Remastering old games has to be one of the toughest jobs in the industry. If you just upgrade the graphics and increase the resolution like with the upcoming Super Mario 3D All Stars, people are going to say you didn’t do enough. But if you change too many of the things, like with this year’s Final Fantasy VII Remake, you risk significant backlash from fans of the original.
But like a perfect grind on a long rail, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 has found just the right balance. This is the new gold standard in remasters, a game that expertly threads the needle between keeping what everyone loved about the original titles and changing just enough to make it feel fresh and relevant.
The Tony Hawk games were defining titles of the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 era. Even for those of us who have never ridden a skateboard, the addictive, combo-based gameplay and the chase for ever higher scores became something of an obsession. Something about the near-perfect placement of ramps and rails in each level, and the ability to combine flips, grabs, and grinds created a rare, iconic style of gameplay on par with the most legendary titles in gaming, like Pac-Man and Super Mario Bros. While later games in the series had their issues, the first couple Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games were a phenomenon back in the day.
What immediately struck me when I started up Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 is just how well the fundamentals hold up and how quickly everything came back to me. After just a few runs, I was racking up six-figure combos and crushing sick score challenges. Of course, it helps that Vicarious Visions smartly included some of the tricks from later games that make it easier to score massive combos, like the revert, spine transfer, and wall plant.
The geometry of each level is fundamentally unchanged from the original games, though the new graphics look phenomenal. Rather than fix what isn’t broken, this new coat of paint brings out what we always knew was there. This is the Warehouse as you always imagined but that the PS1 just wasn’t capable of rendering in 1999.
If you look closely, there have been a few modern twists added to many of the games’ classic locales, though. Drones buzz around Downhill Jam and the Bullring. The video screens in the School hint at a closing due to the Covid-19 pandemic. And the Mall has now obviously been abandoned for quite some time, not unlike most malls nowadays. There are even new goals to complete on the original Tony Hawk Pro Skater levels that fit in pretty well. With the addition of tons of new challenges and a leveling system, this is easily on par with any modern release.
Release Date: Sept. 4, 2020
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS4, XBO
Developer: Vicarious Visions
This mix of the old school and the new extends to the roster of skaters as well. All of the favorites from the first two games return for this remaster, but look like they do now, not 20 years ago. And there are plenty of popular new skaters to choose from as well.
If you get tired of playing with the included skaters, you can always create your own, and even create new levels for them skate around. But while I appreciate these options, these aren’t the most extensive creation tools in a modern game. I got bored of exploring user-created skate parks pretty quickly, but maybe some more interesting levels will pop up in the future.
20 years later, both these games’ soundtracks are still regarded as two of the best ever. Activision deserves a ton of credit for working through the licensing issues to get all but three of the songs from the original games into this collection. And frankly, I didn’t really miss the songs that didn’t make it.
The really memorable tracks like “Superman,” “Bring the Noise,” and “Guerilla Radio” are all here, plus more than three dozen new tracks. None of the new tracks really stuck with me like the classics, but I can’t say that I really hated any of them, either. Admittedly, I’m pretty biased when it comes to the music of the old games, though…and I completely understand that there aren’t many people hoping for more Powerman 5000 in video games in 2020.
There are a handful of omissions in this remaster that will likely irk some players, though. While Activision was able to secure nearly all of the music rights, it doesn’t look like it was able to work out a deal with Marvel or Sony to include Spider-Man, who was easily the best secret character in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. Also absent are the handful of exclusive levels from the original Xbox’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2X, though that’s honestly no great loss.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 is a remaster done right. Every single change to these games was obviously done with care and only serves to improve on what was nearly perfect to begin with. My long-dormant addiction to chasing high scores in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater has been rekindled, and for the first time in more than a decade, I’m actually excited to see where this series goes next.