I don't think that any game has surprised me this much in a long, long time. When I first heard of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, I could not have cared less. I hadn't seen a good skateboarding game since the original Skate or Die for the NES and all of the recent ones haven't been too... oh, well. THEY WERE HORRIBLE, AWFUL, ATROCIOUS... need I go on? Back then, anyone wishing to partake in some unconventional, streetwise extra-curricular activities, were stuck with the ESPN Xtreme series (choke), or Street Sk8ter (stab, stab, stab).
So about two months ago, I picked the Tony Hawk demo and found myself impressed. The graphics were great, the gameplay was incredibly fun, and there was a Primus song playing in the background. How cool is that?
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater is an AMAZING game. As soon as the intro starts up with clips from the best skate videos (The End, Jump off a Roof) and "Police Truck" by the Dead Kennedys, you know that youíve got something special in your hands (not that, you pervert). I mean if Jello Biafra is allowing one of his songs to be played in a video game, you know that there's a damn good reason.
The game doesn't try turn skating into racing like its other 32-bit predecessors. Tony Hawk is an arcade style simulation. All of the points that you collect are for doing tricks by holding down circle, square or triangle and moving the analog stick in different directions. While executing the tricks may sound easy; try landing them. Tricks range from basic rail slides and ollies to superhuman stunt combos wherein you must link together two or more tricks in midair and land it. The points go towards winning videotapes. There are also numerous "platform" elements that can also help you win tapes. In each of the different levels you are asked to pick up the letters S-K-A-T-E and perform other tasks like grinding five lunch tables or busting five "NO SKATEBOARDING" signs. As you collect more and more tapes, your character's stats will be increased, new levels and board artwork will be unlocked, and other hidden goodies will be unCovered.
I never thought that my Dreamcast-spoiled eyes would be impressed by the Playstation again, but somehow, Neversoft has taken my bias and trampled it underfoot. Tony Hawk looks spectacular. Each of the HUGE levels are amazingly well constructed with plenty of ramps, rails, half-pipes, empty pools (but no sparring... boo-hoo), incredible vantage points and jumps, and obstacles. There's so much stuff to do in each level, which gives the game tremendous replay value. The attention to detail on the courses is nice too. Youíll probably take notice of all of the nice things associated with skating in all of the stages. Graffiti, for example. Good graffiti.
The characters are incredibly well modeled and the motion capture doesn't hurt either. The characters move so fluidly and realistically that if I didnít know that I was playing a game, I might be fooled into thinking I was watching a video. Okay, I would probably have to be hopped up on some amphetamines or something, but still... it's real good. Neversoft has really gone out on a limb to bring you your cake so that you can eat it. Uhm. Yeah. And thanks to the great control setup, you can really appreciate this game for the work of art that it is.
Admittedly, controlling the characters is a little confusing at first. You'll fall down a lot and blood will fly out of your head, you'll be pulling off the easiest moves without getting any points or you'll be pulling off the hardest moves, but you won't land them correctly, you'll fall, and blood will fly out of your head. Don't let this dissuade you from pressing on though. Once you get used to the control schematics, you'll realize how intuitive it is. Guiding your character through the environments just feels so right. (I can skate too! Look at what I can do! Whoopeeeee!!! Ha-ha, try doing that, "skater boy." Whoo-hoo!!) Once you get used to landing the tricks, you'll be able to virtually outskate any punk on your block. (You get it? Virtually?) And of course, no modern sports game would be complete without at least a two-player mode. Tony Hawk's, of course, is great fun. Competing against a friend is a great addition to an already pseudo-perfect game and if you want, you can save the meet in replay mode and watch it over and over again. This so neat.
Skating should always be accompanied by loud, fast, obnoxious music. Most of the bands that were selected (Unsane, Suicidal Tendencies, Dead Kennedys, The Suicide Machines, etc) with the exception of Goldfinger (bleh) really help create the perfect atmosphere that skating should always be associated with. Iím talkin' about energy. There are not many things that can compare to doing a triple kickflip-ollie-360 thingy off of a building and landing it with a rail slide while listening to some maniac's screams with some heavy guitar and drums the backgrounds. If you'll forgive the cliché; this game is "punk rock." If you can even take the time to care about the sound effects, you'll be impressed too. They are crisp and clean and realistic. Blah, blah, blah.
If you've been looking for a good skateboarding game, buy Tony Hawk. If you're looking for an original game, buy Tony Hawk. If you are looking one of the three best PSX games this year, buy Tony Hawk. Just buy it already. You know you'll love it and I know too.
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