If you were not there to see the original release of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater in 1999, you will never truly know the impact that game had on gaming and popular culture as a whole. It landed seemingly out of nowhere, a game in a genre that had only a handful of existing titles to mixed success, starring a roster of unknown athletes from a sport that was all but gone from the cultural landscape.
And, against all the odds, it was a monster hit. It propelled its roster to the status of stars, the soundtrack became the defining sound of a generation, it resurrected skateboarding as a legitimate sport, the skater look began to proliferate into the youth of the day. From the sound, the style, and the attitude, it was very much the game of a generation.
The skater genre boomed in the years following Pro Skater, the franchise spawned countless sequels, and other publishers wanted to get in on the act and released their own attempt to steal the Tony Hawk’s thunder. Nothing could touch the impact of the original titles, nor could they touch the purity of play that those games offered. The franchise and genre as a whole lost sight of what worked and it’s popularity waned.
Now, the franchise that changed it all is back, with a full remaster of the first two titles. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 comes courtesy of Vicarious Visions, the devs responsible for the recent Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy. Much like with that hugely successful revival, this is a comprehensive remaster of the original titles. The graphics engine has been completely redone, replacing Neversoft’s original Apocalypse engine with the Unreal Engine, the original code for the game has been implemented and tweaked to modernise the handling and control schemes. The DNA of the original games are still there, just enhanced. This means the purity of the experience remains completely intact.
My past experiences with the Pro Skater series are very all the same. I love the games even though I suck at them. Returning to the franchise here felt very familiar. My first attempt ended in me face planting constantly, scoring no points, but still having a lot of fun. I admitted defeat and played the tutorial mode to work out how everything works. The tutorial is comprehensive and extremely helpful. Narrated by the always affable Tony Hawk, every major gameplay mechanic in the game is covered with plenty of opportunities to practice and perfect the different tricks and flips and moves. I cannot remember the last time a tutorial was this user-friendly and entertaining. It set me in the right mindset going forward.
After that, it didn’t take long for everything to feel comforting and familiar, like an old glove. It plays and handles just as smooth and intuitively as the classics. The originals continue to hold up as pure gameplay experiences to this day, there was very little concern that this game would not play poorly. Vicarious Visions really only had to do one thing to make this remake successful go longtime fans and franchise virgins: Do not mess with what worked. And, thankfully, they did not.
All four buttons perform a different function, pressed in conjunction with one of the directional buttons will pull off a variant on that move, and you can string together multiple moves while you’re catching air to rack up points. It is so simple to get, yet so challenging to master. The perfect gaming system.
Everything is here. The stages, the challenges, the roster (albeit aged up to keep with their current look, which is a nice touch), the tricks, the music. Everything that worked is untouched but Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 also adds new tricks, new challenges, new skaters, new songs (but, to be fair, I took those out of rotation because I will never choose Machinegun Kelly over Goldfinger) allowing the franchise to feel like a celebration of the sports legacy while passing the torch to the next generation. The motion capture is updated to be far more detailed, you get to see your character nurse their sore bones after a bad bail. Everything about this game is comfortingly familiar but improved in all the right ways.
This feels like the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater that everyone at Neversoft originally envisioned, finally given the chance to live and breathe with no compromises. When the compromised vision was already a generation-defining masterpiece, what more can you say? Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 perfectly captures everything we loved about the original games and the simple beauty of gaming itself, it doesn’t need to be complicated, it just needs to be challenging and fun.
Newcomers to the franchise will still find a fast-paced, engaging and thoughtfully designed experience. The veterans with misty-eyed memories of their sweatband strapping, pop-punk powered, misbegotten youth will find something so much greater. That exuberant spark of youth. It may only be a spark, rather than the raging fire once felt in the moment, but a spark is more than most nostalgia revivals can ever hope to achieve. A spark can still light up your day.
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