Here’s a truly iconic duo: rock and pop-punk tunes setting the ambience to airing huge gaps, grinding rails, lipping verts, and hitting high combos in a Tony Hawk’s game. A gaming franchise that introduced countless young people around the world to the culture of skating, street art, and underground music. Now that I’ve laid down the sole excuse for me reviewing a video game on a music website, let’s get down to business about this brilliant revitalisation of the first two Pro Skater games.
Gaming in 2020 has been defined by remakes. Whether it’s the sprawling and surprisingly bold Final Fantasy VII Remake or the Resident Evil 3: Nemesis remake (a solid update on the zombie-shooter, despite the Resi 2 remake being superior), remaster’s and re-do’s rule in MMXX. Hell, we’re even getting a Prince Of Persia: Sands Of Time remake next year. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 is no different. Built on the Unreal Engine 4, Pro Skater 1 + 2 isn’t some eyeball splitting palette for the eyes, but that was never the goal. For the core of the Pro Skater games wasn’t to push technical or visual boundaries (though the surface reflection textures are quite nice), but to provide an arcade-y, joyful skating experience that’s about pure momentum and fluid movement. Which is precisely what this game nails.
Finishing this remade pair of the first two Pro Skater entries over the last week and a bit – getting 100% on 1 and 2 at the time of writing, sinking many hours into them – they’re both a highly fun, addictive and faithful redux of the original 1999 and 2000 titles respectively. I’m confident that anyone who has played them will strongly agree when I say that the Tony Hawk franchise is back on the map, baby! This is a nostalgic yet loving reboot of the once landmark sporting game series. This is, simply put, a blast to play; a totally engaging and tightly-wound love-letter that inspired kids around the world to go out and scrape their knees whilst trying to 360 no-scope 420 bluntslide a homemade ramp and rail set-up.
Now, you might be thinking: “Alex, how hard would it be to mess up a Tony Hawk’s game, let alone a remake of its beloved origins?” Very easily, in fact! Does anyone need a reminder of the disastrous, soulless, poorly-marketed Pro Skater 5 back in 2015? That was practically the nail in the coffin for these games. Well, until now. Or what about any number of the franchise’s colossal commercial failures over the years, like Shred or Ride? Mr. Hawk, I’m sorry, but no one wanted a shitty plastic board, which didn’t work half the time, over just simply pressing a controller button and feeling like a skating legend.
Let’s be real, Tony Hawk as a video-game series hasn’t been good, let alone relevant, in well over a decade. So much so that this new remake almost feels like one big apology. Like a hard reboot, wiping clean the slate of the vile stench and gross brown stains of it’s previous pitfalls. Which is probably why I, among so many other players, are really fucking enjoying this remake. This series was bled dry for so many years, but now there’s been a healthy and generous red-blood cell donation back into its veins. It’s a complete 180, pun intended!
With the benefit of hindsight towards the controls and mechanics the series would later make strides in, infinitely larger draw distances, solid aesthetic level touch-ups, and solid lighting effects, these are the original two games y’all love and remember. Level for level, shot for shot. It’s basically the same as your childhood will recall. (Outside of missing three songs from the original soundtracks, some heavier censorship in the music, and there being no blood when you bail like a dickhead on that dope 20x multiplier combo you were racking up.) Split-screen multiplayer remains – rejoice! – alongside your usual online play. So too returns high-score and speed-run modes, as well as a free skate mode, where the social construct of time is no longer a concern as you Indy 900 until your heart’s content. Oh, and there’s game mods and cheats you can activate from the get-go. If you’re ever up for perfect lip and grind balance, or want to make your skater’s body microscopically tiny or mega giant, you know where to go when you boot this gem up. (It truly is the ’90s all over again!)
While everything is right where your brain will remember it in, Pro Skater 1 + 2 shows a strong mix of the old and new. Something that bleeds into pretty much every facet of the game. Things like spine transfers, reverts and wall plants (later called ‘sticker slap’) – all mechanics added into later games after the first two Pro Skater entries – appear here. The general feel of how your character moves and skates is also on par with the best later entries in the series – Underground 2 and American Wasteland. (Note: this is a purist return, so you can’t hop off your board, but it’s not like you ever need to.) This is all for the better, as the gameplay immediately feels responsive and instantly familiar but, most importantly, a hell of a lot fun. An easier yet smoother experience, in which muscle memory flows right back into you after a short while. Without ever being broken or clunky, as you collect S-K-A-T-E, find those pesky secret tapes, and rack up that sick score.
This goes for the levels as well. The gorgeous, sun-bathed Venice Beach and the newly refurbished Hangar stand-out so well; the former baked in a pretty oranges and pinks and the latter getting fleshed out with huge banners of other Tony Hawk games. The race-to-the-bottom classic of Downhill Jam lets you skate up-hill, so if you miss a goal, you won’t have to frantically hit retry. Similarly, on the post-apocalyptic and dilapidated new version of Mall, it’ll reset you back at the start when you reach the end, keeping all your points and accomplished goals. School I and II are also noticeably well-updated, with all of these levels filled with dozens of gaps to find and cool secrets to uncover. Yet I wasn’t particularly sold on the lavish new takes of Chopper Drop and Skate Heaven in the Pro Skater 2 portion. As they’re lacking any goals and are just glorified high-score levels, I didn’t feel much incentive to come back to them, outside of collecting the alien plushies to unlock that secret E.T. skater. (I know that’s how they were in the originals, but that final pair did nothing for me.)
