There are quite a few game series out there that have been with me for a long time and provided a slew of happy memories. I’d like to start with the Tony Hawk series – as I type this, I have a music playlist of all of the tracks from the series, and I find them firing off these little bits and pieces of nostalgia.
My first taste of the series, albeit a small one, was with the series premiere – Tony Hawk’s Skateboarding (Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater outside of UK). I never actually owned a copy of the original, but I did have the demo. I remember not knowing how to do anything in it – I worked out how to Ollie and how to turn, so for the score challenge in the demo, I would just be rolling around the Warehouse level continuously performing 180s.
In 2000, both me and my best friend of the time got the full copy of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. I played that game so much that I, to this day, know pretty much every nook and cranny of every level (even the weird outer-space one).
It was playing this that I, for the first time ever, stayed up past midnight, too – aged 9 and at her house playing it with her while our parents and their friends had a bit of a party. In the same session, I remember us discovering the art of in-game swearing – in one of the levels, you could anger taxi drivers, who would then proclaim “you are pissing me off!”. This, to a 9 year old, is comedic nirvana.
It took a while for me to get Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 – never got it for PlayStation 1, and only got my PS2 in 2002. But again, that one was played to absolute death. I remember that I would always play as Elissa Steamer, while my friend of the time (a different friend – I’ve just realised how I can use the series to chart when I was friends with people as a kid!) would create a bizarre sister character to her called Stephanie Steamer. I remember that he had to remake Stephanie every time we played the game thanks to me not owning a hideously-expensive PS2 memory card for about a year (they were dearer than new games, and I preferred having the games). I’m convinced I could remake Stephanie near-perfectly despite her non-existence for 14 years – spiky pink mohican, night-vision goggles, white tank top, camo trousers – sorted.
We wouldn’t even necessarily skate – we’d use it as a tool to pretend we were our respective characters and make up stories. But when I was alone, I would then most certainly play the game as a skating game. Like with THPS2, I know the vast majority of every single level inside out.
THPS4, I didn’t play as much. Thanks to its freeform career mode (I really, honestly didn’t like the “two-minutes, ten goals” thing from the first three games), I got into that quite a lot, but casually, it didn’t see much action from me. I guess at that point, the whole Pro Skater thing was a wee bit done. (I’ve returned to THPS4 recently, and think it’s actually really nice. Love the Alcatraz level!)
The announcement that the sequel was a massive overhaul of the formula, however, was very exciting. I remember looking through each issue of Official PlayStation 2 Magazine with delight – the revelation that the new Tony Hawk game would contain walking, would have an actual story, you created your character and they actually had character… everything looked superb.
Christmas Eve, 2003, a day I can recall so clearly. Me and one of my friends of the time (another different one!) were swinging on the swings at a small hidden park in Redgrave coated with a thin layer of snow, excitedly discussing the game with the knowledge that, the day after, I’d own it, and the day after that, he could come over and we could play it all day.
Christmas Day, and yes, Tony Hawk’s Underground was mine. This game is still my favourite entry in the series – although it had plenty of goofy gimmicks (car driving was fairly hideous, the “parkour” could have been implemented a little bit more thoroughly since it’s so prevalent in the game’s missions, and dear Jesus, that stealth mission that caps off the first level can suck one), there was just so much to do, so much to see, SO WHAT’S-
The levels in THUG were well designed and varied, taking you around the world. I loved the sense of scale the game gave, too – far from the Pro Skater levels, which (excluding THPS4) mostly felt like you were in a segmented-off area, actually made it feel like you were in an inhabited world. It wasn’t to the game’s detriment, either – you could still, with ease, do massive lines of tricks, and were always close to the nearest skatable object.
Another part of THUG that captured my imagination was the improved level creator. Although still fairly limited by size and object limits, the ability to place things like buildings meant that you could create surprisingly convincing little districts. Me and my friend would often play a game where we would make a level and then hide the SKATE letters as well as possible, seeing who could find the other person’s placements the fastest.
