In honor of his 52nd birthday, Tony Hawk himself took to social media on Tuesday to announce “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2” – as the name implies, it’s a remaster of the first two games packaged together for $40. The original was released at the very peak of the title skater’s fame, mere months after he famously landed “the 900” at the 1999 X-Games. The trick is a 900-degree aerial spin performed on a skateboard ramp, and Hawk was the first to stick the landing.
I was just 6 years old when I first played “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” on my brother’s Dreamcast, and they are fond memories. The dizzying acrobatics and rebellious spirit – aided by the series’ expansive punk-rock and ska soundtrack – were almost magical to my young self. It kickstarted my love of extreme sports, an activity I will never take part in but always spectate with admiration and wonder. I’m far too frail and not nearly brave enough to partake.
“Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater” was a hit with gamers and critics alike. It was the third highest-selling game on the PlayStation in 2000, and review aggregate GameRankings showed a collective 94/100 critical rating of the PlayStation and Dreamcast versions of the game. The series’ overnight success inspired dozens of clones of varying quality such as “Razor Freestyle Scooter” and “Aggressive Inline.”
Developer Neversoft struck while the iron was hot by releasing the sequel “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2” just one year after the original. Its formula remained the same, but quality-of-life improvements like customizable skaters and the ability to create your own skate park propelled the series to its apex. The game has a 98/100 on Metacritic, making it one of the highest-rated video games of all time.
Publisher Activision pushed Neversoft to create yearly game releases all the way through 2007. The games gradually declined in quality, getting notably worse when the keys to the kingdom were handed off to developer Robomodo. The studio produced several spinoffs before creating “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5,” which holds a Metacritic average of 32-39/100. It was hastily created in 2015 over the course of mere months due to the licensing deal between Activision and Hawk expiring that year.
The rushed game was riddled with bugs and universally panned by critics, and Robomodo was shut down shortly after its release. Many of its mechanics were considered a step down from even the first game, which is wonderfully awful when you consider how far video game physics engines have come since 1999.
That fact leads me to hold mixed feelings about the newly announced “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2” – Neversoft’s game design intentionally prioritized fun over realism, which was prudent in the late 1990s when physics engines for 3D games were mediocre at best. The on-screen skaters “snapped” to grind rails and often flew upward of 20 feet into the air above ramps. It was fun but preposterous. The remaster will fine-tune the old formula a bit, but judging by the announcement trailer, those mechanics will remain largely the same.
For that reason, I fear the game will feel antiquated at launch because others have already advanced the formula – the bar has been raised. From 2007-10, Electronic Arts published several games in the “Skate” series, which overtook the Tony Hawk series in popularity at the time. “Skate” featured more realistic physics and an intuitive “flick it” control scheme, and in many ways it felt like the natural progression of skateboarding video games.
“Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2” will have none of those advancements, opting to keep the old physics and old control scheme. What was acceptable in the late ’90s and early aughts might prove a disaster in 2020, but for the sake of nostalgia, I sure hope I’m wrong. “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2” will be released on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC via the Epic Games Store on Sept. 4.
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