The magic of Tony Hawk's Pro-Skater: a review
Let me lay down the facts like it is; the Tony Hawk games are the best sports video games ever made. Sorry FIFA, Madden, NBA, and all other competitors, no other sports video game franchise has mastered fun, addictive gameplay, controls, mechanics, and soundtrack like the birdman has. Even though the franchise has fallen from grace thanks to various crappy games, once upon a time, they were considered some of the greatest games ever made. They helped shaped the childhoods of many kids in the early 2000’s, including myself. That is why I am writing this tribute to the franchise right now. Let’s start with some history.
An article on Polygon published in 2014 details the series’ origins. It all started in 1998 when video game publisher Activision (who would later go on to publish other blockbuster franchises like Call of Duty, Guitar Hero, Skylanders, and Destiny) approached developer Neversoft to create a skateboarding game in response to the growing popularity of the sport. Striving to create an authentic skateboarding experience, Neversoft staff practiced skateboarding themselves, used motion capture to make realistic skateboarding moves, and employed a licensed rock soundtrack. Tony Hawk himself came into the game late in development as the face of the game. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was released in 1999, and was a critical and commercial success. Helped by the fact that Tony Hawk pulled off a 900 at the X-Games that year. Inspired by the success of the game, Activision requested that Neversoft create Tony Hawk games yearly, and they complied. With more employees, Neversoft was able to create Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 and release it in 2000, followed by Pro Skater 3 and Pro Skater 4 in the following years. Each game brought new features and improvements to the formula, and reception was even better, with continued success in sales.
The cultural impact of the original four Pro Skater games cannot be stressed. These games were critically acclaimed, with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 holding a 98 rating on metacritic, making it the highest rated game on the site second only to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Meanwhile, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 has 97 on the same site, making it the highest rated PlayStation 2 game tied with Grand Theft Auto III. It was also the first PlayStation 2 game to support online play. The series inspired many to skate, some only briefly, but others stayed with it for life. And of course, like other big-budget video games, many others tried to copy its success. Activision itself tried to use the Tony Hawk formula with other extreme sports; creating Matt Hoffman’s Pro BMX (and its sequel), Shaun Palmer’s Pro Snowboarder, and Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer. While these previous games got fair reviews, they were never able to truly copy the critical and commercial success of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.
Neversoft continued to work on the franchise. Moving past the Pro Skater label, Tony Hawk’s Underground was released in 2003 and made several changes to the franchise. Most notably, Underground abandoned the simple mission structure of completing objectives to a narrative story with a distinct cast of characters, as well as the ability to hop off your board and walk around. Despite these changes, Underground was just as acclaimed as the Pro Skater Games. Following games Underground 2, American Wasteland, Project 8, and Proving Ground were still well received, but reception was getting less and less positive with each game.
All of a sudden, something happened to the once great franchise: it started to suck. The biggest problem was the change in developer. Neversoft left the franchise and handed the reigns over to another developer known as Robomodo, and since then, things were never the same. First was 2009’s Tony Hawk: Ride, a game that required the use of a skateboard peripheral to play. Put simply, it didn’t work. Negative reaction from both fans and critics put the franchise on hold for some time. Seeking to redeem themselves, Robomodo created Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD in 2012, a remastered version of levels from Pro Skater 1 and 2 with no gimmicks or extraneous features. Reception was mixed, but was widely considered to be better than Ride. Then, in 2015, Robomodo announced Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, a true sequel to the original four games, a return to form while also brining the franchise into the next generation. However, upon release, the game was panned for numerous bugs, glitches, poor design, and graphics. Negative reception to the game, as well as Robomodo closing its doors in 2016, along with the fact that Neversoft has now been absorbed into Call of Duty creator Infinity Ward, and Tony Hawk’s contract with Activision expiring in December 2015, it seems like the Tony Hawk games have finally come to an end.
Then, in January 2017, Tony Hawk announced that he is in talks with another developer to create a new video game, without Activision’s involvement. Alongside that announcement was an Indiegogo campaign for a documentary based on the franchise, called Pretending I’m a Superman: The Tony Hawk Video Game Story. Former Neversoft employees have also hinted that they are working on a new video game project. Could we see the birdman fly high once again? Who knows?
I love the old-school Tony Hawk games. They have been an important part of my childhood, and even after all these years, they still hold up. I would do anything to see a true, next-gen Tony Hawk game that honors the roots of the franchise while keeping the standard of quality and fun that they had. And I’m sure that if you’re reading this, if you played these games at any point in your life, wither you’re a gamer or a skater, you agree with me.