THUG2 should have been doomed to lose my interest, but didn’t. A week or two before the release of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, a game I was essentially cacking myself in excitement over, I found myself with ANOTHER DIFFERENT friend in Woolworths (RIP) of Diss, with ~£40 in my pocket. In there, I was greeted by a rack of copies of Tony Hawk’s Underground 2, a game I had not paid any heed to up to that point thanks to my aforementioned obsession with GTA:SA. But due to my impatience and lack of anything better to do, I bought THUG2.
Well, up to the release date of GTA:SA (also the first game I ever preordered), I played the absolute heck out of Underground 2. What an excellent game – even if you’re not a fan of the Jackass brand of humour, it’s an absolute stonker of a game. Tons of stuff to do, a MASSIVE library of levels (including a bunch of neat revisits of old levels)… great game. I’ve played through the entire game again recently and it’s still an absolute blast. If I remember correctly, I went back to THUG2 after about a month of playing San Andreas non-stop burnt me out and I needed a little palate cleanser before I could return to SA and obsess over it again.
Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland was another instalment I didn’t really get too fussed over. However, I bought it a few months after it was released at about the £15-20 mark – and was promptly reminded why I loved the series. The ability to traverse between levels without loading times (sort of) was a welcome if relatively inconsequential addition. Bikes were surprisingly fun, kind of making THAW the third Mat Hoffman game as well. Had a lot of fun with THAW.
I didn’t get Project 8 until May 2007 as a 16th birthday present (along with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion), since I went with PlayStation 3 as my Gen 7 console of choice. I remember going to Diss with the same friend as from the THUG2 excursion the day of my birthday, and spending the entire time wanting to come home so I could game my face off. I enjoyed Project 8 a fair bit – I remember that (still not having broadband internet until July that year) I spent a ton of time between May and July simply skating around the world in free roam while listening to my music.
The magic had dissipated a little from the series with Project 8, though, a process completed with Proving Ground. I got Proving Ground towards the end of 2007 with EMA money, and… good lord, that game was boring. I still finished the story, but it was a really dull game. Even Project 8 had managed to make its (now entirely freeform) world interesting, with the funfair, the steelworks, the school etc – Proving Ground was brown. It was entirely brown.
So I wasn’t entirely heartbroken when, having moved onto and subsequently fallen in love with EA’s “skate.” game, Tony Hawk’s legacy was shat all over with the absolutely dreadful Ride and Shred games. Skate 2 and Skate 3 followed the original and brought more improvements to the table, but then both series disappeared.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 in 2015… well, yeah. I finished THPS5 after finding a copy for £8 in late ’15, if only for a deprivation of skating games (Skate 3 was five years old when THPS5 came out, and the genre was pretty much untouched in that time bar the vomit-inducing THPSHD).
I won’t lie, THPS5 would occasionally show off shades of what made the original series such a blast to play. But those scraps of past brilliance were diluted by a poisonous ocean of dodgy new physics, overall glitchiness, and the entire game seemingly having next to zero thought or care put into it. Nothing about THPS5 was really fun.
And so stands the Tony Hawk game series. I miss it. I miss good extreme sports games in general – SSX, Aggressive Inline, Dave Mirra’s Freestyle BMX, Rolling, Jet Set Radio and a ton of other Tony Hawk spinoffs occured (Mat Hoffman’s Pro BMX, Shaun White’s Snowboarding, Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfboarding off the top of my head – all good games too). I hope next month’s Steep can sate my growing appetite.
Not mentioned were all the spinoffs of the series, most of which I missed and returned to later. The GameBoy/GameBoy Advance ports tended to be fairly bad, Downhill Jam was the best of the bunch but still nothing to write home about, and there was a DS instalment that clamped a plastic piece of crap to your DS and took tilt controls – if you wanted to see the series be worse than Ride and Shred, I’d strongly recommend that one.
RIP, Tony Hawk’s series. I will always hold out hope that you, or a series strongly based off of you, rises from the ashes like a beautiful skateboarding phoenix. And I hope Robomodo is nowhere near it.