Review: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2

It might not be an original title, but after the abysmal, contractually-obliged mess that THPS5 ended up being, can you blame both Activision as much the fans that made the series what it is for feeling unsure on picking things up where they, sadly, ended five years ago? If there’s one thing that’s made abundantly clear in the early parts of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2, it’s that the series’ signature short bursts of arcade-styled skating aren’t completely lost to time. A significant part of the late-90s to early-2000s mold of popular games it may be — and as exciting it may initially sound to find a new coat of paint to some old favorite levels — it’s comforting to see that a game (or rather, two games packed into one release) can still thrive on the same mechanics and sense of arrangement that made [discounting the last one] all Pro Skater titles novel at their most middling, but addictively long-lasting at their absolute best.

Returning to where it all began — where, it can be argued, the cult-establishing legacy that is the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series was properly established — and the positivity that stems, will of course vary between players. Like all remasters or remakes of decade-old properties, former detractors or those who simply held differing tastes or preferences, may not feel the most impact on revisiting these stages or pulling off those tricky combos between half-a-dozen pieces of the environment. But credit to developers Vicarious Visions (with Beenox providing support), their second handling of Activision’s longer-running — albeit less-lucrative IPs now that we live in the age of annual Call of Duty titles — brands demonstrates a studio who can strike that desired balance. Subtle ideas and small details that, fortunately, help rather than hinder the experience one may or may not hoping to rekindle above all else. In hindsight, Vicarious’ work on Crash Bandicoot should’ve provided definitive confidence and proof that the result would turn out just as well. But for a genre even more niche than the 3D platformer — least, niche in the context of current-day mainstream popularity — was it possible that lightning could in fact strike twice?

The answer is yes, yes it is. Much like their previous effort, the studio don’t always pull off the best of deliveries, nor do the original ideas brought in work at their best at all times. The previously-alluded to addition of jumping back into proceedings after bailing feeling inconsistent. As do the load times for some levels whose lengthy presence and stalling of progression slips into noticeable territory from time to time. But these are minor complaints in the grand scheme of things; criticism whose only presence serves to highlight just how wonderfully on-point Vicarious’ philosophy is on the job of remaking a beloved property for a second time. How, once again, the studio not only grasp but fully understand why such games found immense cult appeal to begin with.

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There’s an argument to be made on whether the opportunity was there for Vicarious to inject a more substantial originality alongside returning proceedings. To go beyond subtle tweaks and a visual reimagining of a level or two and maybe add new, possibly less-repetitive objectives in later stages. Given that just like the originals, a lot of the non-competition stages’ objectives generally consist of: scores, combos, hunting down five of a particular object, as well as pulling off particular tricks across certain gaps or parts of the environment. But it’s to Vicarious’ credit that they refrain from putting their own stamp on one too many areas and of making changes to what is a tried-and-tested sequence. A sequence whose similarity is more than compensated for by way of the ingenious ways in which level design — and the traversal of such — is incorporated. True, that’s of course down to [original developer] Neversoft, whose physical geometry is relatively untouched here. But when you consider the decision to bring in later title staples like Manual tricks and Spine Transfers, the result is that it mixes up the experience enough to the point it alters how one goes about making the most of each short, two minute burst of play-time. It’s these slight alterations that in the end immensely benefit this remake.

Puritans can of course customize the control schemes so that it remains true to what came before which, again, in itself a small but thoughtful appreciation of the original games. But it’s these small but smart add-ons where Vicarious find the ideal sweet spot in freshening up the experience without downplaying what made the originals so addictive to begin with. If anything, the improved visuals on top help to provide an extra level of identity and unique flair to particular levels whose themes or implications of a setting were a little less visible. The once “foggy” masquerade of hardware limitations replaced with bright, sun-baked surroundings in one instance and desolate abandonment of an interior in another. Nightly city environments benefit from the multitude of light sources as do levels like Venice Beach whose own visual upgrade makes working out its concrete, labyrinthine playground an even more enticing experience.

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It isn’t long before fans of the originals are hit smack-bang with all those same thrills, urges and tentative “what-ifs” asked of ourselves that the tight line between landing and outright ruining a sizeable combo creates. How best to spend each one of the two minute periods that tend to fly by a lot quicker than previously assumed. How best to reach those tricky spots that can be approached in a number of ways. Better still: how one is to reach the many hidden “VV” icons scattered about the game — the only real addition Vicarious include in regards to optional collectibles to hunt down. And to allude to a previous point: how the added abilities (should you decide on keeping them in) alter how the sandbox nature of environments can be approached. All of which complimented with a soundtrack — both returning tracks and some new additions on top — that manage to provide a good flow of genres, even for those whose musical preferences may not entirely line up. Much like the gameplay it compliments, there’s a timeless vibe to where the licensed soundtrack sits — the mixing in with the action on-screen never outweighing or usurping the focus required.

