Tony Hawk landed a 900 at the age of 48. You can watch the video of it on YouTube. He doesn’t do it on the first try; he takes a lot of nasty falls and you can see the pain on his face when he pushes himself back up. At one point, the camera captures him from behind: he’s visibly upset and exhausted, hands on his knees, head down. Then he gets up, and tries again. And this time, he lands it, slides down the ramp, and throws his helmet to the ground with so much force that a piece of it flies off. The joy on his face at this moment is only equalled by his obvious exhaustion. Hawk has claimed that he will never attempt the 900 again.
Booting up Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 feels a lot like watching that video. We’re all older now. Things are a little bit harder. But I’ll be damned if these games don’t feel just as good as they did 20 years ago. If there’s one thing that these remakes prove, it’s that you can go home again. Things just might look a little different.
"The levels have been beautifully recreated while adhering closely to the geometry and layout of the originals. They’re obviously much prettier, having been stuffed with detailed textures, improved lighting, and some fantastic art, but Vicarious Visions has nailed the fine balance between keeping the original feel of the levels intact while updating them for a modern audience."
As the name implies, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 is a remake of the first two games in the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series and another entry in Activision’s long legacy of selling its back catalog back to us. This is their third attempt with these titles, having first done it in 2001 with Tony Hawk’s 2X on the Xbox and again with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD in 2012. The long and short of this is Activision has tried this before and their incessant milking of the Tony Hawk fanchise is what killed it the first time. I don’t blame anyone for looking at this release skeptically. But this is the first time in years that Activision has gotten Pro Skater right. Credit for that goes to Vicarious Visions, the developer behind this remaster, who knew that to change – and more importantly, what to leave intact.
The changes are the most obvious. All of the character models have been rebuilt from the ground up and several new faces have joined the lineup. The returning skaters look they do now rather than how they did in 1999, and it’s a smart touch, while the game’s opening cinematic does a good job of establishing the skateboarding superstars of today alongside the returning legends. Nothing about it feels out of place; instead, Pro Skater feels like a celebration, blending both past and present into a unified whole.
The other immediate change is the levels. They’ve been beautifully recreated while adhering closely to the geometry and layout of the originals. They’re obviously much prettier, having been stuffed with detailed textures, improved lighting, and some fantastic art, but Vicarious Visions has nailed the fine balance between keeping the original feel of the levels intact while updating them for a modern audience. Some of the visual changes are especially appreciated: Mall is an abandoned ghost town that looks like its been recently flooded, while Hangar has become a shrine to original developer Neversoft and the Tony Hawk games of the past. Even School has seen an update, featuring a billboard that directly acknowledges our coronavirus-fueled reality. It’s impossible to overstate how much Pro Skater 1+2 benefit from these visual updates. The characters look themselves and the added visual fidelity helps sell the environments that you’re moving through.
"The games play the same as you remember them. You select a level and get two minutes to complete its various challenges,"
What hasn’t changed is how the game plays. The default controls are closer to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 and 4 than the original games, although you can toggle the original controls from either 1 or 2 back on if you’re looking for a classic experience that doesn’t include things like reverts, wall plants or manuals. Beyond that, however, the games play the same as you remember them. You select a level and get two minutes to complete its various challenges, which range from score requirements that get progressively higher or hitting a score requirement in a single combo to finding collectibles or doing specific tricks in certain areas. Mastering a level means learning how to move it in the best possible way, and it will take some trial and error. That’s fine, because these levels are designed to be replayed and they’re so excellent that you’ll want to even if you don’t have anymore challenges that need doing.
Veterans of these games will likely blow through these challenges in a couple days. This is a faithful remake, so everything is exactly where you remember it, though Vicarious Visions had added challenges to the levels in Pro Skater 1 to bring them in line with the longer lists from Pro Skater 2. They add some welcome wrinkles to these older levels, and the universal hub means that you can switch between each game’s levels whenever you’re looking for a change of pace. By far the biggest content boost can be traced to the enormous list of overarching challenges that can be completed in any of the levels. These tie into a leveling system that earns you unique decks, as well as cash that can be spent in the game’s store. If you’re worried about microtransactions, don’t be. There aren’t any. You can unlock everything you see by just playing the game and the sheer amount of challenges mean that you’re always unlocking something, whether you mean to be or not.
