The first handful of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games left a mark on culture that you just don’t see from video games very often.
People of a certain age probably know at least one person who took up skating in the late ’90s and early 2000s because of those games. Those who didn’t at least developed a lifelong appreciation for Goldfinger’s “Superman” thanks to its inclusion on the first game’s soundtrack. Sadly, a brutal dedication to releasing new entries annually eventually wore the series down into a mess of failed innovations and broken dreams before 2015’s nightmarish Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 all but killed it.
But THPS will never die. Tony Hawk himself won’t allow it. Developer Vicarious Visions (of the excellent recent Crash Bandicoot remakes) has awoken the beast, given it a brand new coat of paint, and ultimately proven that this franchise is as ageless in the right hands as its namesake with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
In the immortal words of Tom Morello, what better place than here, what better time than now?
To give you an idea of just how badly publisher Activision mismanaged THPS over the years, this isn’t even the first remake of the initial two games in the series. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD arrived with good intentions in 2012, but incorrect physics and missing features made it something of a black sheep in the eyes of fans.
The new remake is rebuilt with all of the original levels and most of the original skaters present and accounted for, all in gorgeous 4K. If you’re worried about the music, I have great news: A majority of the old soundtrack has returned, too, as Goldfinger, Rage Against the Machine, Naughty by Nature, and other artists have lent their decades-old earworms to the remake.
On top of that, Vicarious Visions made some necessary additions to bridge the 20-year gap between then and now. A refreshingly diverse set of younger skaters like Nyjah Huston, Aori Nishimura, and Leo Baker graced the game with their likenesses. Additionally, nearly 40 additional songs from artists both old and new add some flair to the proceedings.
Infusing the remake with skaters and musical acts who may not have even been born when the games first came out was a slight risk that paid off beautifully. A major theme of this remake is that, despite the age of its source material, it never feels old. Vicarious Visions could’ve stuck to a myopic vision of late ’90s skater culture, but times have changed. There are new faces, new sounds, and even renamed tricks, but the spirit is still fully intact.
Thankfully, so is the gameplay.
Old dog, new tricks
If you aren’t familiar with the traditional flow of single-player THPS, let me lay it out for you: Choose a skater, choose a level, and attempt to accomplish all of its goals in a series of two-minute runs. Each of the game’s 19 levels has numerous objectives to complete in the campaign progression, which can range from achieving a high score to collecting graffiti spray cans and wrecking cop cars.
You don’t need to complete every goal in two minutes, which is the point. It’s one of the most genius design choices in video game history, and it’s unchanged here. You never feel like you have enough time, which keeps you coming back for more. Vicarious Visions also absolutely nailed one of the most important aspects of classic THPS design, which is that there’s almost no load time when you want to retry a level. Just like real skating, when you fail, the only thing to do is get right back up and try again.
Complete enough goals and you’ll unlock the next level in the campaign. This remake smartly adds some new objectives that weren’t present in the original games, which gives players more to do and more ways to move on since progress is tied to the number of goals you clear. If you’re having trouble with two or three goals in a stage, you don’t have to do them to progress. There are also stat points littered throughout each level that you can use to upgrade your skater’s grinding balance, air hangtime, and more if you’re having a hard time landing tricks.
Of course, none of that would matter if it didn’t feel like the old games. I’m thrilled to report that the latest remake feels right. The controls are exactly the same, and things like speed, jump height, and trick landing all work just the same as they did in my 20-year-old memories, unlike the last remake. For a series veteran like me, it was like riding a bike. I haven’t played a THPS game in almost a decade and I was pulling off sick combos like it was 2001 again.
I’m excited for younger players to finally experience the THPS flow state that fans are intimately familiar with. Once you hit the point where you can effortlessly execute combos that incorporate grinds, manuals, and aerial tricks, there’s nothing else like it in gaming. It’s a pure, ecstatic rush that aced the test of time. I apologize in advance for the Downhill Jam level from the first game, however. It was bad then and it’s bad now.
It’s worth noting that this remake includes some important moves from more recent THPS games that weren’t present back in the day. For example, the critical revert move (activated by pressing the right trigger as you land) from THPS3 is here, giving players a way to extend combos after a massive halfpipe jump. You can turn those off though if you want a pure experience. Newcomers can also toggle a number of assists in the options menu, such as perfect grinding and no bails. There’s also a pretty in-depth tutorial if you feel lost.
Vicarious Visions packaged some modern trappings into this old game, adding an account-wide leveling system. You’ll earn XP and cash from completing more than 700 achievement-like challenges. These are as simple as buying a deck in the shop and as complex as landing high-scoring combos using specifics tricks with specific skaters. All of that feeds into a new skate shop where you can unlock and buy cosmetic items to customize your decks, skaters, and created parks. More on that in a second.
Thankfully, there’s no way to pump real money into the game. I was flush with in-game cash after a couple days of playing. Put down your pitchforks.
You also get robust skater and park creators that build upon what was in some of the later THPS games. For skaters, you get a good number of preset faces that you can then tweak with options like skin tone, eye color, tattoos, and makeup. Even without a deep system of sliders to mess around with, it’s a solid character creator. The game is also full of branded clothing and decks, including a black Adidas tracksuit that is exactly like one I own. I had to use that, of course. The tracksuit lifestyle requires commitment.
The new park creator (a feature notably absent from the 2012 remake) might be the secret star of the show. It’s similar to old offerings, with pre-made parts arranged in blocks that you can set down however you wish, with controls that let you tweak rotation and elevation. The addition of “smart” parts that you can edit on the fly, such as rails that you can bend however you want, is astoundingly cool. Best of all, you can check out parks other people have made and share your own. It’s only a slight exaggeration to call this a dream come true for longtime fans.
That said, it’s a little bit of a bummer that some parts for the park creator are locked in the skate shop. If you want everything, you’ll have to play for hours and hours, completing challenges to level up and buy parts. I don’t have a problem with hiding costumes or secret characters behind the leveling system, but putting park creator parts behind that wall might stifle creativity for those who like to build more than skate.
Before moving on, I’ll mention that there’s a full suite of local and online multiplayer modes that are all pulled from older THPS games. You can compete with other players in casual or ranked playlists with score challenges, the classic graffiti competition where parts of the level are painted your color if you score on them, and a handful of other modes.
Sticking the landing
For myself and anyone else who had the pleasure of experiencing the series in its prime, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater is more than just a fun video game. It was a cultural moment in its own time, one that introduced countless kids to people like Bob Burnquist and too many great songs to list. Bringing this beaten down series out of hibernation and making it work for folks like me as well as for a new generation must have been an incredible burden.
With that context, what Vicarious Visions has done here is one of the great feel-good gaming stories of 2020. No doubt, this year has taken its toll on all of us. It is but a minor reprieve from unprecedented levels of collective pain to be able to revisit these virtual skate parks, but it’s one I welcome regardless.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2‘s most impressive achievement isn’t just bringing back something old, though. It would’ve been easy to polish up grandpa’s skateboarding game and put it out for $40 as a hollow appeal to nostalgia. All of the new enhancements, from fresh young skaters to fully appropriate new music, form a genuine fountain of youth for the franchise that open worlds and motion controls never could. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 doesn’t have to pretend it’s a Superman. It’s already there.