Remakes are tricky. Fans are very particular about their favourite games. And it’s perhaps most difficult to produce a good remake when many years have passed since the original was actually played: that’s enough time for irritations to be forgotten and for the best-loved elements to be heightened by the passage of time and nostalgia. But it’s the age of remakes and now some 20 years after the much-loved originals appeared – Vicarious Visions and Beenox are once again taking up the mantle.
This time around, they have taken on a genre that has almost disappeared from modern consoles. And if that wasn’t enough they have combined two iconic skateboarding games Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 into one game. So does Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 (THPS) measure up? Let’s find out…
A youth of Supermen and A Race Car Driver named Jerry
Having tried the demo a few weeks ago, I was really excited to jump into the full game. I know for many this game is all about reminiscing over an ill-spent youth. Of being cool and edgy in the nineties (and 00s). Of jumping onto their board, rolling down the street and getting their first taste of youthful freedom. Of listening to angry young men and women belt out rocky electric-guitar fuelled anthems that somehow said exactly what they felt and subsequently formed the soundtrack to their young lives spent in skateparks with friends. On the other hand, as a teenager, I just somehow missed this boat. Sure, I never had the skill or coordination to remain on a real skateboard for any amount of time, but the truth is I was also just never that cool.
It’s like my brain remembers this new game before I’ve played it.
However, video games were my thing. And Tony Hawk’s games introduced a fifteen-year-old me to the world of Ollie’s, 900s and Benihanas and gave my nerdy brain an introduction to a side of things I had never really felt part of. And I kind of loved it. Although I remember that my younger brother and I had spent hours playing the first game, so much that had slipped my mind came flooding back as soon as I rolled down that first warehouse slope. And while I actually thought I had missed Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, as soon as I saw the Hangar and nosegrinded over the helicopter’s rotor blades and saw it take off and burst through the roof I knew I had definitely done that before. And that’s what THPS gets right, right from the start.
New eyes and ears
Although the game has seen a substantial visual overhaul, it somehow still looks like it did in your memory. Gone are the pixelated faces and hard edges, replaced by smooth, realistic-looking faces. Places and dimensions somehow still look familiar. The old roster of greats like Tony Hawk himself, Elissa Steamer, Bob Burnquist, Rodney Mullen (to mention just a few) have returned. And while locations look newer, the older skaters – look realistically, older – wrinkles and all. New skaters including Tyshawn Jones and Aori Nishimura all look amazing and provide a little modern look into how the sports attire has changed (or in some cases not changed) over the years.
When an old familiar electric guitar riff screams through your headphones you’ll be loving it…
Of course, the iconic soundtrack was an essential part of the original experience. Music has this uncanny ability to take us back to specific moments in our own history and thankfully, despite the licensing challenges that usually come with adding original music to remakes, most of the music you remember has returned. And while my musical tastes have definitely changed over the years, the addition of many, many new tracks and the nostalgic hit you get when an old familiar electric guitar riff screams through your headphones probably means you’ll be loving what the development team has done to keep the music (and overall musical tone) of the originals in this remake.
The same heart
There are many reasons we love the games we do. But often it’s just as simple as: “The game just feels right”. For our favourites, repeated plays mean we learn every move, jump and spin perfectly. Your muscle memory can recall this for years after you’ve played. And this is once again where THPS shines. Sure, it was fun to play HORSE with my brother or create my own skate park (And don’t worry these options are back and better than they ever were). However, I love chasing goals and watching meters and stats hit that 100% mark, and so the real joy of the originals were the 2-minute long goal-orientated rides through each level. Whether it was collecting S-K-A-T-E or the impossibly-hidden secret tape, that repetitive, addictive loop is what kept me playing the originals again and again. And THPS feels like the old one. That heart remains. I once again couldn’t get enough of the wonderful collecting loop – because it was just like I remembered it being.
Tricks are as difficult to pull off as they always were. But once you jump back in a few times, for those who have played before, your brain suddenly remembers with an almost audible ‘click’ and your fingers are flying across your controller wildly tapping at the circle, triangle and square in combination with the directional buttons in a way that only repeated plays could’ve trained them to do. It’s like my brain remembers this new game. Plus, for those that have never played the game, a wonderful tutorial section ensures you will quickly feel part of the action in no time. And there are even in-game mods (available from the Options menu at any time) to make things a little easier (eg perfect balance when grinding or endless special) which are small but nice accessibility features.
So yes, you can still grind around certain circular bowls endlessly racking up a million points. And that’s fantastic.
Another particularly interesting feature is how they’ve decided to keep some of the quirks from the originals: You’ll still be able to roll up hills in New York City or Marseilles with only one initial shove off (apparently perpetual motion is still a thing in the newer THPS world). Also, when you hit certain corners just right – you’ll get that familiar sensation as you’re quickly sent towards the other side, as if gravity has flipped for just a second. You can even jump off-screen or fall through cracks in several levels. And while that would normally signal a broken game, it’s rare enough to not irritate and has been put there on purpose. Because… that’s what happened in the original. The game will even break the fourth wall to tell you about it – I remember falling through a ramp, behind a pipe and the game respawning me with a sarcastic AI text box appearing saying something like: “Are you drunk? I think you broke the game!”. I love that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. The originals were always light skating sims that leaned heavily into a comical arcadey style. And now despite all the updates, THPS is still what it is. So yes, you can still grind around certain circular bowls endlessly racking up a million points. And that’s fantastic.
All the bells and whistles… plus more bells and more whistles
Despite all these awesome callbacks to the originals, the game goes above and beyond in creating something new as well. Sure the visuals, player roster, soundtrack and tutorial updates we’ve mentioned above are all new but what makes this such an impressive package is all the extra stuff. Not only do you have the traditional per-level goals that you would’ve seen before, but each level has new goals too. Plus, as you skate and pull higher scores you’ll also unlock additional objectives which will grant you more money and more XP. As before, the XP can be used to upgrade your skater across a variety of attributes (spin speed, manual balance etc) but these additional objectives provide so much extra content and are skater-specific. Once you complete a set of specific goals for a skater – you can then unlock special videos for the skater. Considering I spent most of my time using my own avatar I can’t even imagine how long it would take to 100% this game.
You also have all the additional cosmetic stuff – hats, shoes, enough board grips and trucks that you’ll be mixing and matching forever. These days where so much is locked behind an MTX wall this section is completely funded by in-game currency – so that’s pretty cool. And the park builder is so in-depth and detailed with new parks being uploadable – you’ll likely be seeing some pretty cool community-produced content within days. The multiplayer then takes this to yet another level. While local split-screen is back and that’s endless fun, if you have no one else to play with at home (social distancing and all that) there are now several online multiplayer game modes. You jump into a lobby, and soon (even here in SA) you’ll be competing with players from all over in short task-based competitions – like best score, highest-scoring trick etc. These are simple but a great way to mix things up.
Despite all these awesome callbacks to the originals, the game goes above and beyond in creating something new as well.
While I have very few complaints at all – I did find the user interface at times a little less user-friendly than I would’ve hoped and even some of the new additional objectives are a little hard to decipher. Plus, the character creator is a little limited – Tim in THPS looks nothing like I do – my wife was quick to point that out – apparently, I’m substantially shorter in real life. But on the whole, there’s very little to not like about this game. Sure it’s still just a skateboarding game. And sure it’s a little loud and a little nineties. But if you’re feeling nostalgic and don’t have a PlayStation One lying around (in fact even if you do) this is the near-perfect remake you should be playing. Plus, it’s a game that is so fun, even new players will easily see what the 20-year-old fuss was all about.