Ask any ex-skater in their mid 20s to mid 30s why they picked up that particular hobby and it’s probably nothing to do with counter-culture, appreciation for concrete architecture or a love of really big trainers. It’s because of the enormous impact that the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series had on that particular generation. A franchise so huge it not only popularised skateboarding again, but tangentially dragged punk into the mainstream.
The series eventually lost steam, or push-power, with the latest main instalment Pro Skater 5 being met with little but derision and a cold shoulder. But never underestimate the power of millennials with disposable income and nostalgia. Enter these remasters of the original two Pro Skater games. An inevitability in the current era, where known-names are a safe bet for racking up capital in continually uncertain financial times, this was announced to huge interest in May.
So, here comes a shiny remaster of the first two entries in that groundbreaking franchise. Can Tony Hawk 1 + 2 still hang 20 years on, or is it too going to flounder and fall before the end of the driveway?
Note; there seems to be split opinion on whether these are a remake, or remaster. I’ve used both within this review. I’m just a man, don’t start.
Well, it’s still a huge amount of fun. Being dropped into the warehouse for the first time in these remasters saw everything come flooding back almost instantly. This actually proved an issue to begin with, as the last time I had played was clearly with a very levelled-up character, and my new unlevelled avatar didn’t appreciate my attempts to launch 720 hard-flips right off the bat.
Going into the mechanics of the Pro Skater series feels a bit like teaching your mate’s older brother to ollie; a wilfully unrealistic and almost cartoony skateboarding sim where you’re given a small area, often a skatepark but equally likely to be some recognised skate spot from a major city. Armed with a customisable set of flip, grab and ground tricks, which can be combined together to up scores, you set about to mainly hit high scores, but also grab various collectibles.
The experience of rushing through each area and throwing combos together, flying over huge gaps and scraping down rails is exhilarating. The sheer arsenal of possible manoeuvres in each level makes the spaces feel much larger than they are, as there are a million ways to approach each object. You can determine routes through levels to rack up the most points and hit the biggest gaps and rails, or just bumble around having fun and wall-planting. These new releases include all the additional moves that were added up to the third instalment, so you can now play the original game with reverts, wall rides and more. It’s mastering all of these that gives the experience a poetic flow; it’s one thing to find the nearest vert ramp and throw in as many spins as you can, but pulling that together with manuals, technical ground-tricks, reverts, wall-plants and more make this the defining moment in skating games. This remake has nailed the feel of the originals like a sweet 50/50 grind.
One impressive addition here, one of many added by Vicarious Visions who have proved themselves a solid hand with this much-anticipated remake, is the ability to flick between the two games at will. Stuck on Downhill Jam from THPS1? Skip over to THPS2, grab some stat points and level up, then head back and try again.
Visually, things are waxed and polished like a well-ground curb. Based on the earlier HD remakes (this being the third outing for Pro Skater), a slick 60fps adds a lot to some of the more intricate tricks available, yet the flow and movement of the game is instantly recognisable. The distinct crouching and posing during tricks of the skaters is improved yet familiar at the same time, and the environments are more detailed than ever. You get the full gamut of courses from the two original games, with bonus levels, as well as the option to create your own. The levels that offer a clear run from start to end, such as the mall or the downhill jam, tend to suit the game better rather than having you looping in circles looking for collectibles. In addition there’s the hidden areas, which usually don’t offer much new but are on occasion fiendishly difficult to unlock (School 2, I’m looking at you).
This re-release isn’t just a straight-up polish, though. New skaters are here to bolster the original roster, who nicely all appear in their current state (albeit with ridiculous exaggerated skills still in place). As before, competing the game with a skater earns you an all too short compilation of some of their real life skate antics. Amongst the new competitors are Riley Hawk, who is unsurprisingly the son of Big Tony, albeit favours street skating as opposed to his 900-landing daddy. Noticeable by omission is probably the most famous skater in the world right now, Sky Brown, although perhaps if this remake does plenty well (as it already has) we’ll see her in a sequel someday.
What you’ll notice is that everything feels more synchronised and real, while still being very arcade-like. The sound design makes a huge improvement to this; polyurethane wheels on concrete and wood, trainers scraping grip-tape and decks sliding across a steel rail all make a huge contribution to putting you back into that world.
Of course, on the subject of sounds, the soundtrack that introduced a generation of nerds to punk is back. In addition to stone cold classics from Rage Against The Machine and The Dead Kennedys, I’m afraid that now you will also have to put up with Machine Gun Kelly. Indeed, hitting the skip track button when you hear Kelly pop on while in the middle of a combo should be rewarded with some sort of extra multiplier, but sadly isn’t. It’s not even the one good song he has, it’s some awful pantomime-goth dirge that would have The Misfits spinning in their hypothetical graves.
But it’s not all Machine Gun Kelly lurking in an otherwise stellar soundtrack like a turd in a trifle. Admittedly, some of the new additions aren’t quite as genre-defining as Guerilla Radio, which also soundtracks the game’s live-action introduction, or the excellent Superman by the otherwise mediocre Goldfinger. For every Billy Talent, A Tribe Called Quest or The Ataris banger, you’ll also get three or four pretty forgettable slices of new(er) music, but with over thirty new songs in total there’s plenty to get through at least. It’s a shame all the best words are censored, but even punk has to be polite to make that legit cash.
The format of the Pro Skater game is still hugely addictive and rewarding. The checklist method of presenting tasks, combined with each run taking a couple of minutes, is the perfect storm for that “just one more try” feeling when the counter has ticked down. Each area features a set of high scores to hit, which increase incrementally as you progress through levels, as well as what really amount to fetch quests in a small environment; finding the letters to spell out ‘skate’ (or stop at ‘skat’ if that’s what you’re about), locating a hidden skate tape, picking up a series of themed objects and clearing certain air or grind gaps.
The create your own skate park feature is perhaps more of a token add-on than of any interest. Pick some of the most popular custom levels from the community and you’ll find them often gimmicky and fairly devoid of anything to keep you there longer than a couple of minutes. I made a couple of my own, but creating something worth visiting felt like a huge task with limited options. There’s a reason design studios hire experienced people to do this sort of thing, you know.
My final qualm with this remake, however, lies in something that could likely be very easily changed, but for some reason wasn’t. Once you complete all the challenges across every level with your chosen first skater, the challenges remain completed once you pick another boarder to do battle with. You can go into the levels and grab the stat points to level up each competitor, by all means, but it feels hollow and with next to no replayability in doing so. This feels like a real miss to me; I would have happily ploughed more hours into re-doing tasks and competitions with the huge array of other options, but this feels like a huge waste of having so many skaters to choose from. The sheer number of skater-specific challenges are sort of a double-edged sword, here. On one hand they do indeed add that depth and pull to bring you back to replaying levels so you can nail that Muska Manual or what have you, but the volume of them also seems fairly overwhelming considering the brief time it takes you to fly through each tour.
Okay, I lied about it being the final qualm. The only other issue with this remaster is perhaps an issue with the concept of remasters in general, rather than this specific one. Either way, remasters (but not so much full remakes) are something of an Austin Powers issue. This is something that was brought into and defined an older era of gaming, thrown into a much more advanced world where things have moved on considerably, and games like Skate, or even Proving Grounds, one of the many forgotten entries to the Pro Skater series, provide a more technical and realistic portrayal of skateboarding. Obviously, this is a remake so it is what it is and it’d be silly to expect anything more than the arcade-like silliness we grew accustomed to while barreling around to Public Enemy, but it still feels a little dated mechanics-wise when put into a shimmering new form.