When you merge the vandalism of Grand Theft Auto, the pure rage of Resident Evil and a combo system similar to Street Fighter, then combine it with the graceful mastery of skateboarding, you get a game like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Since its first release on PlayStation in 1999, the video game has been reworked into 13 editions across 20 different platforms, from Gameboy to Windows to iOS.
The THPS series has established itself as a vintage classic. Upon its release, it attracted everyone from dedicated gamers to social players who hadn’t touched a console since Mario Kart. It was a game that brought people together for two-minute, head-to-head romps that combined hair-raising flip tricks, vertigo-inducing acrobatics, fantastically long grinds and brutal slams. The gameplay came in short bursts that constantly triggered a ‘one-more-go’ mantra.
THPS has never been about realism. Even the first version of the game had skaters smashing through glass windows in the air, only to land back on the board and roll away. From there, things only got more physically and anatomically impossible. Manuals were introduced in the second version, which allowed players to link flips and grinds together in impossible combos, then reverts came in the third edition, which meant big airs could be linked into the mix. Unlike Skate, which was released in 2007 and presented a strictly realistic depiction of skateboarding, THPS was revered for the ludicrous and complicated tricks that the game invented. Its drawcard was that it went far beyond what’s actually possible on a skateboard – and players, both skaters and non-skaters, loved it.
The soundtrack has become almost as iconic as the game itself: a heavy, hyperactive mix of punk rock, metal and golden-era hip-hop. In some circles bands like Rage Against the Machine, Dead Kennedys and Millencolin have become synonymous with days playing THPS. The game tapped into a youthful angst that adolescents could identify with. On YouTube, the game’s soundtrack has hundreds of thousands of views and the comments are peppered with wistful nostalgia. It’s probably not surprising that the THPS series has sold 30 million units and made over a billion dollars in sales.
Unfortunately, the most recent incarnation of the series has been described by game reviewers as “heartbreakingly bad” and “one of the worst games ever made”. THPS 5 was rushed out in 2015, just before Activision’s contract with Tony Hawk expired. The result is a mess of bugs, glitches and loading screens, with characters falling through a digital nowhere on screen, then magically reappearing. It quickly became obvious to players that this was a shonky and shameless attempt to cash in on the game franchise’s former glory. Activision’s licence to use Tony Hawk’s name for the game hasn’t been renewed, which is probably a good thing at this point. Some games just shouldn’t be tampered with.