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Through the generations, titles representing “extreme” sports have come and gone but few had the impact of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. While titles like Skate or Die and 720 certainly gained notoriety among the skateboarding faithful in the arcade and early console generations, it was Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater that not only re-defined what a skateboarding game could represent, but it became an outright phenomenon in the industry.
Released in 1999 for the PlayStation and 2000 for the Nintendo 64 and Sega Dreamcast, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater quickly became one of the best-selling titles in the industry and turned pro skaters into household names. Capitalizing on the success of the new IP, Neversoft and Activision worked to quickly release THPS2 the following year to even greater critical acclaim and to this day, it remains one of the highest reviewed games of all-time.
As tends to happen though, over time the IP became over-saturated, developers changed, and quality suffered. Skate picked up the torch for some time but simply put, it’s been a very long time since we’ve had a big-budget, quality skateboarding title. Fortunately, I have good news for you. The wait is over.
On paper, the combination remake of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 sounds like a dream come true. It’s a top to bottom remake that retains nearly all of the content of the two games. Tony Hawk is involved again. Development staff from the original Neversoft and Vicarious Visions teams worked on the title. The majority of the songs from the original soundtracks are present and accounted for. Full online multiplayer including custom landscapes would be added. I mean you can’t ask for a whole lot more of a game that’s originally 21 years old. But what’s most surprising, is that it delivers on all of the promises and then some.
First and foremost, the original roster of pros returns including Buddy Lasek, Chad Muska, Kareem Cambell and more (and of course Hawk himself). Joining the originals is a new roster of pros from the current era including Riley Hawk, Tony’s son. Altogether it gives you 21 different pros to choose from with different stances, styles, and flair. But if you’re like me, then part of the charm is creating your own skater head to toe. The game gives you ample options to do just that, even down to area specific tattoos and face paint should you choose. And creating your appearance is only the beginning as the game is loaded with fully licensed options for decks and apparel from nearly all of the brands you would expect including the ones from original game’s era. In fact, even early on I was able to customize a classic Santa Cruz deck which is the exact same model I had when I was 9 years old. Nostalgia is a hell of a drug.
As already noted, this is a remake of both THPS 1 and 2 which is handled seamlessly for the player. The content from both titles is merged into a single package here and while you can choose levels from each individually, you can ollie between them at will (I couldn’t resist). The levels and challenges in each game are introduced in a similar fashion and your entire profile, skill point setup, customization, etc…are all singular. Put simply, it’s a brilliant execution that allows the player to experience all of the amazing content from both games while having a more modern approach to profile progression.
One of the most important questions that is asked when a remake or remaster is introduced is “What have the developers truly done to update the title?“. In the case of this package, they’ve left nothing on the table. The visual improvement is staggering and could easily pass for a brand new, current generation title. Far more than a simple resolution increase, texture quality is quite high, animations are fluid, and HDR is even present. And even on the largest levels during fast moving, high combo tricks, I never saw any framerate hiccups. A title like this requires precise control so it was imperative that Vicarious Visions and Beenox nailed those aspects and fortunately they have. If you’re curious for more detail, I highly recommend watching Digital Foundry’s analysis on the game.
Another excellent aspect of this collection is its depth; both mechanically and in terms of content. Let me be perfectly frank. Picking up the digital board again has proved to be a larger challenge than I anticipated. While my head was filled with memories of nailing thirty trick combos worth hundreds of thousands points, the reality upon jumping back on the board was far less impressive. However, that’s one of the many aspects of the title I find magnificent. Intuitive, responsive controls mean that when I crash and burn I have nobody to blame but myself. And thus, the skill gap between players is present and accounted for. And then, so is the sense of accomplishment when you finally pull off that trick or combo you’ve been working at. The game can be challenging, but fantastically rewarding.
With regard to content, you not only get all of the levels and tasks within each, there’s also a new profile “challenge” system that rewards you with cash and experience for every one you overcome. Unlocking them while playing initiates the equivalent of an in-game achievement which is both intoxicating and keeps you working towards more. Oh, and there’s 714 of them in total. Along with cash and experience, some will unlock new equipment and rare cosmetics for your profile and/or character as well, including the pros’ real-life sponsored decks.
Now, we can’t discuss Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater without talking about the soundtrack. When it comes to licensed soundtracks, THPS set the standard and if we’re being frank, I’m not sure any other title has matched it since. While this remake doesn’t bring forward 100% of the tracks from the original games, it does a great job in bringing over 20 classics back such as Guerilla Radio, When Worlds Collide, and of course Superman. In addition, over 30 new tracks have been added resulting in a soundtrack consisting of over 50 licensed tracks (you can find the full playlist on Spotify here). And the cherry on top? At any time in the menu or while playing, you can simply skip to the next track by clicking in the right thumbstick. Brilliant.
While I know I’ve been raving so far, I haven’t even touched on the multiplayer or custom park building yet. Full online multiplayer is available here for up to eight players with a mix of game modes such as higher total score, higher combo score, graffiti tagging, and more. You can jump right in via one of two quickplay playlists. The core playlist is a mix of modes with random players. The second is for truly competitive players who want to face tougher challenges. Also, there is the option for local, split-screen which is definitely welcome. My experience to date, even on launch day, has been positive. I’ve had no issues getting into games, with connectivity, nor with latency. My only wish would be for more options within multiplayer such as the ability to search for specific modes or locations.
Likely more impressive however, is the custom park building. Using a wide range of components you can build something simple, the park of your dreams, or something truly ridiculous. The park editor seems rather intuitive as well with pieces snapping to each other and generally making it easy to create something rather quickly. These creations can be shared online with the community as well and they are curated in an online browser. Thus at any time, you’ll have new, interesting locations to skate and challenge your friends on. It’s this implementation that will keep players playing for months and even years to come.
If it feels as though I’ve been solely complimentary towards Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 & 2, well you’d be accurate. As I reflect on my time with the game to date, I truly struggle to think of anything significant I’d want done differently. It has landed all of the tricks I expect in a full remake and it’s done so while also improving dated aspects, and adding features I didn’t even know I wanted. It successfully captures the essence of the original games and time period, while also being an incredible stand-alone title in 2020. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 & 2 is one of the greatest remakes we’ve seen this generation. And it’s worth noting, it does all of this for $39.99. Now excuse me while I get back to breaking my limbs.