Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 Review: Let's Ride

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 Review: Let's Ride

Vicarious Visions delivers an exhilarating, near-unbruised remake of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 and 2.

As a dumbass born in the early 90s, I once tried to learn how to skate. I, like many, was inspired by skateboarding games and TV shows featuring skaters. I thought Bam Margera's prankster living was aspirational (in hindsight it was toxic). I thought Bob Burnquist was the coolest skater of all time—after all, he was my go-to pick in the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater games.

As the games waned in memory, my love for skating culture never faded away; I still listen to pop rock and hip-hop. I still revisit a Jackass skit or two every year. But after 2015's disaster of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5, I had given up hope on the series. Perhaps the world was only interested in the likes of sims like Skate and its many indie imitators. Luckily, I was so, so wrong.

Because they did it. They made another great Tony Hawk game. It is the Tony Hawk you remember—bails, combos, nosegrinds, 900s, glitching through floors into the abyss on rare occasions, achieving the impossible. Everything. It's all here. It isn't just rose-tinted nostalgia. It's just as good, if not better, than it ever was before.

Maxing out the challenges on Warehouse is easy. It's the later levels where the going gets tougher. | Vicarious Visions/Activision

After a frankly horrible "HD" remake in 2012, Activision passed along the series to remake resuscitators Vicarious Visions—coincidentally, the lead developers on the surprisingly-solid Game Boy Advance ports of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater back in the day. The new stewards have adapted the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater formula to perfection in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2; so much so that the stink of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 has already faded completely from memory.

It doesn't just play great, it looks great too. From how the light shines through dirty windows in the warehouse level, to the snowy secret exterior of the Hangar level, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 is a remake that imbues new life into the levels we've skated across so many times before. In the San Francisco level, complete with its distortedly condensed Embarcadero, Lombard Street, and Chinatown, I still knew where to grind and ollie through a window to get the K letter in "SKATE." But Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 is not a game just for crotchety adults between their late 20s and mid-40s who still wear Vans, listen to Bad Religion, and know all the nooks and crannies of old Tony Hawk levels in their lizard brains; it's a game for a new generation too.

Tellingly, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2's biggest change is its push to be more inclusive and representative of what the skateboarding community actually is. Its character creator is refreshingly non-gendered, with miscellaneous faces to choose from, voices, hairstyles, and more. Skateboarder Leo Baker is the first nonbinary skater to be included on a Tony Hawk game roster, and the "Mute" grab is now the "Weddle" grab, to better pay tribute to the deaf skater Chris Weddle who pioneered it. Of course, there are lingering side-eye worthy aspects from the era that remain in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2; namely an objective on the Venice Beach level wherein you have to ollie over homeless people. Still, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 is immediately a more welcoming sort of experience.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2's gameplay, meanwhile, is even better than I remember. This is because it lets you play as it once was with a toggleable "THPS2 Only" moves mode. This eliminates the reverts, the wall plants—a.k.a. the moves that enable your impressive combos. And then you can take it a step further, and remove every move except those found in THPS1. When I played the Warehouse demo in August as a purist, this was, to me, the optimal way to play. I was incorrect.

The most optimal way to play Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 is not to mess with it at all. No mods; no moveset restrictions; just letting its post-Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4-self thrive with reverts, manuals, wall plants, and all. It's the revert and manual that's key—it's how combos are best-achieved. It's how you can be your best digital skating self in the world of Tony Hawk.

I am, I think, my best digital self in Tony Hawk. I don't foresee myself topping the leaderboards. It took me the better part of a day just to achieve gold rank on all the competitions across THPS1 and THPS2's levels, while I saw peers bragging on Twitter about how it took them mere hours. Pfft. Show offs. But I already feel like I'm back in the groove with it, and considering its astounding number of bonus challenges and unlockables—not to mention a "Create-A-Park" mode where players can make and upload their own skateparks—there's a lot here to not just master, but to work toward.

