(THPS is out now for Epic Game Store, Xbox One, and PS4. Distributor provided review copy.)
For gamers of a certain age, TONY HAWK’S PRO SKATER is pure, blissful comfort food. It’s sweet, warm nostalgia that you dip into at the end of a long day that reminds you of better and simpler times. From the moment Rage Against the Machine’s classic Guerilla Radio kicks off, the years roll back and it’s like you’re back in the late 90s all over again.
As a remake it’s as close to perfection as possible. Nothing essential has been changed, and that which has is for basic quality of life upgrades that modern gaming has brought with it. But the iconic level design, the tricks that remain lodged in the spine, and the juvenile humor all remain untouched. I found myself grinning from ear to ear the first time the game booted up. I could remember every trick in the book, even twenty years later.
The foundation of the game remains the same as ever. You pick a skater (from a hugely bolstered roster), select a park, and off you go. Each level has numerous main objectives to complete, which in turn unlock skills to improve your skater into being a better, faster version of themselves. Secondary and hidden objectives provide extra challenges, especially once you get to figuring out how to chain more complex tricks together in a single fluid combo.
Mechanics are given an overhaul across both games. The original TONY HAWK’S PRO SKATER had multiple features that weren’t introduced until the sequels, all of which now appear right out of the gate as default inclusions. This kind of quality of life improvement is nothing but welcome and serves only to make the entire experience feel better.
These levels are iconic for a reason. Original developer Neversoft spent ages honing them to perfection and that dedication to fun shows still decades later. Remake developer Vicarious Visions have mostly left the backbone of the originals intact, but certain little tweaks have been made. They’re nothing major, but the kind of additions that you still appreciate. Mostly corrections made from the massive limitations of the original PlayStation; edges smoothed out and weird placings of objectives made just a little bit easier to reach. It’s the kind of work on a remake that isn’t immediately obvious, but once you notice the love and care that’s been put into it you can’t help but appreciate it.
The skating experience itself is still as fun as ever. Straddling the line between simulation and arcade, TONY HAWK’S PRO SKATER sets the bar for every other sports game that follows and still – in my mind – has never been bested. It’s easy to pick up, difficult to master, and rewarding to perfect. Every trick is animated flawlessly and the game never feels unfair to play. Whatever mistakes that happen are because of you – and that’s fine. It means you can get better at any point.
I’d even argue that just like TETRIS and PONG, TONY HAWK’S PRO SKATER is the first of its kind that perfects a formula to such a degree that it serves a foundation for everything else in the genre (and even outside it). Sure, other games may have featured more varied options and more realistic physics, but nothing else has come close to perfecting the level of pure fun and skill in this way.
Other elements of the presentation are equally impressive. Featuring a who’s who of the skater rock and punk scenes of the late 90s and early Y2K’s, it’s like a high school reunion where everyone has to wear what they thought was cool as a teenager. Many times during playing I found myself deep in nostalgia just thinking about how distant those years feel, and how only Rage Against the Machine has managed to come out of it all still relevant.
Speaking of which – censoring Guerilla Radio? Come on guys.
Not that noticing how times have changed is a bad thing. It’s the kind of nostalgia that actually feels nice to revisit. Like a warm hug from a friend you haven’t seen in years. After weeks of playing the game I found myself still wanting to go and hang out in my favorite parks. As a game it is a rare gem in that it’s just genuinely a brilliantly relaxing experience every single time. There’s no story, no hardcore competitive scene, just pure fun every time. In an abnormal time it gives us a digital hangout that feels like an oasis in the middle of a barren desert.
I never had the physique or coordination for actual skateboarding and as a kid THPS offered a gateway into a sport that I admired but couldn’t handle. It’s such a pleasure to be able to revisit that and find that sometimes, miraculously, you can go home again.