Tony Hawk. The Birdman. Throughout the 80s and 90s, this Carlsbad native quickly rose through the ranks of the skateboarding world. This two decade time frame saw him win an incredible amount of competitions, along with an outstanding 9 gold medals at the X Games. By the time 1999 rolled around, it was undeniable that Hawk had supplanted himself as royalty in his field. Then, as if to give his pro-career the ultimate capper, he became the first skater to land a 900, a trick that was previously thought impossible. His place in history was officially set in stone. As if to make everyone else inferior, he revealed in 2011 that, despite being over 40, he can still completely pull of this move.
Very few people in sports have reached the same level of notoriety as Hawk. His pro-career is well-documented as one of the most successful. Likely thinking he had already done enough, Hawk retired from professional skating the same year he landed his signature 900. He wouldn’t retire on his millions however. 1999 saw him sign a deal with Activision to produce skateboarding games boasting his infamous name. This agreement included heavy contribution by Hawk himself to ensure a quality title that did justice to the booming sport. Their first product was 2000s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater on Sony’s PlayStation. It was an enormous success, transforming Hawk from skateboarding icon to video game legend. Recently Hawk himself teased a new installment to his now trademarked brand, and fans are already getting ready.
When Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater first became a reality, skateboarding games were essentially non-existent. The sport itself is very technical, so giving it proper representation in a virtual form wasn’t as easy as other sports like football or baseball. The fifth generation’s focus on 3D environments was exactly what skaters needed to have their signature game. Pro Skater capitalized on that absence, quickly making itself the premier series for the field. Along with Hawk himself, it featured digital representations of famous skaters like Bucky Lasek, Bob Burnquist, and Rune Glifberg. Gameplay required you to perform tricks for points, some of which were signature moves that were character specific, including the aforementioned 900. Multiplayer was a huge grab as you could play competitively with friends, but there was also a very popular career mode which allowed you to make the professional skaters even better. To really sell the skater vibe, the game boasted a soundtrack filled with punk and ska music.
Despite how successful Pro Skater was, it didn’t give a truly full representation of the sport. There were still a handful of features that were notably absent. 2000’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 checked off those boxes. To this day it’s still considered one of the most critically praised games in industry history. It was such a complete skating experience for people who wanted a bit more from its predecessor. Most significantly, Pro Skater 2 brought manuals/nose manuals into the series. Every skater knows the basics of riding on their back wheels (manual) or front wheels (nose manual) with the opposite ends off the ground. This is such a common move, it’s baffling that it didn’t have a place with the original Pro Skater. Manuals were used to combine other tricks to deliver massive combos, regardless if you were vert (on ramps) or street. To really maintain the games expanded focus on these moves, it brought on street legend Rodney Mullen. The bar was officially set.
Pro Skater 2 also introduced series staple Create-A-Skater. One of skating’s biggest appeals is that anyone can do it. All you need is a board and some open land to go wild. Of course, there are now “no skating” zones, but that doesn’t stop people. With enough practice, anyone could become a professional. Skating popularity easily increased thanks to Pro Skater too. Create-A-Skater allowed people to do exactly this without having to learn the sport. You could make a character based on your own likeness and turn them into a professional rivaling Hawk himself. Three years later, Tony Hawk’s Underground expanded on the Create-A-Skater formula by featuring a cohesive story where you rise from a New Jersey amateur to a bonafide star.
After four very popular entries, Underground was the first to drop the Pro Skater brand. This was when the games moved on from the focus on professional skaters to making new player created amateurs the stars. Interestingly enough, it’s also when the series began a very slow decline in critical reception. Every game not featuring the Pro Skater brand failed to reach the heights of the first four, extremely beloved titles. The two most recent entries, 2009’s Ride and 2010’s Shred, are universally considered franchise low-points. Interestingly enough, these were the two most unique games in that they feature motion controlled skateboarding. A definite step forward for innovation, but a major step back in quality.
When I first played Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater on my PlayStation with my brothers, we were all blown away by what we experienced. It was completely different than anything we had ever seen. The whole game felt so real, despite the fact that cheats like “moon physics,” where gravity was greatly reduced, were so easy to input. I was also such a massive fan of the guest characters like Spider-Man (Pro Skater 2) and Darth Maul (Pro Skater 3). My personal favorite game, despite it not being the best received, was Underground. I’ve always enjoyed a good video game story, and Underground was exactly what I wanted from a Tony Hawk game. It featured everything that I loved about the series while also introducing a narrative for me to sink my teeth into. It was awesome.
The newest installment that Hawk is teasing is believed to be the much-awaited fifth entry with the Pro Skater name. If there is any game that has potential to restore this series to past critical praise, it’s one that features the name that made it a success. The current consoles are unbelievably powerful too. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 could be a massive adventure featuring sprawling locales, a large list of skaters, and an enjoyable story mode to give those narrative cravers (like myself) something to grab. If Hawk is wise, and we all know he is, he will bring Pro Skater 5 back to the series’ roots. It will bring the fans out in droves.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.