For those of you Dreamcast owners out there who haven't yet had the pleasure of playing Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, you're in for a treat. Not only does the Dreamcast version maintain the high standards set by the previous versions of the game, but it also raises them by using the Dreamcast hardware to its advantage, delivering amazingly clear textures and a smooth frame rate that may very well cause longtime fans of the game to weep.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater takes an arcade-like approach to the world of skating. The object of the game's career mode is to collect videotapes, which are earned in a variety of ways. With the exception of the three competition stages, the purpose of each level is to collect five videotapes. You can enter each stage as often as you want, but you can skate around the stage for only two minutes before having to start 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. And the fifth tape is an actual cassette that 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 special tricks that can be performed only 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. If done correctly, each of these tricks will bring in a higher score than most normal moves. Some of them can even be included in combos, which is where the big points are earned. 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 perform 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, though you can also run into the other player, knocking him off his board. 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 the letters (spelling "horse" or any other word you choose) loses.
The most striking portion of the game's visual presentation is its textures. Every single texture in the game is clear and crisp. The only real complaint is that there can be a fair amount of pop-up on some levels, but it's not close enough to get in the way of gameplay in the least. Besides, the game maintains a rock-solid frame rate throughout. In order to keep the frame rate as high in the split-screen modes as it is in the one-player mode, a few portions of the levels are simplified for two-player games. The soundtrack is filled with songs by groups like the Dead Kennedys, Goldfinger, and Primus, which are repeated a little more often than you'd like, but the game's audio department is otherwise top-notch. The clink of your trucks hitting against a rail, the different sounds the wheels make depending on what surface you're skating on, the ambient noise of each level - all of it is simply brilliant.
The control is extremely easy to learn. One button handles jumping, while each of the other three are used for a different type of trick. The top triggers are used to spin faster while you're in the air. The game is pretty forgiving - if you're flying at a rail at extremely unsafe speeds, you can almost always hit the railslide button and simply grind the rail instead of flying past it and wrecking. While some aspects of the game are a little on the unrealistic side, they bring along a lot of the game's fun.
Even after you've completed career mode and collected all of the game's tapes, there's a certain addiction factor that will probably bring you back to Tony Hawk's Pro Skater for months on end. It's one of those games that you can pop in when you're killing a short amount of time and be just as entertained with as you were the first time you played it. Plus, the levels and moves are so versatile that you'll still be finding new trick combos and areas that are well suited for insanely long grinds for quite some time.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater is a classic in every sense of the word, and the Dreamcast port is the version that is best suited to stand the tests of time. Even if you own another version of the game, you'd be doing yourself a large disservice by missing out on the DC version. Sure, the gameplay may be the same (that is to say, nearly flawless), but the graphical enhancements made possible by Sega's hardware truly bring the game to an entirely new level.