There’s a subspecies of gamer who will drift off into a nostalgic reverie whenever they happen to hear the opening bars of Superman by Goldfinger, and I’m one of them. It’s not the song from the intro movie, or even one of the best on the track list, but for whatever reason it has this unbreakable association with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater that even led them to name a recent documentary after it.
THPS1 was one of the original PlayStation’s highest-rated titles for a handful of reasons: a revolutionary control system, bold and solid visuals, clever level design and that perfect soundtrack, all supercharged by the lasting, low-key charm of the man himself. It’s no exaggeration to say that he put professional skateboarding on the map and made it accessible to an entire generation of boys and girls, all while being extremely, loveably, almost suspiciously normal. The success of the games and his ascent to icon status went hand-in-hand, to the extent that nowadays it’s hard to imagine one without the other.
Tony might not skate so often anymore on his presumably creaky knees, but he still regularly tweets about people he meets who check him into hotels, flights or restaurants by saying “Whoa, cool name! Just like the skateboarder!” to which he - inevitably - replies: “Yeah, thanks.” What a guy.
Before it lost its way in the early/mid 2000s, the THPS series had cemented itself in both gaming and skateboarding culture forever. With the (arguable) exception of EA’s Skate, nothing has come close to representing the feel and fun of the sport in quite the same way. A remaster was predictable, but while some can feel like the cash cow-y byproduct of a lack of ideas or a reluctance to take risks, this feels more like acknowledgment that some things stand the test of time.
And it really, really does.
The gameplay is exactly as I remember, but in reality I'm almost certain they've put in a huge effort to bring responsiveness and accuracy up to 2021 standards. There were certain challenges that confused the hell out of me at a glance, then snapped into focus in a wave of muscle memory and deja vu on the first attempt. Can’t remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, but I could probably collect S-K-A-T-E at The Mall with my eyes closed. Vicarious Visions (who, it has to be said, also absolutely nailed the Crash N-Sane trilogy) have modernised the control system in that they’ve added manuals, reverts and wallplants to complete a roster of tricks that didn’t originally take shape until later in the original run of games, and it all feels spot on.
Each of the parks still provide challenges that progress nicely from (re)teaching the basics to hard-to-reach secret tapes and tough, three-stage competitions. They’re varied but consistently good, although THPS1 has a slightly stronger contingent than 2, in my humble opinion. There’s no shortage of things to do for the perfectionist either, from buying up all the apparel in the store to unlocking each of the 20+ skaters’ films, or building and sharing your own maps in the incredibly detailed park builder.
Any bad news? Well, on the Switch - and especially docked - it doesn’t look great. I’ve seen videos of it running on the PS4 & XBox One that make me think Vicarious Visions could’ve squeezed just a bit more quality out of the hardware, but they clearly prioritised frame rate, which is the right decision. THPS is all about flow and momentum, and the steady 30FPS means that a spectacular bail or broken combo is only ever your fault - the way God intended. Still, the rough textures and lack of fidelity in the menus are a bit of an eyesore at times, if you look too closely.
A minor disappointment then, in what is otherwise a brilliant remaster of two brilliant games. It’s not cheap and there’s not loads of new content to get stuck into, but the package is great nonetheless, especially when you factor in the replay value of the progression challenges, create-a-park and extensive multiplayer options. If you’re only going to play this in front of an enormous TV I’d be inclined to recommend another version, but if the Switch is your weapon of choice, the compromises are minimal. A portable THPS experience with a mostly intact soundtrack, upgrades and quality of life improvements in practically every area and all the grimy fun of the originals is some feat. Buy it.
Special thanks to Lauren at Hill+Knowlton for the review code.