For developers, revisiting a classic game has always been a tricky proposition.
Games tend to age poorly — whether it’s the graphics, controls, or subject matter — and so they’re regularly rereleased in an attempt to update them for modern tastes. It’s a tricky balancing act. Change too much, and the game loses what made it interesting in the first place. Change too little, and it will feel like a relic. Few games get it right. But Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2 nails that balance: it might just be the perfect video game remaster.
If the awkward title wasn’t clear, THPS1+2 is essentially a remake of the original two Tony Hawk games. It takes the core elements — expect the same stages and characters — but modernizes them in a few ways. The most obvious is the visual presentation. The chunky, blurry skaters and cityscapes of the original are gone. The new games look incredible; the characters look like, well, themselves, with realistic animations and detailed faces and clothes. When you see the in-game model of Tony Hawk, you immediately know who it is.
A similar level of care has gone into the levels. Cities are instantly recognizable. If you’ve ever been to Riverside Park or nearly been run down by a yellow cab, you’ll feel right at home in the New York City stage. Similarly, San Francisco’s streets have just the right blend of green space and myriad architectural styles, while Portland’s Burnside park is constantly battered by a very Oregon heavy rain. Remarkably, while the levels all look completely modern, they have almost identical layouts compared to the original games. They’re not exactly the same, but pretty close; I was able to navigate malls and warehouses mostly through muscle memory, and even used 20-year-old FAQs to find some hidden spots.
THPS1+2 also nails the feel of how the original games played. The Tony Hawk series has never been a pure simulation of skateboarding, but it’s also not a full-on arcade experience either. It sits somewhere in the middle. It lets you experience the creativity of the sport and the satisfaction of seeing your ideas in motion, but without the same level of time and dedication required to actually skateboard. That’s not to say that it’s simple. Pulling off long combos still requires quick reflexes and the ability to remember what every button does. But it’s at least achievable. When I bail in Tony Hawk, it’s almost always because I screw up. In that way, it’s like real skateboarding: you see your error and can then give it another shot almost immediately. (I can’t count the number of times I restarted a session to get the perfect run.) That was true 20 years ago, and it’s still true here.
One of the best things about the new release is how it’s structured. You’re doing most of the same things as before. There are tours where you play through levels in order, trying to nail high scores for tricks or finding particular things hidden around the park. Yes, you’ll still scour malls for the letters S-K-A-T-E and search for hidden textbooks at a high school. These little challenges are great because they give less-skilled players — like *cough* me — something to aim for even when they can’t hit a particularly high point total.
You unlock these stages in order, and you can also jump back and forth between THPS and its sequel at will. I found this particularly helpful when I was stuck on a challenge, as I had something else I could do in the meantime. There’s also a “ranked and free skate” mode where you can play through any level — even if you haven’t unlocked it yet — either to rank up on the online leaderboards or just to mess around with no time limit. What makes this all work is it’s completely seamless; the progress in each game and mode pools together as you level up your profile and earn money to get new gear.
Really, seamless might be the best word to describe THPS1+2 as a whole. There’s a lot going on — including online multiplayer (which I haven’t had a chance to check out) and a create-a-park mode (which I don’t have the imagination for) — but it’s all linked. Leveling up my profile in a single-player tour might unlock a new item for the creative mode so that I can then design a new stage and share it online. It’s all very cohesive.
This also extends to the cultural aspects of the experience. THPS1+2 features the original cast of skaters, but they’ve been updated so that they look like they do right now. Hawk and Chad Muska and Rodney Mullen are now in middle age, and that’s reflected in the game. They’re also joined by a cast of younger stars, including the likes of Aori Nishimura and Tyshawn Jones. Again, the skaters aren’t separated in any way by age or when they first appeared in the series; it’s just a big cast of incredibly talented pros. You simply pick your favorite.
Maybe there’s something about skate culture that makes it all fit together so well despite the time difference. But whatever it is, it works. Here’s a good example: I spent a lot of time building my own custom skater to look like me, and I spent even more time (and in-game cash) buying lots of clothes and skateboard parts to outfit him. Right now, my virtual likeness is riding on the Kareem Campbell deck I always wanted as a teenager and wearing the Nyjah Huston sneakers that I just missed out on buying earlier this year. Clothing from the ‘90s sits alongside brand-new Nike gear, and none of it feels out of place.
There’s also a lot to be excited about moving forward. I’ve never been handy with level creators, but I can’t wait to see what the community does when they get a hold of it. It takes a while to unlock all of the parts, but the actual tools are easy to use. And I’m hoping we’ll get a deluge of inventive parks, Super Mario Maker-style. I’m also very interested to see whether or the game picks up steam on Twitch. Skate videos have become a staple of platforms like Instagram and TikTok, and I’m hoping the same will happen here. I’m never going to top the in-game leaderboards, but I’d definitely watch the players who can.
Whatever happens in the future, though, the important thing is that THPS1+2 both honors the legacy of the original games and updates it in smart ways. What made those first games so special is the care and attention they put into representing skate culture, whether it was the music, the clothing, or the gameplay itself. That’s all intact here, with all of the modern upgrades you’d expect, from realistic visuals to new music to online support.
Earlier this year, Rodney Mullen, one of the most influential skaters in history, told me that “the Tony Hawk games captured the essence of skating in a way that is pure and that stands the test of time.” The best proof of that is how much fun I’ve had playing them all over again.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 is available on September 4th on the PS4, Xbox One, and PC.