All Together Then: Tony Hawk's Pro Skater (Part one)
From frontside to backside; the esteemed skating series
Yes, I'm on a Tony Hawk's kick(flip). This much should be obvious, and I'm afraid that this isn't going to be the end of it. The resurrection of the series at the benevolent hands of Vicarious Visions has re-awakened my enduring love for this least realistic of sports series, and in a special two-part All Together Then, we're going to look at all the home console releases up until the last proper Neversoft one. So without further ado, let's get stuck into the world's best deck building/grinding games!
All Together Then!
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater (1999)
The game that started it all, THPS (known as the hilariously conservative Tony Hawk Skateboarding in the UK) is brilliant in its simplicity. The convoluted trappings of later games are entirely absent, the levels are compact and limited in scope and the two-minute time-limit goals are mostly quite easy to achieve. The sheer craft of the game remains as clear as ever, and it's still exhilarating to land longer combos without relying on flatland tricks. Returning to this one after years squandered on its sequels, you may find it a refreshing break from the reverts and Natas spins of its follow-ups. It's just you and your board. Play it now: An original PlayStation copy shouldn't set you back too much.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 (2000)
Pretty much the Tony Hawk game, THPS2 brought so much energy to the series that it took off like a rocket. The original game is good, but this is next-level, with the addition of the "manual" (essentially a skateboarding version of a wheelie), lip tricks (stunts performed at the "lip" of a quarter or half-pipe) and - excitingly - the ability to create your own skate park by arranging preset pieces. The levels are larger, with more and varied goals to clear, hidden cash and secret areas. The graphics and soundtrack are top-tier, as well. Lights out! Guerilla radio! etc. Play it now: Again, far from overpriced on PlayStation, though the renewed interest seems to have pushed the price up a little.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 (2001)
Leaving the fifth generation in the dust (though PS1 ports of THPS 3 and 4 were made), THPS3 is an absolute blinder - the levels here are even bigger without being overwhelming, and the goals are more diverse and challenging than before. Levels like Canada have so many distinctly different zones that you're almost spoiled for choice on where to skate. The big new feature is the revert (a 180° board spin, scraping the wheels across the ground), which is executed by hitting R2 when landing from a ramp. You can string this directly into a manual, which allows for effectively never-ending combos letting you rack up millions and millions of points. Play it now: As with all the subsequent games, an Xbox 360 will run it very nicely.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 (2002)
Ditching the two-minute time limit structure, THPS4 adopts a more freeform approach; goals and challenges are given to you by characters loitering around the levels, with a brace of different missions to attempt. New to this game is the spine transfer, which allows you to painlessly transition from the lip of a quarter-pipe to the opposite side. You can also "skitch" vehicles, though this is of limited use in practice. It's also quite a lot harder than any of the previous games in the series, and most of the ones that followed. I figure that Neversoft assumed you knew what you were doing this time around, but some of the less skateboarding-focused goals are frustrating - I'm still angry about the loop-the-loop launch on the Alcatraz stage. Play it now: Runs on Xbox 360, with very minor graphical glitches that don't affect gameplay.
Tony Hawk's Underground (2003)
Building on THPS4, the beloved THUG is the rags-to-riches story of a skater created by you, pitched against one of gaming's all-time most hateable nemeses, the despicable Eric Sparrow. For the first time in the series you were able to get off your skateboard and clamber all over the place, allowing for a greater scope in both exploration and combo potential. Unlike previous games (where stat points were either purchased or collected), you level up your skater's abilities by - well - skating. For example, executing long rail grinds would improve your rail balance, and getting big air would increase your hangtime. Sort of like a Tony Hawk's RPG, which is now the thing I want to exist more than anything in the entire world. Hilariously, you could send a photo of your face to Neversoft and they'd digitise it for use on your created skater. The results were truly hideous to behold. Play it now: Xbox 360. Again.