Top Fives: Ade The Terrible’s Top 5 Skateboarding Video Games

With this Coranavirus shit kicking off, and the sensible advice being to STAY THE HELL INDOORS, it’s understandable that you might get bored and have that itch to skate. Unless you have your own private skatepark, you’re gonna have to get creative and dig out some video games so you can still shred. With almost 10 years of experience working in the games industry, and as someone who has held a BAFTA, I know what I’m talking about when it comes to all of this video game malarkey, so join me as I talk you through my top 5 skateboarding video games.

5. Thrasher: Skate And Destroy (PS1)

This game had literally everything going for it back in 1999. It had the Thrasher license. It had legit, authentic skate spots like the Brooklyn Banks and Southbank. It had gameplay based on getting kicked out of spots by security guards (#sorelatable). It had a realistic approach to skateboarding that made tricks difficult, yet satisfying. And it was published by (arguably) one of the best video game companies in the world – Rockstar Games. However, it near enough flopped, because a competing skateboarding game came out a month later and completely trounced it in sales and critical praise. That game was Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. For this reason, not as many people probably know about Thrasher as they should.

The only thing Thrasher didn’t have was actual pro skateboarders. The game had a bunch of unlicensed generic skater characters who you could customise, so at the very least you could alter them and create someone who looked like you instead – something THPS wouldn’t get until the second game. It had an awesome hip hop soundtrack (which, to me, isn’t really in keeping with Thrasher, but when the soundtrack is as good as Skate And Destroy’s, you could see it getting a thumbs up from the Phelper), and the gameplay was far more slow paced, methodical and grounded in reality than THPS. It doesn’t particularly hold up well today, but it’s well worth a look.

4. Session (PC)

Despite being in early access on Steam, Session is already a far more satisfying experience than half of the stuff that came out in the “extreme sports” boom of the early 2000’s. In many ways, despite people pinning their hopes of it being a spiritual successor to EA’s Skate, it has far more in common with the previously mentioned Thrasher: Skate and Destroy. It’s authentic, urban location gives me strong Thrasher vibes, and it’s slower, methodical gameplay, where combos and scores are non-existent, rewards practice and patience. It exhibits details that other games have largely ignored, like boards having different deck and wheel sizes, or stance literally mirroring your controls, or the ability to do pressure flips.

Recently they just added Update, which adds Skate-like controls and some new levels to play: whilst some (myself included) hoped this might improve the experience, it becomes painfully clear this game was never meant for Skate’s control scheme. To have the option, however, is a nice touch if you are itching for something like Skate. The new locations in the game add a “modified” version of the Brooklyn Banks designed by the developers, which adds a ton of stairsets, ledges and handrails. There’s a lot to skate here, and a lot of fun to be had. There’s also a mini ramp, but (and this is probably a symptom of the game still being in early access), the transition skating is extremely buggy and doesn’t work properly at all. This is a problem Session’s main competitor, SkaterXL, also suffers from. I worry these newer games are going to get transition skating all wrong, which would suck, but it’s still too early to judge either one.

The game very obviously lacks the budget and scope of a AAA console game made by Activision or EA, but in many ways that gives the whole thing a scrappy, DIY feel. Comparing Skate to Session is like comparing Fully Flared to a local scene video – they are doing completely different things and going for completely different vibes, despite both being about skateboarding. One has a near infinite budget, and the pick of every pro on the planet, and the other scrapes by on what the people behind it can throw together within a limited budget and a small crew. I think the hope of Session being “Skate4” might have hurt its reputation slightly, but if you go in with fresh eyes and judge it on it’s own merits, you’ll have a lot of fun.

3. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 (PS2)

This game is on my list because it is, I feel, the culmination of the best features in extreme sports games at the time. I liked the THPS games that came after (OK, maybe not THPS5… or the ones where you stood on an actual skateboard), but the new ideas in THUG1 and 2 just felt like they started to veer away from authentic skateboarding and turned the game into “Jackass: The Video Game”. THPS4 felt like the last game truly grounded in skateboarding culture, with challenges that truly referenced stuff you had seen in skate videos, with little jokes for skateboarders, and a list of locations which had a few nods to Thrasher: Skate and Destroy’s level selection, but through the lense of Neversoft’s excellent level design.

