so instead of aiming at the TV, it sits parallel with it. Your feet are on each of the raised ends. When you hit the edge of the pipe, you make a jumping motions to perform tricks.

Everyone I watched seemed to have a difficult time with both demos. Each demo had an Activision helper on hand, equipped with a board. They demonstrated every move and played right along with attendees, often restarting demos four or five times before players finally got the hang of it. Unfortunately, those who buy it on the 360, PS3, and Wii this fall won't have an Activision employee to help them out.

Tony Hawk demonstrates the game.

RIDE has a lot of promise, and I applaud Activision for trying something new, but the board controls are still rough. Activision hopes this game will be fun for casual players and Tony Hawk alumni, but I think it will prove a little too frustrating for the non-gamers of the family. Whenever I have guests over, I bust out the Wii Balance Board and everyone is usually excited to give it a try. If I bust out Tony Hawk: RIDE it might be a solo demonstration.