I’m old. It’s something that I’ve made note of before, and sadly despite willing with all my might, it’s not something that is likely to change anytime soon. What this does allow me though is to be able to whip out the rose-tinted goggles from time to time and remind everyone just how good the old days were. I often look back over my collection that has amassed over the years with a great fondness, though too often actually playing them doesn’t quite live up to the memories. Occasionally though, one will still feel as slick and fun as it did back then, and I find myself slipping back in to the groove almost without realising. This is the exact feeling that Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1&2 gave to me recently, despite it being a full on remake. Vicarious Visions have done a stellar job of not only capturing the feel of the PS1 and Dreamcast titles, but have somehow made them feel just as fun to play in this new incarnation as they ever were back then.
Of course, not all of you are ancient, so let’s step back a little. The THPS games are arcade-style takes on the world of Skateboarding. In the late 90’s – largely thanks to the games – the sport became something of a phenomenon. Tony Hawk became a household name, kids everywhere were learning to skateboard, and the whole extreme sports scene was thrust into the limelight. Like everyone else I tried my hand at Skateboarding, but I was horrendous at it. Inline skates were my jam, but boarding was out of my skill set. Then along came THPS and I finally got a sense of what it’d be like to be good at the sport!
Unlike more recent titles such as Skater XL or EA’s Skate, THPS is an exaggerated example of the sport, though not to overly ridiculous degrees. Momentum and physics still play their part, but the core of the game is racking up ludicrously high scores across minutes-long combos. Leaping up and off a vert ramp pulling off a Coffin, then magically attaching to the top of a billboard for a grind, before jumping 30 feet back to the ground unharmed (while pulling off the fabled 900, no less) is a pretty standard scene here. Some players may prefer the more realistic tones of the aforementioned titles, but for me THPS is just incredible fun to play.
The beauty is in the simplicity; each trick type is assigned to a face button, with D-pad directions modifying the specific trick pulled off. Repeating tricks is discouraged by lowering the point value on each successive use, so it pays to spice things up as much as possible. While this is a remake of the first two titles in the series, elements have been brought in from later games as well, such as manuals and reverts. The added skill and point potential these bring to the levels I remember so well is huge, and yet not overwhelming. I’m certainly not as sharp as I once was, but it didn’t take long to slide back into my favourite routes and areas of each stage. Special moves also feature, and are accessed by filling up the Special bar via completing a succession of tricks without bailing. These rack up huge scores, though require more air or balance to pull off.
It really does only take a few tries to get to grips with the concept and once you’re there, the possibilities open up. It all comes back to just how good it feels to control. The skaters will fall off if you push it, but they’ll also bounce off of walls or roll over curbs without hassle. Getting air off a vert is easy, while grinding is as simple as a button press while in the air near a rail – the board will stay latched on as long as we can keep the balance meter from tipping all the way over. THPS nails the feeling of watching the experts do their thing in fish-eye lensed videos as they make it look easy, without punishing us too much if we go overboard. Even bailing sees us back on the board quickly, a snappy glitch animation eschewing the need for them to pick themselves up and reset.
The levels from both games are present and correct – though they look a damn sight better now. For returning players there will be a huge wave of nostalgia wash over them as we roll down that first ramp in the Warehouse and it only gets more intense from there. VV have been as faithful to the look and feel of each stage as possible but have added their own little flourishes to find in the details, and it all helps to make it feel like a modern game despite it’s origins.
Challenges return, with not only several high scores to beat but extra tasks too; ring 5 school bells, collect S-K-A-T-E, ollie the hydrants and many, many more. These were always my favourite part as they encouraged proper exploration of the levels to complete. It’s fairly easy to get even the Sick score (the highest one), but scouring the stages for that last specific rail to grind, or finding a hidden park behind a seemingly impassable wall is very rewarding to do. In order to unlock the next stage a certain amount of challenges need to met, but thankfully not all as some are incredibly tough. Others will also only be possible after earlier ones on the list are met, so if you struggle to beat one it may be worth revisiting another challenge to help with this.
Outside of the core career we have a couple of customisation options in Create-a-Skater/Park. The options are broad on both counts and allow us to create our own character/park in practically any manner we set fit. The skater options are deep, with loads of clothing to unlock as well as board parts. There are a handful of preset face types to choose from, though we can’t adjust the finer details such as nose height or the like – I actually prefer this method personally. Sometimes a fine-grain creator can feel a little overwhelming. For the parks, there are hundreds of pieces to place and use, with it being possible to build huge ramps or jumps, as well as epic grind rails that can go in any which way you like. These can be uploaded for friends and the wider community to play on, though there didn’t seem to be anyway of setting custom challenges such as a high score or the like which is a shame.
There’s a big roster of real world skaters to play as should you not want to create your own, and in a neat touch they have all been aged up to match their appearance now, rather than their heyday youthfulness. Younger skaters are here – including Tony’s son Riley – to help liven up the crowd. All have their own stats that can be adjusted at any time. In fact, the stat system in something that I found to be excellent. Dotted around the levels are stat points; as before, each one allows us to notch up a skaters skill in one area, from jump height to speed and so on. Brilliantly though, these are not a permanent choice; say you’re having trouble reaching a letter high up on a billboard – simply take some stat points off of the manual balance stat and move them to jump height. Once you’ve collected the letter you can then put these points back, or indeed anywhere else you may need to use them. Not only does this prevent accidentally misplacing skill points blocking yourself out of a challenge but it encourages experimentation in the levels. I’m much happier pulling grind tricks than grabs or kick flips, so I can lower those stats to help out in my favoured areas.
Online play also features and is great fun – if a little demoralising. A lobby of up to 8 players can compete at once, with the specific challenge changing each round; one might be to get the highest total score while the next asks for the highest individual combo tally. I thought I was on to a winner one round with a combo of 250k… until at the last moment one of the players posted one north of 800k. And while the players are in the same location at the same time collision is off thankfully, so there’s no chance for trolling going on.
Of course, I can’t wrap things up without mentioning what is undoubtedly just as iconic as the gameplay – the soundtrack. As with the rest of the title, the nostalgia here is immense – and pitch perfect. That they were able to get all of the big hitters from old is one thing, but the newly added tracks fit right in despite being generations apart. Watching the opening skater video backed by Guerrilla Radio instantly got me in the mood, but hearing Goldfinger’s Superman at the title screen sealed the deal.
All in then, Vicarious Visions and Beenox have absolutely knocked this remake out of the park. Not only is it a great source of nostalgia for older players who have fond memories of the originals, but the core gameplay is just as fun as ever and will no doubt find a new legion of fans today. The updated visuals are excellent, again playing homage to past titles while adding extra little touches and details. Online is fun, if a challenge, and the custom skater and park options are deep and full of potential, though it would have been nice to be able to set custom challenges too.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by the publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.