Venture onto social media and you’ll find Tony Hawk’s presence is a much-needed dose of positivity. Scrolling through his amiable interactions with the world around him there’s no sense of his laidback manner being anything other than effortless. Just a good dude embracing life with unassuming charisma and making the most of an unerring talent for skateboarding.
Spoilers: he’s bottled that charm for Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2. There’s no need to be coy. This is one of the great, and most satisfying, remakes of any console era. Thanks largely due to its titular star being extremely passionate about working with developer Vicarious Visions to ensure this is an experience worth revisiting. Let’s be categorically clear: this is absolutely no repeat of the lamentable Pro Skater 5. A game so poorly-received that many might have been left wondering what the fuss around the series is all about.
The fuss is largely due to a core gameplay loop of beautiful simplicity. Controlling a real-life pro or created skater, you have two minutes to score as big as possible. There are a wealth of tricks to deploy and there are all manner of obstacles off of which to trick. Each positioned to enable every ability of player to find a favoured line. Hitting a certain score threshold or finding stat points to boost your skater’s skill leads to unlocking new levels. And crucially, the more you play, the better you and the bigger your scores get.
Veteran developers Vicarious Visions choosing to remaster Pro Skater 1 and 2 is a bold move. Bold simply because the originals were such defining games of their era. Chances are if you were a gamer at school or uni back in 1999, you or someone you knew would have the games. Hours upon hours were lost trying to hit that perfect line. Hitting pause, restart in response to an early bail became instinctive as the chase for bigger combos escalated. The games were glorious. Thankfully here every level is lovingly recreated. More importantly, the moreish, just-one-more-go gameplay is intact. Pleasingly it also feels fresh despite carrying the weight of so much nostalgia.
If you’re a returning player your memory of the game’s aesthetics might be slighted rose-tinted. Looking at grubby, blocky footage on YouTube now is blinkingguy.gif surprising. Watching that footage side-by-side with the remaster is to step into a world of vivid imagination. Vicarious Visions haven’t quite achieved Naughty Dog levels of console wizardry, but seeing the beautification of beloved levels such as School II, Warehouse and Venice Beach is enough to bring a nostalgic tear to the eye. The latter, soaked in a gorgeous orange sunset haze, is an astonishingly good-looking level. It is not alone: Mall, a jam through an abandoned shopping mall looks suitably grungy and dilapidated. Warehouse, a staple among score seekers, is awash with dappled light shining through huge windows. There’s a palpable sense of daring skating where you’re not supposed to be.
Each level appears to have rebuilt from the ground up in painstaking detail. It’s a restoration project clearly enthused with love throughout. This means a lot if you previously spent any time with the series. While obviously there will be hopes within Activision for enough success to warrant further remasters, that this isn’t in any way a lazy money-grab is a welcome surprise. Some might baulk at the £40 price, but with many retailers offering deals lower than rrp, there is an immense amount of value to be had at that mid-range price point. Apply patience to what initially might seem simple and you’ll find great depth. Nailing your first six-figure combo is exhilarating; making that a regular occurrence within two minute runs is where the real fun lies.
Another factor in Pro Skater’s appeal has always been its soundtrack. Two-minute bursts of metal, punk, funk, hip-hop and more thrown together in a pleasingly eclectic mix. One moment the tracks are amping the arcade gameplay into a frenzied blur; the next providing chilled beats for a lazy grind and gap-finding session for future score attacks. The remaster has some original tunes – including Goldfinger’s Superman – and adds in a few modern jams to the mix. Very few tracks feel unwelcome or unsuited. However, a smart addition is the ability to skip tracks mid-session so your favourite sounds are never far away. The music isn’t just background noise either. There are little touches like the volume increasing when your special meter is full. A lovely little detail enhancing the feel of being ‘in the zone’.
Of course, neither the looks or sounds would be worth a kickflip without the gameplay feeling right. It’s here where VV deserves the most praise. They have distilled everything that felt right in 1999 to make it feel oh so good in the here and now. The same minute-to-learn, hours-upon-hours-to-master feedback is present and correct. Novices might struggle with later goals and score benchmarks, but the game is a subtle tutorial throughout to provide assistance. The various collectibles guide players towards scoreboard breaking lines, offering a glimpse of what can be achieved once your fingers settle into the rhythm of a good run. For the seriously good, and online leaderboards suggest there are plenty of supremely-talented players out there, the game offers so many gaps and lines that this remaster should invigorate score attacks for months and years to come.
Beyond the core two-minute runs, there are more gameplay options for both single and multiplayer. Speed run allows players to attempt to tick-off all level goals in a single time attack. Free skate is a great way to expand knowledge of levels. Local multiplayer offers up split-screen classics such as Horse, the fast-paced alternating high score challenge. Dissapointly on a PS4 Pro there is a slight drop in framerate during local sessions. However such wrinkles can be ironed out in a future update. This is hardly a dealbreaker with so much other great content on hand to entertain.
Multiplayer, despite the presence of a fair few intimidatingly good opponents, is still a huge amount of fun. Besides earning XP this mode also offers an opportunity to learn new methods from the very best. In fact the variety of online modes all offer new ways to uncover lines, adding to the ever-present sense of attainable gradual improvement.
Once private lobbies are offered online will be the feature that extends the game’s shelf life. The thought of rounding up a group of friends for a few hours of virtual skating across so many great environments is a mouth-watering prospect in what is already a hugely sating experience.
All in, this is a staggeringly good recreation of one of video gaming’s most beloved cult hits. Put simply, this is one of the most enjoyable games of all-time polished bright enough to set a dazzling benchmark for all future remakes and remasters. Tony Hawk’s digital legacy soars higher than his iconic 900 once again, and it’s exactly what The Birdman deserves.