Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 is a compendium of the two classic PS1 skateboarding games and it has finally been released to much acclaim and huge outpourings of nostalgic glee. Sure, we live in an age where a lot of well-loved games get a fresh coat of paint and a re-release but this is different. People really wanted this to happen and here we are.
Of course, whenever any beloved franchise is resurrected, everyone’s first thought is ‘please, please, please don’t fuck this up’ and the good news here is that Vicarious Visions, the dev studio best known for porting classic Activision franchises over to the Gameboy and DS, have done their best to stay faithful to the original games.
For those of you who don’t know, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was a genre-defining skateboarding game that saw you riding your board around a set of small, iconic locations with two main objectives: get a lot of points (by combining complicated tricks that would see you paralysed in real life) and collecting stuff (by figuring out how to get to tricky-to-reach locations on a skateboard). It sounds simple but it was a recipe for perfect gameplay that worked if you wanted to crush high scores or if you just wanted a laid back session.
What made it magical was the way that it introduced a generation of us to the world of skateboarding. The moves, the skaters, the clothing and the music were all a huge part of it but so was the way that every location in the game suddenly became a skate park. For weeks after playing it, I’d find myself looking at the outside world differently, imagining the combos and lines I could make if I had any real sense of balance (while also having no sense of self-preservation).
A couple of years later, the sequel came out and it did it the same but bigger. More moves, more skaters, more tunes. It too had perfect gameplay, somehow tweaking the original and adding just enough. These two games are what we get here and in a fairly unchanged form. It’s all very familiar and recognisable but there are differences, some good and some not as good.
On starting up the game you are offered the World Tour mode which in turn offers you a choice between playing the THPS or THPS2 campaigns (these are separate options) or doing some Free Skate shenanigans. Like any normal person, I jumped in with the former which has all the levels you remember. So I started at the beginning with the iconic Warehouse level.
It’s all there: the big drop in, the half pipe on the left, that windowed area above it, the rail on the left, the quarter-pipe at the back. Not only is it all there but the goals are the same as they ever were with the SKATE letters in their original locations and the boxes to crash through. In order to give some parity with the THPS2 levels, the original states all get a couple of extra objectives too but these are mostly in keeping with the feel of the game and don’t spoil things.
Let’s start with the bad stuff. I want to say that I fell in love with the game as soon as I pushed off and held down X to prep my first ollie but I didn’t. Sure, it was an authentic and respectful facsimile of the original game but my skater (Rodney Mullen, obviously) felt slow and heavy with the rotational speed of Dawn French on a dodge ’em car. Playing it felt almost like playing the original THPS for the first time as none of my muscle memory seemed to work. But here’s the thing: I’ve played and finished the original two games a lot over the last few years on various emulation systems, I know how they feel and they are ingrained in my thumbs.
Eventually, it started to come together but something wasn’t quite right. My street skating and rail game came back pretty quickly and I was able to grind, flip and manual my way through the various score targets the game was setting me but my vert game was for shit with most attempts on the half-pipes leading to me bailing. This was odd because using big air to build killer scores was my entire thing on THPS2 (and THPS3).
I persisted though, through each of the levels and while I was able to dispatch both campaigns in just a couple of sessions with only minor moments of difficulty (I’m looking at you Downhill Jam), it took a long time to feel right. Maybe it never did and I just got accustomed to the ‘new normal’ (copyright 2020) but certainly my vert game was never great even when I was fully statted up.
By the time I got to the second set of levels, I was certainly more dialled in and those levels seemed to suit the game engine a bit more while feeling a bit more accurate. Although they have taken out the cash pickups which means these stages are very easy to complete now and have large sections with nothing in them. All those tricky dollar bills that had you scratching your head and wondering how you’d get to them, they’ve all gone.
Another very strange decision is that once you’ve completed a goal with one skater, it stays completed for all of them. So when you’ve beaten the two campaigns with your favourite skater (or your create-a-skater), they’re done. For those of you who fondly remember beating THPS 1 and 2 with every skater, this will be very jarring. Also, they’ve opted out from increasing score targets to accommodate for us all being veterans at the game which is good because I don’t really want a load of ‘projectives’ (and I really don’t want to be playing ‘Hawkman’) but it does mean that losing that basic replayability will shorten the game’s life. However, the game does extend its life a different way.
