Thursday, November 25, 2010

Blog Post: The 90/2000s and Tony Hawk

First of all, happy Thanksgiving to anyone who might be reading this. The blog post today was inspired by a bit of nostalgia. At this time of the year, for a pretty large portion of my childhood, I was playing a new Tony Hawk's Pro Skater game. This year actually marked a big year for the series, as it was the first year that a new Tony Hawk game absolutely flopped at retail. Tony Hawk: Shred (I barely even knew it existed) flopped almost beyond words. ( The game is such a flop that as of this writing, there's still no Metacritic score because only 3 critics have managed to review it. As of this writing, the game's Wikipedia page consists of a whopping two sentences. And as of this writing, the game's apparently only been recorded as selling 3,000 copies across all platforms. Ouch.

Anyone remember back when this series was one of the coolest things ever? Back before the Aggressive Sports gaming genre really even existed, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater showed up and pretty much blew everyone away. There were no games to copy or be inspired by, Neversoft totally invented this entire thing from scratch, and even with this being a complete first effort, it was a home run. The gameplay was addictive, the controls were nearly perfect, the soundtrack was mostly obscure (and "punk") and there were no frills, there was no story, it was all just skating and completing goals. The game probably inspired so many kids to pick up might have been what got me into it, come to think of it, I barely remember. But it made aggressive sports larger than life. The music at the main menu pretty much defined "chill" years before "chill" was even used as an adjective.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 was even better, a game that took what was so awesome about the first one and multiplied it by two, at least. The soundtrack was amped up to include the likes of Millencolin and Rage, but it still had a very "punk" flavor to it. The levels were even better, the customization was a very welcome addition, as was the manual, which took scoring HUGE amounts of new points to new heights. I remember putting more time into this game's demo (I subscribed to the Official Dreamcast demo discs with each issue! Epic!) than I put into some other games entirely, and this was only 1 level.

I don't think any other entry of this series would ever have the impact that Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 did. THPS3 was of course awesome too, and when I got my Gamecube at launch, it was the first game I eagerly popped into it. But something started to happen to this series. It began to feel like the games were being put out more as an obligation than as games that really aimed to innovate like the first 2 Tony Hawk games did. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 did try something new: it removed the time limit and turned into a free roaming game where you'd wander around talking to people to get tasks. I couldn't for the life of me get into this game, it just felt like the fun spirit and awesome simplicity of the first 3 games was totally gone. The next couple installments (The Tony Hawk's Underground series) I barely even played, they continued to feel too "different" and were almost removing the focus away from skating, with their stories and all that stuff.

This is where the series started to become too "self-aware," it began to get too "promotional," too much about the money, about the advertising, about the collecting missions, about the soundtrack deals, the platforming (yeah, you could hop off your board and platform...ugh,) felt unnecessary, and I longed for a return to the simple fun of Tony Hawks 1-3. That's not to say that the series beyond 3 totally sucked...I have good memories of playing Tony Hawk's American wasn't as amazing as the first 3, of course, but it was really good. Then, with Project 8 and Proving Ground....I don't know. It's become too complicated, too much about analog stick tricks, and all that. It began to move even farther from the simple fun that Tony Hawk was. Then Neversoft left the series and Robomodo royally effed up with Tony Hawk Ride and the stupid board peripheral, a dumb idea to cash in on the whole "Guitar Hero" craze and an excuse for Activision to charge nearly $100 for a crap game.

And that's pretty much where we are. I wonder where the Tony Hawk series is next headed, if anywhere at all. Growing up playing video games in the 90s and early 2000s, Tony Hawk's 1 and 2 remain a HUGE part of my gaming memories. I remember every year buying the new Tony Hawk game and having my friends over to play it, and spending hours and hours blasting through all the goals, unlocking all the levels and characters, and trying to get the top score in the trick attack multiplayer. On one hand, I think it'd be really awesome to see Neversoft return to the series, make another Tony Hawk's Pro Skater game, and just strip away all the unnecessary stuff that was added over the years, focusing instead on just creating another amazing, revolutionary aggressive sports game. Then again.....maybe Tony Hawk just belongs back in that era....afterall, we'll always have the classics. And they're still awesome to this day, seriously, pop in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 and you'll see, the magic's definitely still there.

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