How often, particularly here at OS, do we as sports gaming enthusiasts clamor for properly done remakes and remasters? Whether it is Def Jam: Fight for NY, NBA Street, MVP Baseball or NFL Blitz, the list is seemingly endless. Countless decade-old dormant franchises (the original NFL Street would be getting its driver’s license this year) are not just exclusively nostalgic, but also arguably play as smooth or even smoother than current-gen titles. Whether it is an article, roundtable discussion, or just a message on the OS forums, we daydream about rebooting our favorites all the time around here, often just begging for the exact same game to be re-released with practically nonexistent upgrades.
Naturally, when the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2 remasters were announced, it was met with some questionable glances. As much as we love the THPS series, it has had its fair share of missteps. Perhaps none is more damning than 2015’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5, which became more famous for its launch bugs and glitches than anything nostalgic.
I have been obsessed with the series ever since scoring the fabled Pizza Hut demo disc as a 9-year-old way back when, and I was hesitantly excited to see the series return. But when you consider the franchise’s recent mistakes, interested parties have to ask: are they doing it the right way?
The World-Famous Soundtracks
I hate to sound like a “back in my day” old coot, but I could not possibly begin to articulate the profound impact the THPS series had on music and on American culture as a whole. It seems astounding to think that a single song from a single game’s soundtrack (let alone a demo disc) could have that sort of impact, but in the late ’90s, it was very, very real. Personally, songs from THPS 1 and 2 were some of my first searches on the countless file-sharing clones of the late ’90s, and these (among many misattributed songs) allowed me to explore punk and hip-hop at a young, computer-literate age.
To this day, those genres remain my favorites. The Dead Kennedys remain one of my all-time favorite bands, and the first time I heard them was on the THPS soundtrack as a 9-year-old kid. Lessons learned from the THPS series’ artists shaped both my view of the world and an open-mindedness to all forms of culture and artistic expression. I am eternally grateful that THPS wandered into my life and was able to do that with its soundtrack alone, which maybe sounds preposterous in this day and age. But as the internet was emerging, THPS played a pivotal role in introducing not only specific music but the entire culture of skateboarding to millions.
With all of that in mind, I was very pleased to see that Activision Blizzard took the time to license a number of tracks from the first two games of the series. The series’ music licensing budget ballooned as it progressed, but the series always brought in an astounding mix of music genres (my dream job as a 14-year-old dude was — I kid you not — to arrange the THPS soundtracks). Considering how these soundtracks are synonymous with the time period and youthful exploration, it would have been a huge step in the wrong direction to bring in a slate of new music to the remaster, regardless of how much of the development budget went to licensing. Activision Blizzard brought back all soundtrack songs (excluding PAL versions) but five, with those omissions listed below:
- Suicidal Tendencies – Cyco Vision
- Unsane – Committed
- Alley Life – Out With The Old
- Anthrax & Public Enemy – Bring the Noise
- The High & Mighty – B-Boy Document ’99
Sure, everyone’s favorites may not make the cut, but Activision’s commitment to restoring this atmosphere has been widely praised by both casual and die-hard fans. Personally, I would have loved to see a wave of modern songs mixed in (Power Trip, Turnstile, Parquet Courts and Maxo Kream are perfect fits for the THPS universe), but if it would have taken away from the old-school budget, then it’s worth missing out on that element.
I know I talked a lot about the soundtracks, but for those unfamiliar, I promise you it’s warranted. The other true crux of the THPS experience, and what we always talk about with any classic title celebrated at OS, is timeless gameplay that holds up with age. The early THPS games are intuitively accessible, endlessly deep and have an element of frenetic pace to them. Levels are designed to encourage multiple routes for combos, which build up your score and “special” meter. When the special meter is full, your skater is able to pull off more extreme specials. These extreme specials, in-line with the series’ humor, can range from impressive real-life feats (The 900) to absolute absurdity (holding the skateboard like a pizza box mid-air for the “Pizza Guy”).
