I never understood the appeal of the "Tony Hawk" franchise until I started playing it from the beginning. I missed the original when it was released in 1999, and I tried playing the sequels but they never connected with me.
It was one of those games that everyone raves about but I couldn't comprehend why. The gameplay seemed complicated and it was nearly impossible for me to pull off combos longer than three moves. Jumping into the series felt like starting "Game of Thrones" in the middle of the Battle of Bastards. I was just confused and intimidated about the lingo and figuring out what a 540 Christ Air exactly entailed.
Thankfully, I have a second chance to start the franchise from square one. Vicarious Visions with help from Beenox remade the first two titles and packaged them together as "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2." It's not the exact same game as fans remember. The visuals pop with beautifully rendered characters and dramatically lit maps. Beyond that, the project has modern online trappings that players have come to expect. See a multiplayer mode and the ability to share user-generated skate parks.
Although it boasts contemporary elements, "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2" retains the level design and even '90s-era music. It's a game that's modern but also rooted in the past, delivering a dose of nostalgia for older fans while giving newcomers (like me) a path into the series. It's a difficult balancing act but Vicarious Visions nails the attempt.
A big part of this is that the developers kept the formula that Neversoft introduced. "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2" offers a tutorial that does a cursory job at introducing the concepts. It teaches players the controls, but it's the Goals on each map that will nudge players to master the gameplay.
By finishing each task within a time limit, players inch closer to unlocking a new map. This is how players access new content and see more of the campaign. That incentivizes players to look for the letters S-K-A-T-E hidden through each level. Each map also has special collectibles and tricks that players must complete. The Goals are specific and it will take time - or a quick YouTube search - to explore the map and find what exactly the missions ask for.
Although these specific tasks teach singular concepts, the most effective way to master "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2" is by beating the score Goals. This is where players experiment and figure out the nitty gritty of the skateboarding title. Through trial and error, players will fine tune their skills and learn how they can string together combos by jumping between rails or by connecting tricks via manuals and reverts.
The in-game directions and tips are a guide, but it takes dexterity to actually pull off the moves. The scoring challenges force players to steadily improve to beat the marks the developers set. Part of this is done by mastering tricks, committing them to muscle memory, and identifying the most efficient route to execute them.
Vicarious Visions kept the level designs intact, and the layouts of the maps have been carefully crafted to reward players who can read the level and find a line that generates easy points. It takes experimentation and imagination, knowing what each move is capable of though the game's physics can get wonky at times. I encountered moments where I ollied higher than I was expecting, or in which while fumbling with the controls I inadvertently performed a cool combo by mistake.
After taking care of the easy collection tasks first, the scoring missions and the competition parks were where I gained an appreciation for the project. The first two titles are when the franchise remained relatively grounded to reality and they had some thought put into maps. Players could still perform superhuman ollies and wallrides that lift them to a higher rail, but "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2" levels weren't absurdly over the top or as poorly designed as the maps in the later entries.