Nostalgia Distilled and Improved
The Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series is one of the most important to me personally. I bought an original Xbox to have something to play THPS 4 on, having beaten the other games at friend's houses multiple times. The series itself holds a much higher place of importance in both the video game and skateboarding realms. Prior to the release of the original, extreme sports games were limited to score challenges or downhill jam style games. While skateboarding had been around for a while, it took Tony Hawk's landing of the iconic 900 to push it into sports mainstream, helped along by the original Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. Its sequel only helped cement the game and the sport in pop culture. All that aside, the games were amazingly fun, even for non-skaters, and inspired a generation to get on a board and try to learn to pull off a kickflip, myself included. While I never managed to get too good at real world skating, the games have always had a special place in my gaming heart.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2 plays the way I remember the originals, just with a phenomenal new coat of paint. It not only brings back every level and skater from the original two games, it improves on just about every visual thing it can while retaining the single most important feature of them; the feel. Perhaps the single reason why the THPS games lasted as long as they did is that Neversoft managed to get the feel of the games right from day one and spent nearly a decade improving on and adding to it. THPS 1+2 recaptures that feeling and allows old muscle memory from those games to kick back in for players of the originals, while allowing new players to get on board as well. The classic trick system is preserved nearly in its entirety from later games, from reverts and hip transfers, to modifiable grinds and flip tricks. It's comfortingly familiar to someone who's spent many hours getting good at such things.
Interestingly, the old levels work quite well with the added mechanics. The original game didn't include the manual or revert, making combos much shorter and, therefore, scores much lower. The upgrade to the skater's abilities should completely break the classic levels, rendering them trivial or simple. However, it simply allows for more complicated pathing, more opportunity to connect strings of tricks, and more creativity overall in how you tackle the games challenges.
That having been said, perhaps my only complaint with the game is the reduction of repetition, though I can see the benefit of this change overall. In the older games, each level featured goals to be completed by each skater. In the original two games, all these challenges were identical (different challenges for different styles of skater wouldn't show up until THPS 3), and the repetition as you went through each skater helped customize each skater and hammer home the levels and their unique lines you could find each time. This time, once you beat the goals with one skater, they're done with everyone. Players can complete them again in a speed run mode, but that's about it, unfortunately. Perhaps forseeing this, Vicarious Visions built in a lot of challenges to be completed aside from the level goals, which can keep you busy for quite a while. Some gap challenges are even more like puzzles than test of skill, forcing you to learn the level well enough to know how to get all the required gaps into a single combo. A few still have me scratching my head.
The soundtrack deserves mention for its scope and variety. The classic soundtracks are pretty much retained, with songs that will be seared into your memory if you played a lot of the first two games, along with a selection of new stuff that blends together very well. There is even a function to select which songs you want to hear or not hear if you dislike a few, or just want to hear Goldfinger's "Superman" on repeat (I may or may not have done this for several hours).
All tolled, we couldn't ask for a better remake of Tony Hawk games. It fills me with joy to get back into the warehouse and clear the half pipe or grind along the lights above the bullring again. About the only thing that would make it better is if we get the THPS 3 levels included at some point. For this year at least, I'm holding on to what I can... pretending I'm a superman.