This week I’m featuring the game that made skateboarding look easy, Tony Hawk Pro Skater (THPS). Released in 1999, THPS launched a a franchise that lasted into the mid 00’s. The recently released Tony Hawk game was universally panned, so let’s focus on the good ol’ days of digital skateboarding.
What made it great then? THPS took the popularity of skateboarding and distilled it down into a very fun and straightforward game. As a seven year old, I was enthralled the first time I saw my older cousin play it on his Sega Dreamcast. Two-minute runs make the player work for a perfect line and made sure that the challenges were actually difficult. With a mix of item seeking and skill/points based challenges, the player has to go through a level several times before advancing, giving them opportunity to explore all possible trick locations.
What makes it great now? I went back and played my N64 copy in preparation for this post. The controls hold up pretty well. Grind balancing is not very nuanced and I regularly fall immediately after starting a grind. This may be realistic to my abilities, but it doesn’t make the most entertaining experience. Later versions would improve on trick control, making ridiculous and unrealistic combos possible.
Why should it be remembered? Considering there were almost yearly iterations of THPS, it is a little difficult to recommend THPS1 over a later version. The later THPS games improve on the formula, but the original does have many features that may not be expected and set the franchise on the right track.
THPS is a major nostalgia trip for me. I played these games so regularly for about 6 years of my life that revisiting them is almost therapeutic. For those who are not victims of nostalgia, THPS represents a good example of arcade-esque gameplay on consoles and a creative way of translating a sport to gameplay. Additionally, if there is ever a scholar looking to study the youth of the late 90’s & early 00’s, look no further. The style and music will give them some unusual insights.