It's a-me! | Caty McCarthy/USG, Vicarious Visions/Activision

As someone who hasn't played the old Tony Hawk's Pro Skater games in I'll wager at least 15 years, there is something kinetic about playing Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 in 2020. I've quickly fallen back into my old bad habits—my muscle memory allowing me to ollie into a perfectly-balanced grind. I make the same mistakes too: like coming down from an air trick and pivoting to a manual before a revert, slowing momentum on a combo. I get too confident, and attempt to do an extra heelflip at the end of a line of tricks, then bailing and ruining an otherwise solid combo. I am, basically, playing Tony Hawk's Pro Skater like I always have: as an overeager button masher.

I'm correcting my kid-like ways though, and I'm learning the legit way to play. I've memorized my Specials—of which one can unlock 10 Special slots in total, with a starting amount of five. I've unlocked two bonus Special slots for my custom character from completing challenges so far. Every skater in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 has these slots, in addition to a full list of stats that can be boosted via nabbing collectable "Stat Points" in levels. And on top of the familiar level challenges, there's a heap of other objectives as well. Characters have their own set of challenges that unlock exclusive boards and outfits, with others offering hefty experience rewards.

For a $40 package, there is a lot crammed into Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2, all the while setting a solid foundation for what could hopefully be DLC, or even a sequel containing content from Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4. (Or if I dream big, even a remake of Tony Hawk's Underground.) The one, and perhaps only, caveat is that the multiplayer is currently a bit bare. To party up with friends, you can do free skate or hope that partying up works for non-private matchmaking (while I've seen streams where players have squaded up, my friends and I have not had success with it yet); otherwise, it's solo lobby jumping with randos. Local split-screen works, but I still find myself wanting more. Luckily, Vicarious Visions tweeted around launch last week that more options are coming in a patch later, including "party migration."

Lizzie Armanto is one of the pro skaters who has joined the new roster. | Vicarious Visions/Activision

Heading into Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2, I knew the original roster would all be there. What I didn't anticipate was that rather than model Tony Hawk, Elissa Steamer, Bob Burnquist, and so on's younger selves from when the original games released in 1999 and 2000, Vicarious Visions instead opted to scan their current-day selves; so we have Tony Hawk pulling off 900s in his 50s, not just his 30s. (Hawk, who still skates regularly, landed his "final" 900 in 2016 at age 48.)

There is something endearing about playing as aging professional skaters—all of whom are still legends in the sport—in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 as if they haven't aged a day. To me, that makes Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 a special sort of remake. While their faces may have aged; the sport hasn't. While sports games may have moved past the likes of SSX and Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, this remake proves that there's still enjoyment to be derived from arcade-driven, combo-chaining sort of sports games. It doesn't all have to be sims like Ultimate Team. Sometimes all we need is a hella good soundtrack, tight controls, and some attitude. Some fun things in life, like skateboarding, truly never age.

Edited, 09/09/2020: We have edited the text above to clarify that players are indeed able to party up for open matchmaking, though it is unstable and there is no option for private matches.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 is the perfect remake. It doesn't just recapture what made the series so beloved, but helps us fall in love with mastering combos and finding secret areas all over again. The one major downfall of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 is a relatively slight one: its multiplayer options are slim at launch. Even being a grinding, rolling advertisement for the sorts of brands you'd find at Zumiez, all the brands's non-stop presence is something undeniably Tony Hawk—and hell, I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a cart waiting to check out at Zumiez now. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 is an excellent remake with a rare power: the power to make skaters of us all.


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Caty McCarthy

Senior Editor

Caty McCarthy is a former freelance writer whose work has appeared in Kill Screen, VICE, The AV Club, Kotaku, Polygon, and IGN. When she's not blathering into a podcast mic, reading a book, or playing a billion video games at once, she's probably watching Terrace House or something. She is currently USgamer's Senior Editor.

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