When skateboarding was a thing
The sports equipment in the 90’s and 00’s that every 10-year-old owned was of course the skateboard, opposed to the foot-propelled scooter that’s all the rage amongst the kiddies these days. I might not know who the baddest mother in scooting is but me and all them 90’s kids sure do know that the best skateboarder of all time is Tony Hawk. I’m quite confident that him becoming a household name is largely thanks to the game franchise bearing his name. For about half a decade, Mr. Hawk-featured skating games were some of the most popular out there. It all started to wither in the mid to late 00’s as Activision kept releasing one disaster after another, culminating in the freshest excrement, scraped together quite recently. Amply titled: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, a glorified cash grab, if there ever was one. It was so broken upon its release that the developers had to released a gigantic patch to make the game even playable, if barely. This was of course due to the fact that Activision’s license was near expiration and so a final “product” was quickly whipped up. But again, I seem to go off track. But let’s not delve on what is but instead, let’s look at what was.
Skate 2 was released by one of the main rivals of Activision: EA Games. It was the sequel to the 2007 original, which reinvented the skateboarding genre. To understand why Skate was so intuitive and a much-needed change, a quick history recap is in order.
Originally a pretty straight up arcade-like series, Tony Hawk titles really took off on the PS2 with the Underground sub-series. These had more customizable stuff, a story arc with some over-the-top humor. By the time the next generation rolled up however, the Hawk games started to lag behind, with the last decent title in the series being American Wasteland, which however differentiated very little from the Underground titles. While the few following games werent necessarily bad, they felt lacking in the mechanical department and were overall quite bland. It seemed there wasn’t much new to the series and the transition to the next-gen of the time didn’t seem to go smoothly for the franchise. Once Skate came out, it was a fresh breath of air for the genre, which of course made Activision, the publisher of the Hawk games, lose it. They changed the developers and added a mandatory controller in the shape of a skateboard in the subsequent titles, an idea ripped straight from the arcades. Overall, the implementation was done poorly. This move of course did in no way help the franchise and after a couple of such releases the series was basically put on hiatus, until very recently and as I stated earlier, this will most likely be the last Tony Hawk game, or at least the last Activision will get to publish.
Now back to Skate. So this was an interesting new entry into the genre and was polished up quite a bit for the sequel, so I highly recommend playing Skate 2. The third one however was clearly just an attempt at annualizing the series and seemed to bring almost no new ideas to the table. It wasn’t a bad game but it just wasn’t new, pretty much the identical game. Having a game with such a short development cycle guarantees a bunch of unintentional glitches and bugs, which garnered the game a lot of new press, as this was at the time when Let’s Player’s were really starting to take off on YouTube.
What made Skate so great was the philosophy which applies to real life skateboarding as well: easy to learn, hard to master. And that is just what the developers were going for. The game wasn’t hard to pick up but when you were required to pull off some more complicated tricks, you really needed to know what you were doing. Timing played a much more important role, as opposed to Tony Hawk where most of the difficulty in many tricks lied in memorizing the button combinations necessary to initiate the trick itself. This is where the games physics came into play. The world was made life-like and real. You had to watch out for curbstone, pedestrians, anything that could knock you over and at the same time try to pull off a trick on a certain piece of architecture in a certain way, all the while knowing that the air you’ll get will be kept in realistic boundaries, meaning you won’t be able to do a 6-foot ollie from the ground without any air.
Sadly, this series aswell seems to have died out. Be it just the lack of interest for skating games or EA’s fear or ruining the series the same way as Activision did with theirs, there hasn’t been a Skate game released since 2010.
Now, I’ve talked a good deal about how the Tony Hawk franchise went down the drain but let’s turn out attention instead to the best titles of the series. Namely, I’ll be focusing on Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 or THUG2 for short. Most of you old gamer-farts from the 90’s will probably remember Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 as that was the title that really solidified Tony. Well, THUG2 did basically the same thing, only bringing the series to new, unseen heights. As the first Underground title opened the gates to the possibilities of moving away from just arcade-like gameplay, THUG2 and American Wasteland went on to perfect the formula.
Now at its core, it was still the same game they had started out with in the 90’s but the feature to step off your board was revolutionary at the time. A feature the original Skate game tried to steer clear from but ultimately confronted for the sequel. For the Tony Hawk games, this opened up a whole new dimension of gameplay. Tony Hawk wasn’t just a game for the fast-fingered skateboard-lovers but a playground of mayhem and crude humor. Completing the outrageous and somewhat offensive objectives in THUG2 made it more about the experience of a delinquent youth than that of a pro skater in the making. The Underground titles were more similar to games like Katamari than the likes of F1 Racing. You weren’t just doing tricks but through your tricks, you created new environments and possibilities for even crazier shenanigans.
The game was also packed with a ton of content. Guest appearances of many at-the-time well-known celeb-skaters, licensed music, customizable characters, real-world settings, you name it. It was a blast through and through. And this is another one of the games that, at least on the PC, was kept alive long after its release thanks to the modding community. Some of them really add a ton of features, both mechanical and cosmetic, which make the game look and play so much better than the vanilla version.
But the weirdest thing about THUG2 is the PSP port, titled Tony Hawk’s Underground 2: Remix. This version actually has quite few new levels and honestly doesn’t look even all that bad, compared to its PS2 counterpart.