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Why Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 is my game of the year

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THPS skates right back into relevance

I’m not sure if anyone was really asking for Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2. I know I wasn’t. The series’s reputation had never been lower after Activision ran it into the ground, first through over-exposure and finally with the disastrous comeback attempt that was THPS 5. In fact, almost the exact same idea had been tried not so long ago with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD, which blended levels from 1 and 2 into a clunky, unsatisfying whole.

Turns out, it isn’t a bad idea if you nail it. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 is an incredible remake that does virtually everything right and more. It might sound odd to call it the best game of 2020, but nothing else this year made me happier. It was certainly the best surprise.

THPS 1 + 2 includes all of the stages from the original games, with a unified structure that lets you bounce between progression through each. Developer Vicarious Visions re-created each environment with meticulous attention to detail, sometimes in ways that spark even more nostalgia; the mall level is all boarded up and abandoned, for instance, as if it closed after THPS was released and you’re revisiting it today.

The sense of an alternate-timeline THPS is amplified by the cast of skaters, which includes visibly aged pros who were featured in the original alongside younger current stars. I found this unexpectedly poignant. It serves as a tribute to the original pros’ legacies while lending the series’s cultural relevance with a fresh, more diverse roster. You get a sense of how skating’s popularity has grown through the decades since the original games were released and how the skaters have grown up themselves.

The same could be said of the soundtrack, which adds dozens of new artists while keeping almost every track from the originals. THPS has always had great music, but the earlier HD remake only preserved a handful of tracks; Activision deserves credit for doing the licensing legwork here. I loved hearing new additions like Skepta and Pkew Pkew Pkew, but it wouldn’t be THPS 1 + 2 without Rage Against the Machine and Millencolin.

Most important, of course, is how the game actually plays. Almost miraculously, it plays great. I don’t know exactly what Vicarious Visions did to the skating model, but THPS 1 + 2 somehow feels both perfectly authentic to the originals and as modern as you’d want it to be. One big mechanical change comes from my personal favorite in the series, THPS 3: the revert mechanic that lets you manual out of tricks and chain together huge combos across the stage. This was a transformative shift in how THPS was played, and revisiting beloved old levels with the ability in your back pocket almost feels like cheating. But it’s not cheating: it’s THPS.

Against all odds, THPS 1 + 2 is a thing of beauty. From the creative direction to the nuts and bolts of the engine, it’s one of the most lovingly produced remakes I’ve ever seen — the rare repackaging that not only captures the spirit of the original release but manages to feel emotionally resonant in its own right decades down the line.

I often feel like a kid again when my favorite games are rereleased, but THPS 1 + 2 hits different. It places the originals firmly in context while updating them for today, reminding me that I’m not the same person I was when they first came out. Tony Hawk has changed, and so has skating, and so have video games, and so have I.