Tony Hawk's Pro Skater is pure comfort food to me. When I went off to college in 1999, I left my video games behind. In my mind, they were toys - things of my boyhood past. I was embarking on a new adventure of adulthood. Which is a hilarious thought in hindsight because, man, I was just a kid. And even funnier because my gaming hiatus was cut rather brief when my roommate hooked up his Dreamcast and fired up Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2. Now, that second game is a whole other story, but today I'm talking about the first game in the series. All I can tell you is that I was so hooked on the Pro Skater games that even after that roommate moved out, I went and bought copies of the first two Pro Skaters, and then picked up 3 and 4 on release.
I wouldn't call the original Pro Skater rough around the edges. Sure, there were features added to the subsequent games that were quality of life improvements (manuals, reverts, etc), but Pro Skater nailed the gameplay, physics and compelling loop right out of the gate. It really couldn't have been simpler. You were given a list of objectives for each level and two minutes to check something, anything off your list of challenges. It was the perfect game to suck in a group of people for hours at a time in two minute spurts.
Today I'm playing the new HD remake of the game on my Xbox Series X and it's incredible. The gameplay remains top-notch, and these new upgraded visuals are mind-blowing. There's an insane amount of nostalgia that I'm feeling here as well. Not only for my college days of playing Tony Hawk with my roommate, but also of being a kid in the late 80's and early 90's. Going through the virtual skate shop in the game and seeing these old skateboard decks with the Shorty's or Birdhouse logo or what have you just brings me back to being a twelve year old perusing Thrasher Magazine.
And let's talk about that soundtrack for a minute. I mean, the selection of punk and ska tracks make perfect sense. Can anyone really hear Goldfinger's "Superman" and not think about Tony Hawk at this point? But in whole, this is like one of those late 90's Warped Tour compilations, which is totally fitting. The Vandals? The Suicide Machines? C'mon! But at the same time, there's some oddball choices that really add to the personality of the game. It's not like Primus was exactly hip at the time of the game's release. But man, "Jerry Was A Race Car Driver" really fits. And the weird part is this - as a dude who had been seriously into Primus during the run of Sailing The Seas Of Cheese, Pork Soda, and Riddles Are Abound Tonight, the inclusion here completely fit in with my own skating days (namely, junior high). But also in a weird way Pro Skater foresaw the overlap that Primus would have with nu metal in the early 2000's. It's an odd prediction, but yeah, Primus would soon enough be rubbing elbows with the Family Values Tour crew. And I'm sorry to go off on such a tangent, but it's not often that Primus can come up in a discussion of video games, so I need to take the opportunity to nerd out where I can.
I will say that the original game is fantastic, and hugely revolutionary. But, its sequel far outshines it in many ways. Some of this is rectified with the quality of life improvements that the new HD remake adds in. But if we're talking about pure level design, things are definitely perfected in the second game. Of course there's still some amazing levels here. The opening Warehouse stage is absolutely iconic. The School is cool, but again, it's revamped equivalent in Pro Skater 2 is just more interesting. The Downtown level has always felt a little too cluttered to me, and the bevy of taxis don't help. I've never really been a fan of the Downhill level, though at least the Mall does a better job of downhill concept. And then there's the skate park competitions, which are fine but feel a little basic and limited when compared to the larger levels. I do at least appreciate the 90's X-Files kinda nod that the Roswell one brings with it.
Maybe all of this sounds nitpicky. And maybe it really is. But the only reason I feel like I can nitpick is because I love this game, and I love this series. None of my criticisms take away from the experience for me. I can just see how the series was improved over time, all while appreciating playing the game. Doing two minute runs to Primus will never get old to me.