Subsequent releases would take the absurdity to glorious new heights, but THPS 1 and 2 were the most grounded in “reality” (outside of being able to unlock Spider-Man). Manuals, plentifully common in real-life skateboarding, chain “street” combos together, while reverts allow you to chain your half-pipe air tricks (“vert”) into your combos.
The inclusion of the revert (introduced in the similarly incredible THPS 3) and spine transfer (THPS 4) brought about a collective sigh of relief among THPS veterans. Even though these elements came post-THPS 2, these things were pivotal gameplay mechanics. This means that longtime fans should have no issues with muscle memory when dropping into the Warehouse for the first time, and newcomers should have no issues mastering these controls after a short while.
From what we have seen from gameplay footage, we are in incredible shape. Vicarious Visions is handling development, and they were responsible for many of the previous ports of THPS, as well as the very good Crash Bandicoot remake. Additionally, the remaster is built off of previous Neversoft code, further promising an experience that calls back to the franchise’s roots.
In this case, that means the same fast-paced, combo-driven insanity ripped straight from the late 1990s/early 2000s and given a breathtaking new coat of paint. The footage looks exceptional, and even the classic THPS sound effects have made it in. It’s as if Activision Blizzard has not only listened to the fans, but the company has also learned from previous mistakes.
Old And New Content
“All 19” original THPS 1 and 2 levels, and “the original pro roster” of THPS 1 and 2 will be present in the remaster. I hope Activision has some of the series’ signature secret skaters and levels up its sleeves, and Activision has already outlined a number of current popular skateboarders. Eight new skaters were announced on June 23, and all of them are established members of a new generation of skateboarding stars. Players today could end up as pleasantly surprised skating as Leo Baker or Tyshawn Jones as veterans were when playing with the diverse skill sets of Rodney Mullen or Bob Burnquist the first time around. This could end up driving fans of all ages to learn more about the new (or old) skaters’ decorated real-life resumes.
Introducing longtime fans to new skaters and new fans to longtime franchise successes should make for an irresistible combination considering the commitment to gameplay. The THPS remaster is clearly prioritizing reaching older and newer skateboarding fans, an providing an admirable breath of new life to a cultural phenomenon while educating players throughout the experience.
Create-A-Skater and the criminally-underutilized-due-to-system-limitations Create-A-Park will be making their triumphant comebacks once more, which should lead to almost endless replay value. These modes were somewhat limited back in the day, but the WWE series and countless fighting games have utilized these features in recent years to prolong interest in franchises. Will Create-A-Skater function as an endless vault of creations? How much freedom will Create-A-Park have for this console generation?
Successfully integrating both features would be as close as the official releases have come to the THUG Pro community’s hard work. Given the THUG Pro community’s prevalence since 2013, Activision has ample motivation to steer the creation suites down an avenue to keep players invested in this remaster.
A Potential Gold Medalist
All told, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 And 2 looks to be doing everything right. Longtime fans have every right to be skeptical after the franchise’s most recent offerings, but it is crystal clear that Activision Blizzard and Vicarious Visions are trying to do everything they can to right the wrongs of the past and bring this inimitable series to a new generation of players. If executed as well as advertised, it could be the new gold standard of restoring and reintroducing an inactive sports game. If it sells well and is received well, time will only tell what other franchises could see similar revivals.
Beyond that, Activision Blizzard has already shown it will bring back a franchise if the remake/remaster is successful. After all, Crash Bandicoot is getting a whole new game in large part due to the success of the Crash remaster by Vicarious Visions.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 And 2 will launch on September 4, 2020 for $39.99, with a deluxe edition that promises “unique content and gear” for $49.99. For those who may not want to pre-order the game, doing so will give you an exclusive demo of the Warehouse level on August 14. I guess in that sense we’ve come a long way since PlayStation Underground and Pizza Hut demo discs, but it is undeniably thrilling to see this series get the offensively overdue and potentially proper remaster treatment it deserves.