Come fly with me: A nostalgic look back at the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series

You know that old saying, “it’s just like riding a bike,” meaning “once you learn it, it’s never forgotten?” For me, it’s more “just like riding a virtual skateboard.”

At 9:01 a.m. MST today, I booted up my PS4 and was struck by equal waves of nostalgia and muscle memory. Some things your body really doesn’t ever forget, and for this almost-35-year-old with bad knees and a temperamental back, one of those things is “rolling down a ramp into a digitally rendered warehouse with Goldfinger’s Superman ringing in my ears.”

That’s right, we’re talking about the remastered Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2, whose demo dropped today, and it felt like I’d been taken 20 years back in time to that same level I bombed around in as an awkward teenager.

A couple days before my 15th birthday, in September of 2000, my dad picked me up from the train station upon my return from a trip to visit my cousins for a week or so.

I’m sure he was pleased to see me, but the emotion I more clearly remember was him being puzzled at why I was carrying a brand-new skateboard I definitely didn’t own before I went out of town, let alone know how to ride.

He would’ve been entirely correct: I wouldn’t have known how to stand on a skateboard if my life depended on it. But I was more interested in what it came free with: a copy of the newly released Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2.

Until I became a full-time sneakerhead, that PlayStation game was the only thing I’d ever purchased on the day it was released. Growing up as an awkward indoors kid with little hand-eye coordination for physical pursuits, skateboarding was about as far from a likely hobby as I could find.

But video games were my time to shine, because there was no risk of a broken arm or busted teeth sitting on the couch. With paychecks from my first job at McDonald’s, I scraped together enough to buy the original PlayStation console, and was quickly enraptured with Tony Hawk’s Skateboarding, which is the release title of the first Pro Skater in my native Australia. I have no idea why, but I know it’s not the Mandela Effect at work.

I played that game until the disc wore out, so it stood to reason that I’d have to cop the sequel as soon as it arrived, even if I was 400 miles from my console when I bought it. From that point, I was hooked. I bought a Japan-exclusive detachable screen for the PS One so I could keep playing through a three-week road trip through New Zealand the following summer. I spent non-gaming time poring over 3D-rendered level maps looking for skate spots I hadn’t found yet.

My budding MP3 library, courtesy of Napster, was full of music that until that point I’d never heard: The Ramones, The Dead Kennedys, Mos Def, Ozomatli and KRS-One. It pushed me further into the skating subculture, reading magazines like Big Brother and Transworld even though I didn’t ride. The Tony Hawk game series may have been the biggest influence on my musical taste, period point blank.

And I’m certainly not alone in this: Bad Religion, whose track “You” featured on the original THPS soundtrack, attributes its fame directly to having its music included in the game. On the flip side, veteran English rock outfit Motorhead said its fanbase saw an injection of youth thanks to producers picking “Ace of Spades” for the soundtrack.

Between 1999 and 2018, a range of developers released 19 titles in the Tony Hawk series for 21 separate gaming platforms. While critical acclaim peaked early in the series (THPS2 and 3 are widely regarded as the best titles) and more recent editions have been criticized as blatant money grabs based on the name recognition of one of the greatest professional skateboarders of all time, the series’ significance and impact can’t be denied.

The relatively easy learning curve and enormous replayability of the early games as well as split-screen and, later, online multiplayer modes meant that it was the perfect pick-up-and-play game with enough challenges to give the persistent player plenty to do.

The game itself was developed initially without Hawk in mind, and built on a framework of a title called Apocalypse, starring none other than Bruce Willis as the player’s sidekick.

“We took Apocalypse and turned it into a skateboarding game. We took Bruce Willis, stuck him on a skateboard, and just had him skating around rooftops,” THPS lead programmer Mick West Come fly with me: A nostalgic look back at the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater seriestold The Ringer in 2019.

Tony Hawk himself has noted that while skateboarding was experiencing an upswing in popularity in the year before the first game was released, being transported into living rooms across the world via video game sent his mainstream fame skyrocketing.

But while reception from fans and critics alike declined steadily following the fifth instalment of the series, Tony Hawk’s Underground, nostalgia is a powerful force. Between Spotify playlists of each game’s soundtrack and hundreds upon hundreds of hours of playthrough footage on YouTube, there’s no denying there’s still a diehard fanbase for the early-2000s editions of the game.

Like, look at this. It’s a 2-hour video produced in 2019, 20 years after the original game’s release, reviewing every single level. And yes, I watched it.

And how better to feed that nostalgic hunger than with a remastered edition of those classic first two editions?

Hawk teased the release on social media on his birthday back in May, prompting Old Millennials everywhere to contemplate dusting off their old skateboard and rolling in the driveway, or to try and find a secondhand PS3 console to play the old games (the latter is me).

The new edition incorporates all the levels and skaters from the first two titles, as well as an expanded roster of new pros (and a more diverse cast than the original, something Hawk expressed regret about years later) and gameplay mechanics that didn’t appear in the series until later games.

We have to wait until September 3 for the full version, but this teaser has absolutely confirmed that it’s worth the wait. This isn’t a half-assed cash grab like 2015’s THPS5 was, no sir. Setting aside the obviously graphical improvements and the inclusion of gameplay mechanics from later versions, this feels 100 percent like the game I fell in love with two decades (!) ago.

If you’re a fellow Old Millennial reliving his misspent youth, or a newcomer looking for something to pick up and play before the PS5 eventually drops, this is your game. Go pre-order yourself a copy.

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