Moreover, there’s the skate park custom editor, which can be fun with some imagination. I can see this mode taking off when online creatives start making gnarly, out-there custom parks. What did I make? Well, if you must know, I made a giant cock-and-ball shaped half-pipe that spanned the entire map, played it for two-minutes, before, rightfully, deleting it forever. Truly the curse of the artist.
What’s also fun is the extensive character creation options. (I never once played as the pro’s, not even Birdman himself, instead going with a custom character that I lovingly called “Big Siev”, who is now a skating demi-god with his stats maxed out.) There’s also a dizzying amount of challenges – doing X or Y trick a certain number of times, finding new areas, achieving particular goals, finding gaps, getting gold medals in the skate parks, etc. – to complete. All of which raise your profile level once claimed and earn you in-game cash, which you can splash over the surprisingly large shop purchases, all of which are purely cosmetic. And unless I jinx it, there are currently no micro-transactions. Shocking given that it’s published by the kings of greed themselves, Activision.
All of this extends to the game’s soundtrack. When you first boot up the game, you’re met with an awesome skating montage, featuring the classic cast – your Rodney Mullen’s, your Chad Muska’s, your Steve Caballero’s – and newer pro’s – including Australia’s own Shane O’Neill, Riley Hawk, and Lizzie Armanto – all doing their thing whilst set to the renegade rock of ‘Guerrilla Radio.’ It’s a statement of intent, really. Then, as the game’s menu opens up, Goldfinger’s classic pop-punk tune, ‘Superman,’ blasts out in all of it’s catchy, upbeat ska glory. The first time this happened, I felt like I was 10 again. To be blunt, I fucking loved that feeling, one of 2020’s top gaming moments for me. (Next to Abby beating the ever-loving shit out of Ellie in The Last Of Us Part Two, Cloud’s tasteful dress-up scene in FFVIIR, and the siege of Yarikawa in Ghost Of Tsushima’s second act.)
The soundtrack is a mix of older, much-loved cuts like ‘No Cigar,’ the aforementioned ‘Guerrilla Radio‘ and ‘Superman,’ as well as the ‘May 16‘ by Lagwagon, Primus‘ ‘Jerry Was A Race Car Driver,’ and Bad Religion’s ‘You‘, among other fan-favourites. Alongside the original playlist, it contains new additions to the roster, like Machine Gun Kelly (‘Bloody Valentine‘), Aussie alt-rock singer-songwriter Alex Lahey (‘Misery Guts‘), Less Than Jake (‘Bomb Drop‘) and Billy Talent (‘Afraid of Heights‘), to name a few. All of these additions suit the game’s style very well, I must admit, even if I am not a big follower of certain acts. For instance, I’m far from the biggest fan of DZ Deathrays, but whenever ‘In-To-It‘ came on, I’d loudly hum along to the distorted and fuzzy “don’t give a fuck about tomorrow morning” chorus with zero hesitation. This also applied to many of the other new songs presented in the soundtrack, showing that the people who curated this knew exactly what would work. Just like the old games, it’ll also help introduce players to a variety of artists – newer or older – that they might not have discovered otherwise. Music that is all perfectly contextualised in-game.
On top of that, as I tweeted recently, the other thing I did when I arrived at the in-game menu was to remove Powerman 5000‘s ‘When Worlds Collide‘ from the rotating playlist. I like to think I’m now living my best virtual skater life by not having to ever hear that shit as I pop huge boneless ollie’s over the speeding cars in Streets, Downtown and NY City.
One interesting parallel with this game is that with the nostalgia amongst music scenes, namely pop-punk. Think about the pop-punk albums that are heavily revered, highly-discussed and influential. I don’t have to name any because everyone reading this probably came up with multiple examples. Yet those examples likely aren’t new records; old albums from the mid or late ’90s and early-to-mid 2000’s that defined these genres. Something similar is true of the Tony Hawk games; they thrive off the coat-tails of fans’ nostalgia and love for the old days. Hence this remake. Not counting 2007’s over-the-top Downhill Jam, the last genuinely well-liked game in the series was the destructive silliness of American Wasteland 15 years ago. A time span that I’m sure some reading would agree was also the last time that pop-punk was at it’s strongest and most consistent. Though, when it’s this good of a trip, I don’t think anyone, including myself, can complain.
What I love most about this remake is that you can tell developer Vicarious Visions clearly cared about what they were doing. It’s the same thing with Bluepoint Games, who did both Shadow Of The Colossus remasters, the remaster of Gravity Rush, the Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, and who are also making the upcoming PS5 remake of Demon’s Souls – they care about what they’re honouring. (And I cannot stress enough how excited I am for that last one!) Vicarious Visions had previously done the hand-held ports of Tony Hawk’s games to the GameBoy Advance and Nintendo DS, as well as notably the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy in 2017. Now, they’ve finally been given the keys to the skateboard kingdom, and to mix my metaphors, have firmly grasped the reigns of this series and kickflipped it in a brilliant, confident direction.
It’s so painfully obvious to see that Vicarious loved the originals and wanted to do right by that legacy; titles that have dominated the sports and skating game genres; two games that are classic hits of the PS1 era. Judging by the glowing response to Pro Skater 1 + 2 thus far, it’s an easy call to make that next on the list will be a remake of Pro Skater 3 (a personal favourite), or a pairing of said highly-ranked title with Pro Skater 4. As you can probably guess, I wouldn’t be against that in the slightest!
To leave this off, the always thorough and detailed comparison YouTuber, Nick930, did an excellent video on the originals versus this new remake and I highly suggest you watch it below: