The Advent of PlayStation
Ahh yes, the PlayStation. I still remember when the console first came out. We were far too distracted by the graphics (or, at least I was) to correctly judge a game by its true merits. If one were to compare it to its modern day counterparts, the PlayStation was weak, but at the time it felt like a huge leap for humankind (uh, for games, that is).
As I think back, I was still playing Super Famicom (SNES equivalent) in Japan when the PlayStation came out. It totally blew my mind. I didn’t really even care about gameplay. I just wanted to get a PlayStation so I could be wowed by the stunning visuals.
Now that the fog has cleared, I think we can say with some accuracy that the PlayStation really wasn’t that strong of a console in the end. It had a lot of game titles, but many of them were pretty sad. That isn’t to say there weren’t a few gems, however. Final Fantasy VII, Crash Bandicoot, Metal Gear Solid, and Tekken 3 were all pretty cool.
Dare I make the argument that Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was also a good one?
Before I played this game, I wasn’t the least bit familiar with skateboarding. When my friend instructed me that the square button was used to “flip”, I assumed he meant the actual boarder would flip, not the board itself. It was a totally new world for me. I think I had a vague sense of what it meant to “grab” though, from being around snowboarding enthusiasts.
To tell you the truth, I can’t even remember what got me into the Tony Hawk games. It may have been the fact that I was getting owned at a video game by a girl, and I wasn’t willing to let that go on.
I have a feeling that I got into Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 before I ever went back and played the original. Pro Skater 2 had a lot more hype surrounding it, with it being released on several different consoles and platforms. It was an awesome game, but that’s another story for another time.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was quite basic, but also remarkably well developed for its time. Even when I go back and play it today, it feels truer to real-life skateboarding than other games in the series (not that I’m an expert at skateboarding, but I do enjoy watching the pros). Sure, it still has some pretty unrealistic elements to it, but you can’t rack up ridiculous combos without a great deal of creativity, unlike Pro Skater 2 and 3, which allowed you to string together massive combos with the use of manuals and reverts.
No, Pro Skater forced you to think about your lines. You had to figure out ways of grinding from one object to the other, and if possible, snatching a couple of gaps in the middle. Racking up 40,000 points wasn’t as easy as it is with modern day Tony Hawk’s.
Pro Skater only had a 10 track soundtrack, but I thought that the selection was quite ingenious. The quirky strains of Primus’ “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver” can’t help but stick in your head long after you’ve heard it. The Dead Kennedys’ “Police Truck” is the perfect prelude to the game, poised with aggression and quirky guitar riffs. In fact, I can’t help but think of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater when I hear the song.
The Ska-influenced “Superman” and “New Girl” were also nice picks, but all in all, the soundtrack was quite heavy and edgy and that’s what made it cool. Sadly, I can’t say the same for the pop littered sound-scape of modern Tony Hawk games.
Sure, the graphics have come a long way since the release of this title. Recent games in the series allow you to bust a wider range of tricks, custom build your own skater, and even come up with your own tricks. However, we haven’t seen level design the likes of Pro Skater in any of its sequels.
It seems to me that they spent more time creating good flow as opposed to achieving realism. Sure, photo realistic graphics are impressive, but if recent releases are any indication, they can’t carry a game (and I’m not just talking about the Tony Hawk series). Pro Skater 2 still had pretty good flow, and even 3 to some degree, but subsequent releases just weren’t as smooth.
Speaking of levels, let’s have a look at them individually, shall we?
- Warehouse – It’s the very first level of the game and it’s just perfect. OK, so it may not be anything fancy, but it has good flow, plenty of vert opportunities, and even some decent grinds. Most of the cool lines involved the “Secret Room” gap in some fashion, but there really wasn’t a huge learning curve, so you could find good lines in a relatively short amount of time.
- School – OK, so I’m not as fond of this level as I am of some of the other levels, but it did have a fair bit of retail space, and even a cool little skate park on the roof areas. It feels a little scattered, but it’s got picnic tables, bowls, quarter pipes, rails, and plenty of planters to keep things interesting.
- Mall – We rarely see levels like this one in Tony Hawk games nowadays. Granted, the levels have gotten more realistic, and tend to encompass a much larger area. Still, this downhill style level was really cool, and had a lot of great areas where you could string together gaps and combos.
- Skate Park – See, this is what I’m talking about! It’s so simple but it’s really effective. There’s a nice big half pipe, a bowl, quarter pipes, and plenty of rails and fun boxes in between. Few levels have this kind of flow to them.
- Downtown – This one is a bit of a classic. Yes, we have seen far more realistic levels than this one in modern day Tony Hawk’s, but this one left a greater impression on my mind than many others. I will admit that it’s not one of my favorites, but it does give you plenty of opportunity for wall riding and big jumps.
- Downhill Jam – Another level that adopted the downhill style, and is very much like the Mall in that respect. This was another level that really defined the game, and allowed for some of the biggest jumps in the entire game. Its one weakness is that it takes too much time to go backwards, but the temptation is to cruise all the way down the hill anyway.
- Burnside – Another classic level for me. I can’t get over this one. I just like everything about it. It is a little harder to get your combos going, but then it kind of makes sense that it would be trickier since it appears later in the game. It’s a relatively small level with a lot of possibilities.
- Streets – I don’t know about this one. Granted, it was one of the more unique levels of the game and we don’t see many like it anymore. Its chief weakness is in larger part due to the limitations of the console, because you could only see a certain distance ahead of you. This is an issue throughout the game, but it isn’t that big of a problem for the most part.
- Roswell – I like it. It’s another simple skate park with a few unique elements to it (like the hidden bowl with the aliens). Most of the park is taken up by half pipes and quarter pipes, but there are some OK grinds off to the side. Not as classic as Burnside in my opinion, but still cool.
Naturally, it doesn’t feel quite as smooth as subsequent releases. What I can say is that it established the standard for future installments. The controls were still quite responsive, and it was clearly just a matter of time before they would figure out the rest.
Overall, the gameplay is fun and addicting. I don’t think it has as much replay value as Pro Skater 2, but I still like to go back and play it once in awhile.
What else is there to say? Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was an unmistakable triumph in my humble opinion. I still enjoy the series as a whole, but I can’t see myself going back to play Pro Skater 4 anymore (mostly because I’ve beaten it 4 times or more). Whereas the original Tony Hawk still has appeal, as a game that could be picked up and played casually, and could even have some merit for hardcore gamers as well.
Although it may have been overlooked in its time, today it has its fair share of admirers and supporters who enjoyed it thoroughly.