Shaun Munro reviews Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2…
The commodification of nostalgia has and probably always will be lucrative, but in recent years it’s taken on an altogether more cynical tenor across entertainment media. In the gaming sphere this has materialised in the form of soulless, dubiously-motivated remakes and remasters largely attempting to sell players’ childhoods back to them at a premium cost without the effort to justify said expense.
But Vicarious Visions, who did such a splendid job with Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy a few years ago, have now lent the glossy, comprehensive remake treatment to another beloved franchise; Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.
The improbably successful sports series occupies a distinct place in pop-culture, an unassailable staple of the new millennium, with the original title releasing in September 1999 and kick-starting a run of successful sequels and spin-offs in the years that followed.
But just as extreme sports and nu metal fell out of favour with the mainstream years later, so too did Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, its downfall exacerbated by the series’ increasing, desperate reliance on peripherals and gimmicks, before fully sputtering out with 2015’s embarrassingly awful Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5.
This remake of the first two games in the franchise, then, represents a chance at penance for a property so many hold dear, and it’s a beaming pleasure to report that Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 is so much more than a bare-bones rush-job literally skating by on empty-calorie nostalgia.
But to be clear, this is absolutely a game which keenly exploits the dopamine burst of joy players will feel as they skate around these familiar sandbox locales which defined so much of their gaming childhoods. The moment that Papa Roach’s “Blood Brothers” blared out as I grinded a rail on the first game’s opening Warehouse level, I was eating out of its palm, transfixed with glee and a peculiar, unexpected wistfulness; a longing, perhaps, for the simplicity of youth.
Yet this dual-remake doesn’t merely coast on our dew-eyed memories of years gone by; this is a remake which traces over the lines of the note-perfect original in a shinier shade while adding in a few nifty quality-of-life upgrades.
After sitting through a wonderful new Rage Against the Machine-scored intro which splices in contemporary footage of the focal skaters – who, in a canny touch, appear in the game at their current ages – it’s immediately striking just how comprehensive of a glow-up this is from its two-decades-old predecessors.
This is no down-and-dirty half-measure; the game’s iconic environments have been lovingly recreated and even muddied in some cases to wear the ravages of time. It goes without saying that the franchise has never looked this good, but it’s also never felt this good either; if the disastrous fifth game proved just how crucial controls and animation are to the series’ intuitive game-feel, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 gets it absolutely right.
From the first moment I hopped off the opening ramp in Warehouse, everything about controlling the skater felt right. The fluidity with which skilled players can connect a frankly ridiculous number of tricks into an outrageously-scored combo is very much the series’ addictive backbone, and even long-lapsed fans shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to get back into the groove. You’ll probably still find yourself occasionally frustrated by the characteristically iffy camera, though, which may too often find you turned around or repeatedly bumping into the same damn wall.
The game’s prevailing accessibility, however, serves players well as they work their way through a laundry list of goals in each level, which in turn allows them to unlock other gated levels. The largely laid-back unlock requirements give even the weakest skaters plenty to do, while those more compulsive-minded players will relish hoovering up every last hidden tape, S-K-A-T-E letter string, and so on.
Vicarious Visions have also acknowledged how gaming as a whole has changed since the original games were released, as players will level up simply by playing the game and completing a series of challenges, in turn netting them more cosmetic items for their own custom character.
Speaking of creation, the series’ much-loved Create-A-Park mode is also back, allowing players to build their own parks or, more likely, check out some of the truly wacky, physics-defying ones posted online by both other players and the developers themselves.
Multiplayer – both online and local – is also part of the package, and to my pleasant surprise the online suite is extremely smooth and polished. Whether you’re going competitive or casual, matchmaking with up to seven other players is a cinch, and the various play modes on offer – Score Challenge, Trick Attack, Graffiti, Tag etc – are terrifically fun in their daft diversity.
Before I sign off, it’d be remiss not to mention one of the series’ most statuesque elements – its music. While not quite every song returns from the original soundtracks, an impressive effort has been made to re-secure the rights to as many as possible – yes, Goldfinger’s “Superman” is in there – while adding a stonking three-dozen new songs to the line-up. Yet in the event of a song not fitting your vibe, you can skip it altogether with a simple click of the right-stick.
The faithful soundtrack really underpins how much Vicarious Visions understands the essence of the series and what made it such a pop-culture phenom in the first place. This is a gorgeous, narcotically addictive remake and a major return to form for the beleaguered Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater franchise. From this point on, it’s basically the gold standard template for remaking a sacrosanct gaming classic.
While it remains to be seen if this will indeed usher in a new wave of Tony Hawk’s games or not, fans can breathe a sigh of relief that the series’ good name has been persuasively restored. For now, we enjoy the spoils of our not-so-patient waiting, and anticipate how fantastic Pro Skater 3’s Foundry level will look when that game’s remake inevitably emerges.
+ A faithful love letter to the original games.
+ Slick and intuitive gameplay.
+ Gorgeous visuals.
+ Jam-packed with content.
+ Terrific multiplayer.
+ Excellent sound effects and music.
– Some camera/physics jank remains.
Reviewed on PC (also available on PS4 and Xbox One).
A review copy was provided by the publisher for review.