I was dying to find out if the developers of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2 had done it, had brought back the original feel of the series, and I received my answer very quickly: This is what I wanted. It was hard to stop smiling once everything clicked.
The demo sent to the press by Activision is the same demo you’ll get access to in the next few days if you pre-order the game or buy the right burrito, but don’t expect much. It’s not long, but then, it doesn’t have to be. It includes a single level: The Warehouse. There are no goals to achieve, no letters to collect, and no hidden tapes to find. You can only play as Tony Hawk, and you have two minutes to get as many points as you can during your run. That’s the entirety of the experience.
I kicked off, gained momentum on the downward slope, ollied onto the metal bar in the middle of the level for a short grind, popped off, landed in a manual to keep the combo going, then skated up the ramp on the opposite side of the level, still in my manual, and transitioned into a slide that kept me moving back toward the other side of the level, popped off the ramp to land a grind on the rail right before the gap, leaped off the rail, and sailed across the gap. It was magnificent.
Until I realized that my timing and spacing were both slightly off, and I landed in a heap — only to watch my skater get pixelated as a slight “rewind” sound played through the speakers, a new addition to the series. I didn’t eat shit, it turned out. The tape I was shooting just needed to be brought back to where I was on my feet. Fair enough!
Despite failing in my first attempt at a line, I was elated. My old muscle memory was still there, honed from hours upon hours playing the original games, judging distances and finding lines and learning how to keep a trick going. I lost virtual teeth because I wasn’t able to land that last ollie and bring the points home, but I knew it was my fault, not the game’s.
This sense of continuity, of making that muscle memory useful again, was one of the goals of this rerelease.
“We dug into Neversoft’s codebase, we were able to pull the handling code out of there, bring it into the engine that we’re in now and update it to make sure that we are making that feel exactly the way you remember it but updated with modern animation,” Vicarious Visions studio head Jen Oneal told Polygon in a previous interview. “It just looks incredibly smooth, and the fidelity is fantastic.”
This is the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater I remember, and I can play it like I remember, which is everything I wanted from this updated version. The rebuilt and retextured levels I could take or leave, although the updated look modernizes the experience visually to such an extent that it wouldn’t look out of place as a brand-new game in 2020.
More importantly, even though I had put this particular controller down a decade ago, playing this demo for the first time made it feel like no time had passed at all.
There are some quality-of-life updates here — the manual didn’t exist in the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, after all — and you can toggle a few things to adjust the experience, such as making it so your special meter is always filled or so you can’t wipe out. The skaters from the original game that will make it into this release will be the present-day, older versions of the real-life skaters, with some additions to the roster. The final soundtrack is a fine mix of old and new, with a few tracks missing due to licensing issues.
But the demo as it exists is an exercise in restraint and showmanship. It’s the sort of statement you release when you know that you’ve done enough crucial things well, and that a small taste will be enough to get people excited. It’s a minimum working version that’s hopefully indicative of the final game.
If you loved the first two Tony Hawk games, this demo will get you even more excited to see how the rest of the levels look and play when Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2 is released on PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One on Sept. 4.