900s, Scandalous Tapes, and Ollies
Remember when skateboarding games were actually fun? No? Well put away your Tony Hawk Ride deck, and travel back to the late '90s when a developer called Neversoft did the impossible. Back in 1999, practically no one believed a skateboarding video game could be fun other than Neversoft and a couple of stoners. Sadly, I was one of the many doubters when I observed my best friend's pal who didn't normally game playing a PlayStation title called Tony Hawk's Pro Skater.
Admittedly, I thought the game looked interesting, but I didn't think it'd actually be fun. When my friend ended up borrowing Tony Hawk, I finally had the opportunity to try this new-fangled skateboarding title, and immediately fell in love. Never before had I played an action-sports game that hooked me for more than a few minutes.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater kept my hand firmly attached to my PlayStation controller for days when I was finally able to borrow it myself, and it actually even prompted me to start skateboarding. My year-long attempt at performing ollies and 720s didn't go so well, but I remembered Tony Hawk for several years afterward, and eventually picked up a copy for my Dreamcast. Nearly eleven years after my initial play-through, I finally had the opportunity to revisit Mr. 900's skateboarding game on the Dreamcast.
Surprisingly, Tony Hawk is still a lot of fun despite its digital controls and aged visuals. To play, I simply had to pick a famous skateboarder and start boarding on the only accessible course. Once I'd entered the Warehouse, I began rolling downhill crouched in preparation for a ramp. After hitting the ramp, I released the crouch button, which caused me to perform an ollie. While in the air, I busted out a 540 and a kickflip, which I landed successfully. Despite using a different controller over a decade later, I could still perform like a pro-skater.
Tony Hawk's control scheme takes awhile to master, but it's accessible enough that rookies can perform 720s in no time. One button causes the skater to crouch and then ollie when released, while another button performs flip tricks, and another yet performs grab tricks. When either of these two buttons is held down, the d-pad or analog stick can be held in one of eight directions to perform a different maneuver. For example, holding the d-pad left will make you do a Kickflip, while holding it in the down-right direction will make you perform a Front Foot Impossible.
By holding the d-pad in a particular direction for a certain duration, the skater can perform a spin ranging from a 180 to 900. It's important not to hold the d-pad and trick button for too long, however, because the skater could crash and lose the points he'd accumulated while performing a trick.
Timing when performing tricks is essential, but it's also important to note that the player can perform multiple tricks before landing if he has enough air. Performing a spin trick, then a grab trick can award a player with a massive point total, so it's important to experiment once you're able to land moves regularly.
Besides performing grabs and flip tricks, players can also grind rails by holding the d-pad in one of eight directions and the grind button. As with grab and flip tricks, you'll be awarded more points by changing your moves frequently, so it's important to use more than one type of grind move.
Also, each skater can perform handplants, wall rides, and special moves that are inputted via button combinations, but they really aren't much more useful than standard 720s. Still, it's nice to see that moves like Tony Hawk's legendary 900 are available for players with finger dexterity.
Performing moves in Tony Hawk is gnarly, but part of the fun also comes in completing course objectives within a time limit. In each course (with the exception of trick competitions), the player will have to earn five tapes by completing different objectives. Some tapes will be awarded by finding the letters 'S', 'K', 'A', 'T', and 'E' throughout the course, while others are obtained by discovering a secret area or by grinding five police cars. Finding the secret tapes is usually the most enjoyable part of the experience, as you'll have to enter buildings through windows and jump rooftops to reach these out-of-reach cassettes.
Another feature special to the original Tony Hawk is its licensed soundtrack featuring mostly punk and alternative rock. The soundtrack's offerings are rather limited now, but at the time of the game's release, licensed soundtracks weren't common, so this was something special. Future Tony Hawk games featured music that would appeal to broader audiences, but the first game's soundtrack remains memorable, regardless.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater has some excellent courses ranging from a schoolyard to a level that is completely downhill, but it's not without its flaws. The control scheme, while decent for performing tricks could have been improved with true analog control. Making turns sometimes feels clumsy due to the digital controls, so it would have been nice if Neversoft fine-tuned skater maneuverability.
Also, it feels like the game's skaters sometimes fail to land tricks at times that they should. Generally, skaters will land tricks when you've performed a move correctly and have straightened out your board, but sometimes, the riders crash despite correct positioning on the player's part. This leads to some frustration during trick competitions where bailing completely ruins your score, so the player often has to compromise by performing smaller tricks.
Despite being eleven years old, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater is still one of the better video game skating experiences. Its first few sequels significantly expanded upon the Tony Hawk formula, but more recent titles in the series have crushed the ingenuity that used to be central to Tony Hawk titles. If you're tired of Tony Hawk's me-too sequels and its ill-fated skateboard peripheral, maybe it's time that you revisit the original. Sure, its visuals are dated, and the digital controls take awhile to get used to, but before you know it, you'll be busting out 720s just like you've always wanted to in real life.
· Pulling off tricks with the d-pad and two buttons is still fun
· Great level design full of obstacles and secrets
· It's a relatively short experience
· Digital controls make turning difficult. Dated visuals