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Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 review – Birdman returns

Not content with reviving Crash Bandicoot and Spyro The Dragon, Activision’s latest remake may be their best yet.

Perhaps it’s due to the impending arrival of a new console cycle, but one striking trend in the games industry this year has been the way in which it has mined its back catalogue to remake iconic games of yesteryear. Following the likes of Square Enix with Final Fantasy 7, it’s now Activision’s turn to apply the wonders of modern technology to 1999’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and its 2000 sequel, two games that helped establish the original PlayStation as a game-changing console.

Reworking revered classics can be a minefield if you take the wrong approach, but Activision and developer Vicarious Visions, with help from Beenox, have sensibly taken the absolute opposite direction to the one adopted by Square Enix with Final Fantasy 7. With Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2, they have resisted the temptation to string anything out, instead stripping back the two games – bundled neatly together in one impressively coherent package – to their most basic and essential elements.

The end result will trigger a surge of nostalgia for those old enough to have played the originals and should amaze a younger audience with its sheer addictiveness and the exhilarating, adrenalin-inducing nature of its gameplay. After an optional tutorial, which stresses key elements such as the role of reverts and manuals in stringing together the game’s signature combos, you can opt to fire up either of the two games from the main menu, or head online for some multiplayer action.

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Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 isn’t untouched by the mores of modern gaming, as demonstrated by the presence of a skate shop where you can use currency earned in-game to buy stickers, wheels, grip tape and the like for your board. Thankfully, Activision has so far resisted the temptation to include any rapacious loot box-style mechanisms, and the skate shop’s cosmetic items mesh nicely with the Create-A-Skater feature (you can still jump in and play as Tony Hawk himself, along with the original roster of skaters and some modern additions). Create-A-Park, as originally seen in the second game, also returns, vastly simplified and improved.

Once you’ve picked which game to play first, the overwhelming feeling is one of comforting familiarity. All the original levels have been lovingly, although not slavishly, recreated (some judicious tweaks improve several of them in many ways) with a level of detail and at resolutions of which the original developers could only have dreamed. As ever, you’re given two minutes per run at each level, during which you must satisfy as many objectives as possible – the number of which has been bumped up from the original games.

Those objectives include High, Pro, and Sick scores; a combo objective; collecting the letters for S-K-A-T-E; finding the secret tape; and specific tricks to be performed in specific areas or gaps – plus various familiar environmental challenges, such as collecting hall passes and wall-riding alarm bells in the school level. As you meet those objectives, you unlock new levels, with the number of objectives you need to tick off having been adjusted to reflect the proliferation of those objectives.

And that’s the entire structure of the game: simple, uncluttered, and effective. Thankfully, Vicarious Visions has made no attempt to shoehorn in storylines, as happened during the franchise’s long decline. You do level up though, and are given a constant drip-feed of extra challenges, which earn XP and dollars for the skate shop.

But levelling up has little discernible effect, beyond multiplayer matching – it’s far more important to collect the stat points secreted in each level, improving your ability to ollie, hang in the air, the length of your jumps, and the stability of your manuals and grinds. Having the two games bundled in one package is great, since if you start off working your way through one game, improving your stats as you go, it helps you to progress more quickly through the other.

As in the original games, the main levels are punctuated by competition levels, in which you get three runs to score as many points as possible, with your efforts rated by judges who award bronze, silver, and gold medals. Nailing those gold medals will obsess you just as much as ticking off those objectives that prove most elusive.

Online, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 also pinpoints the essence of the game. The easiest way into the multiplayer is just to run a playlist of modes in which you’re given objectives such as being the first to hit a set combo score or overall score, or to achieve the highest combo or score in the allotted two minutes. The former can lead to some very short rounds, and the random selection of levels feeds back into the single-player game, as you get to know the best areas in which to set up high-scoring combos.

By concentrating on what made the first two Tony Hawk’s games so compelling and ignoring the extraneous elements that crept into the later games, Vicarious Visions, Beenox, and Activision have more than done justice to two classic games. Games which played a huge part in changing the perception of gaming as being the exclusive province of geeky teenagers; raising the possibility that, instead, it could be considered cool, edgy, and socially acceptable.

With skateboarding set to make its debut as a sport at the COVID-delayed Tokyo Olympics, the timing and quality of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 couldn’t be more apposite. The original games turned Tony Hawk into one of the most recognisable sports stars on the planet and this remake is good enough to hopefully bring skateboarding even further into the modern sporting limelight.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 review summary

In Short: A stripped-down, glorious-looking remake that updates the original two games in just the right way to make them feel fresh and exciting again.

Pros: Looks fabulous and the controls are super-responsive. Structure keeps things simple, with great new objectives and challenges. Solid multiplayer.

Cons: Skate shop has some worrying nods to modern day microtransactions. Levelling up serves little real purpose.

Score: 9/10

Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC
Price: £39.99
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Vicarious Visions, Beenox, and Neversoft
Release Date: 4th September 2020
Age Rating: 12

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