Beyond that, there’s not much else you can say when it comes to the appeal of a series like this. On its own, Pro Skater remains such a simple yet addictive slice of arcade-styled simulation. Even after a terrible run previous or the umpteenth failed attempt to grab the final letter in S-K-A-T-E in one objective, the fact is the skating is as good as it always was. Even if you decide on dedicating time just freely exploring the assortment of levels on offer, there’s a simple delight on reminding one’s self on what is possible and where. What hidden gaps or transfers can help you on your way to higher and higher scores. It’s this hidden level of replayability and curiosity where one of Pro Skater 1 + 2‘s more significant additions on top, outside of the visual make-over, comes into play.

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Pro Skater 1 + 2
is chock full of challenges and additional achievements to unlock. Most, if not all, rewarding you with additional cosmetics and tools with which you can use to further customize your own player-character away from the veteran and newcomer skaters that are unlocked from the word go. Yet despite the significantly large amount of challenges to overcome here, never for a second does Pro Skater 1 + 2 come across as if it assumes that players need to be rewarded as constant and as frequently as its laundry list of requirements stretches towards. A significant amount of requirements usually met without the player ever noticing on first go and while the game does still pop up an indicator that a challenge has been completed, it doesn’t ever feel like showering the player with shallow praise.

So yes, there’s a lot of replayability to factor into the remake and while the end result still lands you with new cosmetics and currency to spend on the thousands of pieces of apparel and skateboard components, it at least gives incentive for players to jump back into levels long after the list of objectives and stat points have been well-and-truly crossed off. But there’s no better source of investment than Pro Skater 1 + 2‘s rendition of the Create-A-Park mode. And just like the main Skate Tours, Vicarious Visions just about strike an excellent balance in adding to the formula, without diminishing the enjoyment one has in going wild with design. Credit where credit is again due in Vicarious’ refusing to restrict players to some relative believability so far as size and positioning goes, because some of the more wacky endeavors stumbled upon at the time of writing have resulted in this mode taking up far more hours than initially assumed. And as someone generally not interested in “make your own” type modes or full-blown games for that matter, Pro Skater 1 + 2 finds a way to worm its way into focus.

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It’s surprisingly easy to jump into the multiple creation tools, as off-putting the enormous, allocated space and stating of “park complexity” might initially seem. While there are tutorials to help players get better accustomed, Vicarious do the great thing of not having to force you through some laborious, ten-step building of a generic template before letting you free. Instead, hovering over certain objects and tools will bring up their respective tutorial, but again these segments can be so quickly ignored if players just want to learn at their own pace or experiment with what is possible. And experiment is the right word as there’s a clear unshackling of space and positioning that players can mess around with here. The controls can, on rare occasion, seem a little fiddly as objects try to snap onto each other or you’re left guesstimating if two objects are aligned properly, but for all these nitpicks, the additions Vicarious offer — notably the “Smart” objects — add an extra level of possibility to the way things can turn out. A helpful tool if you’re like me and (as shown above) are attempting to turn Pro Skater into a 3D platformer of sorts.

A shame then that the online multiplayer component to Pro Skater 1 + 2 is the area where Vicarious falter more visibly. Both in terms of what’s offered up, as well as how these competitive rounds play out on the technical side. Annoying as it is when a round focused squarely on combo-building or even getting to a certain score first can be interrupted by momentary lag in spots — ultimately ruining a good run in the process. But more so, while it’s understandable for such rounds to play out in similarly short bursts of time, it isn’t long before the relatively thin playlist of modes and objectives is inevitably repeated. Why can we not play H-O-R-S-E online? For those entirely new to Pro Skater, the experience can feel even more bizarre and worse, a touch unwelcoming. Barely any time or sense of instruction is invested for modes like Graffiti Tag to the point newcomers may come away confused as to whether what they’re actually doing is even correct. The fact there’s no ability for players to even vote on levels or modes alike further reinforces suspicion the online side of things feel secondary or at least not treated with as much the same care as the rest of the game.

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Closing Comments:

For those who can forgive the confusing online component, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 stands as another well-crafted and well-realized remake of an old favorite. For the second time, Vicarious Visions demonstrate both a fond appreciation yet clever deducing on how this type of game should look and feel in current times. It’s this sense of harmony and of finding the treasured middle-ground — between the old we know and the implied new of a better experience — that the studio triumph on where it matters. Resulting in many a fond, curious return to so many of the remake’s sandbox environments. Avoiding the peril of subtracting from such nostalgic appeasement, instead adding to it in a way that makes levels feel both original yet familiar all at once. N. Sane Trilogy was an entertaining reminder on the appeal of 3D platformers and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 does just as much the same on rekindling that immense enjoyment for another set of similarly PlayStation classics.