That said, these aren’t easy games, especially if you’re new or rusty. If things get a bit too hectic, you can always flip on cheats that provide perfect balance, prevent you from bailing, or offer infinite special meter. Purists might scoff at these options, but as someone who hasn’t played a Tony Hawk game in a decade, I found them an invaluable help as I relearned the game. The only thing more ‘90s than these cheats are the soundtrack. Activision has managed to bring back almost every tune from the original games and Vicarious Visions has augmented the original soundtrack with several new picks. All told, the new soundtrack is double that of the ones that appeared in the original games. Vicarious Visions has done a good job here, ensuring you can still find (almost) all the classics while introducing new tunes that will be rocking your playlist for years.
"Create-A-Park is an exceptionally robust creative mode that gives you access to about everything you could want to make your own skate park."
If you get tired of the Skate Tour, you can also go into Free Skate, which unlocks all of the levels from the get-go and additional ranked challenges. If you’re still not satisfied, you can head to Create-A-Park, where you can make your own maps and share them online. It’s an exceptionally robust creative mode that gives you access to about everything you could want to make your own skate park. Vicarious Visions has already uploaded several of their own levels, and the community is doing fine work, too. Best of all, if you find a park you like, you can download it and make your own tweaked version. If there’s a downfall here, it’s that some customization options are locked in the game’s store, and you’ll need to be certain levels to purchase them. Otherwise, it’s pretty much perfect.
The game’s multiplayer supports local and online play, as well as casual Skate Jams and competitive ranked matches. There are a variety of modes, from score attack to best combo to HORSE. In one, you mark your territory with graffiti by performing tricks on certain objects. You can take something an opponent has marked, too – provided you can land a higher score. The multiplayer modes add a lot of replayability to the game, but however you decide to spend your time, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 has a lot to keep you occupied for a long, long time.
The sad fact is that the first two Tony Hawk games could not be made today. There’s no story mode, overarching narrative, or segments where you character gets off the skateboard. It’s not the kind of game that supports a live service model. There’s no good way to add a season pass to it, no way for constant revenue by selling skins and other cosmetics. Activision learned that years ago, as yearly release after yearly release diluted what made the series special and ultimately ran it into the ground.
"These games feel more like arcade releases than modern triple-A games. The appeal lies in the perfection of a single run, the mastery over an environment, in achieving the highest score and executing the best combo. "
These games feel more like arcade releases than modern triple-A games. The appeal isn’t in some narrative about a sad dad who regains some portion of his humanity by running around with a child, a boundless open world, or an endless stream of content. It’s in the perfection of a single run, the mastery over an environment, in achieving the highest score and executing the best combo. It feels like a self-contained thing, and in an era where almost every game is designed to keep you playing forever so it can wring as much money out of you as possible, that’s a pretty special thing to be. The fact that it embodies the punk rock nature of skateboarding itself is just a bonus.
Playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 brought me back to my afternoons skateboarding around in the endless summer trying to nail a kickflip, or passing around a controller at a friend’s house as we all competed for the high score on his memory card. Everything I loved about those days – about these games – is still here. It just looks and sounds a lot better. Like Tony Hawk, we’re all a little older. These levels are old friends now, not new acquaintances. But like The Birdman himself, what here’s still holds up, and landing a 900 feels just as incredible as ever.
This game was reviewed on PS4.
Beautifully remastered levels and characters. Incredible art design. The levels are timeless. Create-A-Park is fantastic. Free Play lets you tackle any level. Lots of challenges to unlock. Cheats make things easier to learn. Detailed tutorial mode. Tons of multiplayer modes. In-depth character customization.
The learning curve can be a bit steep. You have to buy things for Create-A-Park.
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