The name “Tony Hawk” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For some, he’s a skateboarding icon famous for “the 900” and other impressive feats performed during his long career, but for many others, he’s just as well known as the face of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater — games that not only introduced a lot of people to skateboarding, but were just plain fun. They were packed full of arcade-inspired action, infectious soundtracks, and were pretty revolutionary for the time; the second one shipped a fully-featured level editor. That’s a pretty big deal for a PlayStation game in the year 2000.
Over time, the series seemed to have lost its luster. The first two games in the series are considered to be among the best games of all time, while one of its more recent releases — 2015’s Pro Skater 5, is ranked among the worst. Following its release, Robomondo, who had been at the helm of the franchise for the past eight years, closed their doors, and the licensing deal between Tony Hawk and publisher Activision had expired, raising questions for the future as the series descended into a five year hiatus.
From the darkness emerged a light in the form of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 — once again published by Activision, and developed by Vicarious Visions, known for their past work on the Tony Hawk’s franchise. The game boasts itself as a remaster on its boxart, but it’s being too modest. Rather, it’s a reimagining of these titles that seeks to answer the question: “What if we made these games in 2020?” and I think I really like the answer.
What Is It?
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 is exactly what it sounds like — a combined remake of the first two games in the series. Obviously, you’re skateboarding, generally trying to rack up as many points as you can through your impressive catalog of tricks as you fill a special meter, allowing you to perform special moves to further increase your high score. Other times, you’ll find yourself tasked with other goals, like finding collectibles. As you play, you’ll gradually level up and earn cash which you can use to buy new gear for your skaters as well as structures to use in your own custom skate park.
Perhaps the most immediate difference between the original and this remake are the graphics. Every level makes a return, beautifully realized on modern hardware. A side-by-side comparison of the warehouse from Pro Skater and this game tells a story of just how far technology has come in the past 20 years. In addition to a prettier coat of paint, the gameplay sees some changes that include innovations and elements introduced in later games in the series.
Why Should I Care?
Licensed sports titles have a tendency to focus on realism, with each annual entry boasting advancements in technology that allow the game to become more true-to-life in some way, shape or form. But this doesn’t always necessarily translate into fun. Fortunately, this licensed sports game isn’t at all concerned with being a simulator, evident by the game’s first level. In an abandoned warehouse, we control Tony Hawk as he bursts through a wooden wall before getting mad air, breaking open boxes, and collecting letters that spell out the word “skate”.
Your goals are typically divided between achieving a certain score, finding collectibles, and performing specific tricks on certain pieces of the environment. Each level has roughly the same goals, but I never thought it felt repetitive, in large part due to how well designed these levels are. Some are quite open and call for quite a bit of exploration if you want to knock them out, while others are more linear. Regardless of their nature, they’re all a lot of fun to shred it up in.
Maneuvering your way around these levels feels great thanks to the game’s easy-to-pick-up controls. Forward movement is automatic, and you have one face button for each of your main four skateboarding techniques, making cruising, pulling off jumps, and performing tricks a breeze. But if you want to go for a large high-score, like the game challenges you to do so often, it’s going to take some practice.
The game’s tutorial opens with a quote from Tony Hawk himself — “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater can take some time to master. Just like real life skateboarding, it takes practice, so if you fall, try again.” The skill ceiling here is in the clouds, and progressing towards it can be a pretty satisfying experience, especially for the hardcore fans. I genuinely felt as if I learned something new about the game with each run; whether it was learning the limitations of a midair trick, or crafting a route via trial and error, I felt rewarded even when I failed, because now that I knew what didn’t work, I could try to see if something else might work.
But it’s easy to see how this could be a turn-off to some players. Fortunately, Pro Skater 1+2 has mods to help even the playing field. They’re effectively difficulty modifiers that allow you to fine-tune your experience, which are always welcome additions to a game, especially one rooted in 20-year-old game design. Having trouble balancing while grinding? Tired of bailing all the time? There are mods for that. Same goes for manual balancing, and there’s even one to keep your special meter maxed out all the time. Pro Skater 1+2 can be pretty difficult, especially if you’re trying to 100% it, but it’s nice to see Vicarious Visions make these additions that allow everyone to feel like a superman, regardless of their skill.
But that’s not the only thing the game lets you customize. Pro Skater 1+2 offers a variety of real life skaters to choose from here, and the cast does a great job of showcasing diversity in the skating scene, especially when compared to the cast of the original titles. Each skater features a few different outfits, but outside of their boards, there isn’t much else in regard to customization. That’s why I preferred to use my own custom skater, who can be outfitted with a plethora of clothes, tattoos, and boards, some of which you might have to purchase, but only with fake in-game money; there’s no premium currency to be found here, and in the day and age we live in, this feels like a nice breath of fresh air.
The game’s Create-A-Park mode offers a lot of room for your creativity to shine through. Placing half-pipes, rails, and other structures along the map is near effortless, and the auto-locking between structures ensures that you’re never spending too much time making sure everything lines up. Certain structures allow you to stretch and morph their dimensions however you want, which can give rise to some truly wacky park designs. If you’re lacking in inspiration, you can even check out what parks others have built. Unfortunately, as dynamically designed as some of these parks are, they can feel rather barren. There’s no option to put park goals in them, and they can only be played either solo, or with a friend via local split-screen. There is no option to join up with friends in a custom park due to the game’s lack of private matches.
The game’s online public multiplayer is surprisingly seamless. Finding and starting a game is a quick and easy process, and once you’re in a lobby, you’re cycled through a list of multiple game types that move quickly from one to the next. It works well, but the experience is brought down by some very evident balancing issues. While there is a dedicated competitive playlist, it doesn’t seem to even the odds whatsoever in the game’s only other online playlist. Several game types challenge players to be the first to reach a certain score, and I’ve witnessed these matches end swiftly as the leader pulls off combos well exceeding the target score within literal seconds of a match starting. For as much joy as the single-player component of Pro Skater 1+2 gave me, its online component feels half-baked, and is a hard-to-ignore black mark on an otherwise remarkable package.
What Makes it Worth My Time and Money?
Rising to the ranks of prolific remakes such as Resident Evil 2 and Final Fantasy VII Remake, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 is yet another title that sets a high standard for what remakes can be. It caters to the nostalgic audience its already built, while also offering something to newcomers, and even players that normally might be intimidated by these kinds of games. Even with an underwhelming online component, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 still gave me a lot of joy, and in the year 2020, that isn’t something I’m going to take for granted.
If you’re in the mood for old-school, arcade-y fun, then for $39.99, I’d have a hard time not recommending Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2. You get fully remade, definitive versions of two iconic video-games with all sorts of new additions. It truly feels like a AAA value for a budget price. The THPS series may be one that’s getting older all the time, but if this latest outing by Vicarious Visions is any indicator, then just like the Birdman himself, age hasn’t slowed it down one bit.