Portable ports of console games typically don't capture much of the original game's experience. Most developers focus on duplicating one or two key aspects of the original game and freestyle the rest, resulting in a pretty hit-and-miss marketplace. If Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 for the Game Boy Advance is an indication of things to come on Nintendo's new handheld, then the portable port market is in for a much-needed change. The development team at Vicarious Visions has captured the essence of THPS2 and, outside of a few necessary changes, has delivered most of what made the console versions of Tony Hawk 2 such classics. The result is nothing short of the best portable skateboarding game ever made.
The Game Boy Advance version of Tony Hawk 2 delivers the same single-player modes that were contained in the original. The game's main mode is a career mode, in which you pick one of several pro skaters, including Tony Hawk, Rodney Mullen, Chad Muska, and a host of others. Different skaters have different sets of normal tricks, which, unlike the console versions, can't be altered by purchasing other basic tricks. Career mode starts you out with one open level and basic stats. Each level has a collection of 10 goals, and completing goals earns money, which unlocks levels and lets you upgrade your stats and purchase new special tricks. The goals are fairly standard from level to level, though each has a few unique goals as well. Each level has three score-based goals, two collection goals (collecting the letters to spell "skate" or picking up five items, like subway tokens or paint cans), a hidden video tape to grab, one goal for completing the nine other goals and collecting all the bonus cash laying around the level, and three level-specific goals. Some of the unique level goals include smashing a collection of crates, grinding a set of three rails, and finding three ways to do tricks involving a giant statue of a blue cow. Experienced Tony Hawk players should be able to complete every goal in around six hours, depending on how quickly you adjust to the game's isometric perspective. The game controls quite well--it defaults to B and A for jumping and grinds respectively, and you can use the L and R triggers for kick and grab tricks. If you can't get used to the defaults--which can take a couple of hours, depending on how quickly you can adapt--you can set the buttons to your liking.
Speaking of the isometric perspective, which makes the game look a bit like the classic arcade skateboarding game 720, it is both a blessing and a curse. For the most part, the game's sky-high isometric viewpoint works incredibly well, letting you see just enough of your surroundings to keep from getting lost. However, when it comes to snatching goal-related items out of the sky or lining up jumps from ramps to rails, the isometric perspective can be an enormous hassle. With items floating in the sky, the only way to tell where they actually are is to look for their shadow on the ground. Some slightly tighter level design would have prevented a few frustrating moments, like the spinning piece of money that floats over an almost totally black puddle in the warehouse level. The puddle obscures the money's shadow, essentially leaving you to guess where the money is. Aside from the perspective problems, the game has absolutely amazing graphics. The environments are clear and detailed, but the truly impressive visual element is the skaters themselves. The skaters are actually little polygonal models that, aside from looking slightly blocky, look and move like miniature versions of the console game's skaters. You simply must see the skater animation in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 to believe it. Everything relating to the skaters themselves--from tricks to specials to wrecks--looks incredible. The skaters even appear to transition between tricks without looking like they're stuttering. The game also has impressive sound--most of the skating sound effects were simply sampled from the console version. The licensed soundtrack of the original hasn't been carried over; however, in its place is a pretty solid sample-based digitized soundtrack.
The Game Boy Advance version of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 is an amazing feat from several angles. It's very impressive on a technical level, and it has the gameplay to back up its great graphics. While the perspective causes a few frustrating moments, it generally works quite well once you get used to it. Fans of the series will probably have a hard time acclimating themselves to the Tony Hawk world, as some of the goals can be quite difficult for beginners--but in the end, the game stands as one of the best games available for the GBA's launch.