It’s official, Vicarious Visions can bottle nostalgia. With Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy, the developer demonstrated a knack for hoisting your nostalgia up from the cortex and making a game look and feel as good as you remembered. With Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2, the studio has proved revitalising these dead franchises is nothing short of an art.
From the second you kick yourself down the roll-in on the first, iconic Warehouse level – a level no doubt burned into the mind of many gamers from a very special demo disc – the game feels right. Like you remember. Every twitch kickflip, every strained ollie, every desperate wallplant you nail when you’re trying to extend your combo for those vital multipliers; it’s all there, brilliantly lit in HDR, testing your reflexes in 60FPS.
Vicarious Visions has managed to salvage Neversoft’s old code and import it into the new engine and that shows, because the game is almost uncannily similar to what you remember. Muscle memory that’s been dead some 20 years will wake up in your hands, and you’ll be a slave to its undead twitching.
It’s nothing short of a miracle, really. Other developers have tried, and failed miserably, to rebottle the magic that made the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series so enduring. Remasters previously have failed to get the speed just right, underestimated how important the collision physics are, and fumbled the tough-but-fair conditions that make you bail and eat shit. Other games, like the ill-fated Skater XL, have leaned too far into getting the feel of skating right; they’ve relied on realism over good game design.
Vicarious Visions' interpretation of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater somehow manages to reflect your rose-tinted glasses of the originals in every facet. The street art plastered on every conceivable surface pops out of your TV thanks to the new engine, the cu-cump-cu-cump-cu-cump of wheels on paving stones rumbles through the floor and the slap of wood on coping when you land a trick echoes like it would under any concrete overpass. Look back at either game running on PSOne and you see how nasty and blocky it looked – Vicarious Visions has made this game look, feel and sound as good as you think it deserves to be. And that’s no mean feat.
Perhaps the biggest achievement, though, is in how the remaster nails the risk/reward balance. Similarly to the original games, your session lives and dies on whether or not you can execute lengthy combos chaining grinds, grabs, flips and lip tricks. Unlike the original, you can now also revert and manual - so knowing when to give up on a combo versus when to push it just a bit more to get those delicious points. And that's as moreish as ever.
The game helps you out way more than its genre rivals do. In Skate, Skater XL or Session, your deck doesn’t magically magnetise to the nearest rail or let you off if your (greedily gotten) Madonna isn’t quite finished by the time you hit the vert ramp. This remaster seems to know just when to slam your skater to the floor and just when to let you off – whatever developmental necromancy the studio has used to determine how to measure ‘fairness’ should probably be banished to another realm. It’s too good.
Similarly to the originals, this arcade leniency makes the games feel more accessible – and why not? That’s the whole appeal; chasing high scores, having it out with your mates over a six-pack, running session after session to complete every bastard objective in Downhill Jam. The score chasing, the sometimes obscure objectives and even a few new devilish collectibles from Vicarious Visions itself are all in there. The studio has gone above and beyond on a clear labour of love.
The skill in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater comes from knowing how to knit tricks together and weave ludicrous looking moves in and out of the geometry in front of you. Can you noseblunt up to that big gap, kick a triple Impossible off the jump, land into a manual and drop into a nearby vert ramp to carry your combo on? Or are you better just going for some mad 900-degree spin whilst sacktapping yourself to celibacy to try and rack up bigger points in a shorter time? Experience, knowing your skater, and occasional blind luck will determine what works – and luckily you’ve got 17 (mostly) fun levels to learn all that in.
You may come to this game already knowing it’s good (we’ve had a whole Warehouse Demo to prove that), but aside from the ample portion the two games themselves serve up, you’ve still got more to chew on. The Create-A-Park mode is fairly robust, and though it can be clunky to master on a control pad, the suite of tools, props and templates available to you is enough to satiate even the sniffiest skatepark architect. Whether you’re trying to make a ramp-for-ramp replica of Victoria Park Skate Park (it’s very tough!) or making some sort of gimmicky, Powerslave-inspired madhouse, Create-a-Park has you covered.
If you just want to stick to the asphalt and concrete, don’t fret; with 24 skaters (once you unlock the secret ones) and a swathe of challenges specifically for the four Create-A-Skater slots, you’re not going to finish everything this game has to offer in a hurry. For this review, we clocked up over 20 hours of gameplay and we’ve barely scratched the surface of two pro skaters and the Create-a-Skater suites. That’s 21 more sets of Challenges, a lot of them custom, to go.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 treads a great balance between the aesthetic of both games, too. You’re going to be thrashing out all your sessions to the same set of tracks, and whilst a lot of the original soundtrack is present, there are some additions, too. Mostly, it’s on the level – we’ve got equal measures of ska (for better or for worse) and hardcore stuff, mixed in with hip-hop, grime and rap. The latter genres definitely fall in line with THPS2’s less guitar-based setup, and I’ve already come away from the game with Spotify playlists brimming with new stuff to listen to. So whoever was in charge of the music licensing has already fulfilled their brief, to an extent. Though going from Skepta to Reel Big Fish is never going to feel right.
This, really, is the complete package: at once the dirt under the fingernails and a celebration of what skating is in 2020. The old guard – Hawk, Mullen, Muska, Burnquist et al – are joined by sensational newcomers like Aori Nishimura, Leticia Bufoni, and Leo Baker: accurately reflecting the influx of female and non-binary personalities on the scene and how open skating is to everyone in the modern age.
Vicarious Visions has proved that Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was more than just a product of its time, and that – like skating itself – it has every chance of penetrating the mainstream once again. The studio should be lauded for twice proving that it is a steward of 90s nostalgia, and that it can reanimate games to be just as good – if not better! – for their second turn under the sun.
Version tested: PS4. Code supplied by publisher.