Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 Demo Hands-On Preview: Cautious Optimism

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2's demo does a great job giving a taste of the updated classic
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2's demo does a great job giving a taste of the updated classic Activision

To say I have played the Tony Hawk games would be an understatement. To say I’ve completely devoured the franchise (with recent, unfortunate exceptions) is much more accurate. I’ve put countless hours into the franchise, going back to the glory days of the N64. But when Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 was announced, I was only cautiously optimistic.

I’d seen what had become of one of my favorite gaming franchises, with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD underwhelming and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 seemingly hellbent on destroying any good memories I may have of the series. So Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 has an unfortunate extra hurdle it has to clear, resetting the Tony Hawk’s games back to their former glory.

After playing through the demo over a dozen times now, I’m not 100 percent positive Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 does that. However, due to the very limited nature of the demo, I’m not going to outright claim a failure right now. In fact, I’m now more interested with what the full game has to offer.

Let’s get right into the meat and potatoes of what makes a good Tony Hawk game a good game, which is to say gameplay. The original games aren’t exactly technical masterpieces, but they offer such smooth and rewarding gaming experiences that it doesn’t matter as much what they look like. Does Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 replicate that crucial gameplay feel? Well, it does a pretty good job, but it’s hard to say with the limited nature of the demo.

The demo only has one skater, Tony Hawk, and one level, Warehouse. The level doesn’t have any objectives like high scores, the S-K-A-T-E letters, or secret tapes (DVDs? Netflix passwords? I don’t know if they’ll be changing this, but it will be interesting to see if/how they will). That means all you can do right now is skate around in short, two minute bursts.

From what I remember (because I don’t have my N64 with me right now and can’t go back to verify), Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 does a pretty solid job of recreating the feeling of skateboarding from the original games. The animations are pretty smooth and it’s easy to start building up 10+ move combos. It’s actually crazy how quickly that muscle memory comes back to you with hitting reverts into manuals off of quarter pipes to keep your combo streak going.

The updated Warehouse does look pretty great
The updated Warehouse does look pretty great Activision

It’s also a nice touch that developer Vicarious Visions added in three different control schemes for purists. One is classic THPS 1 controls, one is classic THPS 2 controls, and the third is a new hybrid. Of course, THPS 1 controls don’t allow for manuals or reverts, so that’s the one you’ll want if you really desire to recreate those middle school memories.

That said, not everything feels like the old days. For example, it seems like either jumping power has been lessened, or things have been raised higher. I remember it being fairly easy to jump through the secret room in the Warehouse in the old games, and now it’s a real challenge. Additionally, the high pipe at the back of the level is now very hard to reach. Skill points are still a thing here, so it’s possible this will become easier when you buff up your skater.

And this is getting pretty nitpicky, but I also don’t like how there are these odd glitch effects when your skater falls and gets back up. I get that the previous way of just respawning your character where they crashed wasn’t exactly elegant, but this effect just looks very out of place. Is this supposed to be skateboarding or a meta simulation of skateboarding?

As for the demo’s other aspects, the graphics look fine, but aren’t anything mind-blowing. I appreciate the nice touches added to the Warehouse, like showing that there is life beyond the four walls of the level. However, with only two minutes per round, you don’t have all that much time to stop and appreciate the new coat of paint.

The soundtrack for the demo is also severely limited, but it includes two of the most iconic songs from the previous games: Goldfinger’s “Superman” and Rage Against the Machine’s “Guerilla Radio”. The new songs are decent additions so far, but those two classics bring you right back to the THPS heyday. Of course, more songs will be in the final release, so this limited selection of tracks is fine for the purposes of the demo.

Unfortunately, other levels like San Francisco aren't included in the demo
Unfortunately, other levels like San Francisco aren't included in the demo Activision

The skater customization options have been revamped and are pretty nice as well. Going off the demo, skaters have five slots to add special moves, and can unlock up to 10 slots. Picking a new special move is as easy as going through a menu and deciding which trick you want, then assigning it a button combo. Most of this is locked away on the demo, however, so you can only experiment around a little bit here. There are also no cosmetic or skill point unlocks available in the demo.

Ultimately, the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 demo does what a good demo should: it offers you a very small taste of gameplay, and shows off how the full game will expand on it. While the extra gameplay mechanics and unlocks all look promising, the core skating gameplay will need to bust out of the Warehouse and onto more levels for me to be able to properly finalize my opinions on it. As of now, I remain cautiously optimistic.

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