Skateboarding games are back. As mentioned previously on this blog, people are hungry for some virtual shred sledding and there are plenty of games coming to fill the void. The thing is, you can’t have a revival of skateboarding games without the franchise that popularised it. With that in mind, it seemed only fitting that against all odds, a new Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater game would arrive in 2020.
Now, as the name suggests – this isn’t exactly a new game. THPS 1&2 is a complete remake of the first two games, combined into a brand new package with a ton of extra content slapped on top. Every level is here, lovingly rebuilt in the Unreal Engine, running at 60 Frames Per Second. All of the pro skaters from the first two games are back, but updated to reflect their modern selves. They even managed to bring back a significant portion of the iconic soundtracks from the first two games!
All of this wouldn’t matter if the game played like garbage. Activision have tried to do a remake of these two games before, as well as sequels in the Pro Skater series, and they fell flat just because the controls didn’t feel right at all. As I’ve said before, THPS gets a lot of flack for being a goofy (no pun intended) arcade game where you can grind power lines, but the controls in the original games were so tight, so perfectly designed, and so addictive that it was an instant classic.
I’m glad to say that THPS 1&2 finally gets the controls right again. This is not an accident: developers Vicarious Visions have a long history with the franchise, and used the original game’s source code to ensure the feel of the game was spot on. This is a labour of love and it has paid off fantastically well.
The developers have smartly included all legacy THPS moves from every game that came after THPS2 as well (e.g. Reverts, Spine Transfers, Wallplants). If your memory of THPS was a later game in the franchise, you won’t feel like the moves you are accustomed to are missing. Also, these new moves are now available on levels where you originally couldn’t do them. Having the full bag of THPS franchise moves at your fingertips on all of the levels from the original THPS makes these environments feel brand new again, offering new lines and combos that were previously impossible.
The controls set a firm foundation for a game as addictive, replayable and joyous as the original THPS. In the time since the last THPS game, people have been craving more realistic games – the culmination of this are games like Session, or the recently released SkaterXL. In comparison to these games, THPS 1&2 is a polar opposite.
Personally I think this is a good thing – it’s a slick, polished, tightly paced palette cleanser. It couldn’t be more different than its competitors, and whilst that was a negative against THPS back in 2007 when Skate released, it proves to be an overwhelming strength here.
THPS unsurprisingly knows it’s a video game, and doesn’t try to be a simulator. This is the thing I think will turn off many hardcore skateboarders, but for anyone who has spent the last 10 years playing Skate3, this kind of game, when it is done right, is a breath of fresh air. The gameplay loop is quick: you start a run, you rack up points, you complete the objectives of the level, and if you mess up, you restart instantly.
The pace is blisteringly fast, and after playing any other skateboarding game it might be off-putting at first. For anyone who spent considerable time with the old THPS games though, muscle memory will quickly kick in, and you’ll be knocking out combos of 200K points and upwards in no time.
For old and new players alike, there is a ton of stuff to do here. As before, you choose a pro skater (or create your own character), and you complete all objectives in every level. This might sound a little simplistic and repetitive compared to modern games, but there is something very rewarding about maxing out your skater’s stats and getting 100% completion in all of the levels.
Vicarious Visions have doubled down on delivering a huge amount of content here as well: the roster of pro skaters here is almost doubled compared to the original game’s with the addition of some modern day legends to join the original THPS cast. This is a wide and diverse list of modern day shredders: from 2018 Thrasher Skater Of The Year Tyshawn Jones, to Japanese X-Games wizard Aori Nishimura, and the world’s first non-binary Pro Skater Leo Baker.
These new additions are notable for very different reasons than the original roster, and show how wide reaching skateboarding, and the original games, have been over the last 20 years. Legends like Elissa Steamer no longer feel like “token” additions designed to tick a box. Next to the likes of Leticia Bufoni and Lizzie Armanto – they feel like they very much deserve to have the spotlight, and their influence becomes obvious.
Each pro in the game has a set of bespoke challenges which allows you to unlock all of their boards, new tricks and alternate outfits. This gameplay is tailored to each pro’s strengths and nicely bridges the gap between the stereotypical THPS super heroic combos, and the realistic tone of the game’s pro skaters and locations. Some of these challenges are quite realistic in scope rather than asking for 50 trick combos (e.g. Earn 10,000 points from a lip trick and a revert only), which is a great way to use the THPS gameplay to appeal to those craving something a bit more grounded. It’s keen to remind you that this is still a game about skateboarding, no matter how unrealistic and wacky that skateboarding may be at times.
On top of these challenges there’s a huge library of extra goals introducing an extra level of replayability – completing the base content in both games doesn’t take a huge amount of time, so the addition of over 700 challenges to tick off extends the game’s lifespan considerably. Some of these challenges are easy and take minutes, some will have you skating for hours. Vicarious Visions are incredibly respectful of the original games and what made them work, and rather than interfere with that core structure, their new challenge system bolts on incredibly well to modernise these games.
All of this gameplay is set to a soundtrack mostly comprising of returning tracks from the first two games. These songs are iconic and, although maybe a tad dated now, are extremely nostalgic for skaters of my age. Skating around listening to Guerrilla Radio by RATM brings back instant memories of when I first started skating, and is a bit of a fountain of youth moment for anyone of a certain age. For anyone who wasn’t alive when the first games came out – there are a bunch of new songs that feel on-brand and fit the gameplay extremely well that will doubt become iconic in years to come.
The game’s creation features improve upon the original games immensely – as previously mentioned, create-a-skater returns, but create-a-park is also included here. This is a robust level creation tool that lets you build all sorts of mad ramp combos, with the added ability to share them with your friends online. The developers have expanded and improved this feature immensely, allowing you to create huge, sprawling skateparks filled with all manner of crazy Frankenstein obstacles. Considering how impressive creation tools in games have become, these improvements are smart and people are already using Create-a-park to build some incredible monstrosities from replicas of their local parks to roller coasters.
The game also boasts an awesome amount of multiplayer modes for players looking to session with others. Split screen returns from the original PS1 releases, but there is also a great online suite of options allowing you to play all of the classic THPS multiplayer modes with up to 7 other players. This wasn’t present or possible in the original games, and they could have just kept parity with THPS2’s feature set, but going the extra mile with awesome online features is a great touch and is appreciated.
I honestly can’t say enough good words about the phenomenal work Vicarious Visions has done here – I haven’t been this excited about a THPS game since the first time I played THPS2. That game had such a long lasting effect on me that it began a long 20 year love affair with skateboarding. This game makes me so stoked to be a skateboarder, and in many ways this sums up all the fun and creativity I know skateboarding brings. It’s a triumphant return to form from a video game franchise that inspired millions to start skateboarding, and you owe it to yourself to play it.