The game cribbed features from a competing game of the time – Aggressive Inline (developed by Z-Axis, who had been the team behind Thrasher), featuring no strict time limits, and treated each level as a mini open world, allowing players the freedom and time to just skate freely and pick up challenges at their leisure. This was the first THPS game to do this, and compared to the constrained time limits of past games, it felt like a true evolution for the series. The basic building blocks of the THPS controls were at their peak here as well, with spine transfers being a big edition which made you feel like you could flow skateparks like Grant Taylor at the push of a button (or, Rune Glifberg, to use a more era appropriate comparison).

2. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (PS1)

Yeah, I know, this makes it look like I ran out of games to put on the list. But, this choice is intentional. There are so many other PS1 skateboarding games I could mention here (Grind Session immediately came to mind, if only because Ed Templeton was in it), but THPS2 has a special place in my heart. It is the reason I started skateboarding; without THPS2, this blog wouldn’t exist. I remember THPS1 being a fun game, and it definitely grabbed me, but THPS2 is where I remember the series really stretching its legs, and the authentic elements of skateboarding really expanding. 

The weird downhill levels were gone, and the level selection was a combination of great real life parks (Marseille, Love Park and FDR in Philly), and references to skate videos (The Bullring from Tony Hawk’s part in The End was expanded into a full level!). Character creation, and park creation, were added, to give you infinite hours of fun building your dream skate session. The soundtrack is, still, I think, the best soundtrack to grace a skateboarding video game.

Manuals were added, as the first step toward THPS giving you the tools to land never-ending combos. There are a lot of jokes about THPS feeling like a weird, unrealistic, arcade game – but at the time it was genuinely the closest thing you could get to playing a game that had the perfect cross-section between authenticity and playability. Even better, with the “sim physics” cheat, the game felt far more realistic, and skating the mini at Skatestreet Ventura felt like skating a real ramp. It is instant nostalgia for me, and I feel it is the most replayable of the THPS games.

1. Skate 3

EA’s foray into skateboarding seems like it was over within the blink of an eye, but they bashed out 3 games very quickly in that time. 2007’s Skate, 2009’s Skate 2, and 2010’s Skate 3 are perhaps the closest we have ever got to the “game-feel” we expect from AAA games perfectly aligning with the authenticity of skateboarding. Skate 3, for all of it’s unfortunate, weird glitches, is still the peak of the series, with a wealth of features that give players the tools to skate and create. Even 10 years after release, I play Skate 3 far more than any other skateboarding game I own (even newer games like Session and SkaterXL get ignored in favour of Skate 3), and having the game on the Xbox One’s list of backwards compatible games has been one of the best things to happen during this console generation.

Skating street in Skate has always felt natural and intuitive. You can literally frontside flip a 16 stair and feel like Andrew Reynolds from the comfort of your living room. The room for inventive street skating is limitless within the game’s main city, and the park creator gives you a palette of options to create even more insane spots to invent tricks on. Transition skating has always been a bit hit or miss in these games, with vert/mega ramp being the only thing which they nailed. In Skate 3, however, they got the closest they had ever got to making it fun and realistic. With small touches like characters “dropping in” from tail and nose stalls, footplants which behave (mostly) in a way you would expect and a good selection of pools and mid-sized transitions for realistic skate sessions; Skate 3 had just enough to it for anyone wanting to skate transitions properly. I’ve debated with people whether the transition skating was really that good in Skate 3, but Nollie BS Bigspin Tailstalls and Noseblunts look so, so good in it – so I think it gets a pass.

Skate 3, for me, represents a gold standard for skateboarding games – perhaps even open world games in general. In many ways it pre-empted gaming trends that would come years later; an increased focus on user generated content, online connectivity (originally used to create a sense of community not unlike a local skate scene), and tutorialisation and a wiki for game mechanics to aid accessibility. The game was welcoming and intuitive for most players, and made bombing hills fun and rewarding. It’s deep selection of tricks was engaging, and it’s open world (although splintered into 3 hubs) was fun to explore and navigate. There was a real feeling of discovering new spots, and maybe being the first person to skate something. I can see in Skate 3, what I saw in THPS2 – an experience that sums up the raw, creative, positive energy of skateboarding, and a game which could inspire millions to get out and skate in real life. For these reasons, it is my favourite skateboarding game, and will take nothing short of something akin to “Skate 4” to top it.

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