The concept of a skateboarding game isn't exactly new. Atari kicked off the genre with the still-classic 720 Degrees. Electronic Arts followed up with its event-based home game, Skate or Die. As skateboarding faded from the mainstream's view, the games stopped coming. Fast-forward to a decade or so later. Snowboarding games are all the rage. Sega's got Top Skater out in arcades, and EA returns with Street Sk8er, an abysmal PlayStation skating game. Now, between Tony Hawk and Rockstar's upcoming PlayStation skate sim, Thrasher: Skate and Destroy, we're in the middle of a skateboarding renaissance.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater takes a more arcade-like approach to the world of skating. The object of the game's career mode is to collect videotapes, much like Mario collects stars. With the exception of the three competition stages, the point of each level is to collect five videotapes. You can enter each stage as often as you want, but you can only skate around the stage for two minutes before having to start the stage over. Two of these tapes are received when you achieve certain scores within your two-minute limit. A third tape is picked up by collecting letters scattered around the level, eventually spelling the word skate. Another tape is scored by breaking five things in a level. The object you must destroy changes on each level and ranges from anti-skateboarding signs to police cars. The fifth tape is hidden somewhere on the level, and you must figure out how to get to it. You start career mode with only one level unlocked. As you pick up tapes, you'll unlock new levels and new skateboards, which raise your skater's stats.
The game features ten real-life pro skaters, which have been broken up into two styles: vert skaters and street skaters, who have slightly different tricks. Beyond that, there are a few subtle timing differences between the skaters, and each skater has three special tricks that can only be performed while your special meter is full. The special tricks include the 540 Board Varial, back flips, front flips, the 360 Shove It Rewind, Christ Air, and the Judo Madonna. Each of these tricks will bring in a higher score than most normal moves, if done correctly. Some of them can even be included in combos.Aside from the career mode, there's also free skating, which lets you take a little more time examining a level and mastering your tricks. Single-session mode is a pure score competition, where you pick a level and try to get as many points as possible in two minutes. The two-player mode works on a vertical split-screen and has three different modes. Graffiti mode causes certain parts of the level to change to your color when you do tricks on them. Your opponent then must do a better trick on that part of the level to change it to his color. The person with the most colored pieces at the end of two minutes wins. Trick attack is a simple score battle. Horse is similar to the basketball game upon which it was based. Player one has ten seconds to do the best trick he can do. Player two must match or beat that trick to avoid getting a letter. The first person to get all five letters (spelling horse) loses. This is the slowest of the three modes, since the game goes through a short load while it switches skaters. The ability to choose the same skater here to reduce load times would have been nice.
Career mode doesn't take a whole lot of time to complete once you've gotten familiar with all the levels, but even after completing the game with all the skaters, you'll still want to go back and do some free skating. It's one of those games that will keep you coming back long after you've mastered it. The level design is part of what gives the game such longevity. The large levels have lots of extravagant areas, all ready for tons of combos, while the smaller levels are tightly packed with rails, ramps, and bowls.
The soundtrack is filled with songs by bands like the Dead Kennedys, Goldfinger, and Primus. I wasn't a huge fan of the soundtrack, but that's something better left to your personal taste in music. The sound effects are really outstanding. Rails clink when you jump off them, sidewalks have different textures than the street, and different ramp materials make different noises. My favorite sound in the game is probably the noise generated by skating on the metal half-pipes in the game's final level. The game's graphics are really good. The game runs at an excellent pace, and the camera rarely gets in your way. The bit of blood that shoots out of your head on the harsher wrecks is a very nice touch.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater is a game for skaters and nonskaters alike. Some may be initially turned off by the occasionally questionable physics, but this little slice of unreality brings a lot of gameplay fun along with it. It would have been nice to see some more variety in the game's tricks, but as it stands, THPS is an outstanding game and is a worthy addition to anyone's PlayStation collection.