Firstly, each skater’s stat points are hidden in different locations on the stages which gives you a reason to go back. But also, the game now has a challenge system with hundreds of challenges including thirty or so for each skater. While these give you a reason to keep playing, they exist in another menu and that’s not as much fun to navigate.
By the time I’d beaten both campaigns with Rodney Mullen, I only had five of his challenges left to do so mopping up the rest wasn’t a big deal but with my next skater (Burnquist, obviously) I’ve now got to let the challenge list dictate what I do and where I go. It’s like using a spreadsheet to lead me rather than it being up front every time I start a new stage. Of course, that only matters if you’re a completionist but if ever a pair of games were designed for completions it was these two.
The challenges do also help you earn cash and unlock things but that’s not what I’m really interested in. Do I really need to unlock twenty pairs of socks or a bunch of hats? I just want to skate and go. If I am creating a skater, I’m not bothered about them wearing the latest Vision t-shirt. It feels like catalogue shopping.
The last knock on the game comes by way of the visuals. The original games were remarkable but rough around the edges. Freely moving around a 3D space wasn’t as easy back then and that meant we had some rough textures but now everything is delivered in sharp 4k with HDR. The negatives here are that it further makes some levels feel less like they used to and eye strain was a bit of a factor especially on Venice Beach. A lot of the levels have a run down, neglected for twenty years kind of look to them too which makes things a bit more grubby and less pleasant also.
Right, that’s the bad stuff out of the way. Now with the good. Well, as we’re talking about visuals most of the stages look great, especially the THPS2 ones which really benefit from the cleaner look. School 2, New York and Mexico look especially good but even THPS1 like Downtown really benefit from the visual upgrade.
The original soundtrack is there (good) albeit bolstered by a bunch of new tracks (bad) which don’t all fit the late ’90s vibe. I guess they have to add Skepta for the kids or whatever but as long as I get to hear Cyco Vision and Police Truck, I’m happy. You can tailor the soundtrack to skip songs you don’t like, so that’s handy. I may be living in the past but Lagwagon are out of here too.
Even if the on-the-board stuff initially feels a little sluggish, eventually it gets better (of course, adding stat points helps) and before long you’re hitting all those old lines that you remember. Wrangling the d-pad to pull of five moves in the air before chaining a ridiculous amount of grinds, manuals and flip tricks still feels like some of the best stuff you can do in gaming and it all still feels so arcadey and fun. The game keeps the moves we’re used to from THPS3, which means the revert is there. However, the game’s score targets haven’t changed so it does all feel a bit too easy at times but we’ve had a heap of really difficult games in the past (I’m looking at you Project 8) and so I appreciate that this game doesn’t have to mess with slo-mo and focus nonsense to balance out million point combos and all that.
I’ve focused on a lot of negatives so far because I honestly expected to be giving this game a 10 but even in this state, it’s still a great Tony Hawk game and playing through all 19 stages with a visual upgrade is definitely worth the money. The worry now is that where I’d have happily kept playing if it meant beating the game with all the skaters, I’m far less inclined to bother with this challenge system. When I beat the game, I was up with tired eyes at 1am because it was so hard to put down but given the choice in the future I’m more likely to go back to Kingdoms of Amalur (the other game I’m reviewing right now) as that’s more engaging right now. And that’s not because I’m an RPG guy because I’m not and maybe that speaks to how this game is great but the systems around it aren’t perfect.
However, if you’re one who likes to engage with multiplayer or will get value from the park creator, then that’ll give you more reasons to play. For me I just want to beat campaigns and unlock videos and while that’s here, it’s not quite as engaging as it once was. That said, I’m wishing really hard for a THPS3 remake now and THPS 1 + 2 doesn’t mess anything up and that is enough for this to be an easy game to recommend.
+ No slo-mo nonsense
+ Looks great
+ Wisely borrows controls from THPS3
+ Seems technically solid
- Uses a grindy challenge system instead of letting you replay the campaigns with other skaters
- Feels a little heavier to control than before
- Missing cash pick ups make the THPS2 levels feel empty