All Together Then: Tony Hawk's Pro Skater (Part two)
Birdman finally gets some competition
No, we're not done with Tony Hawk just yet. Wrapping up this overview of the series prior to the exciting Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 remake, let's take a look at the final five titles that mattered. Remember, no Ride, no Shred, no HD and certainly no 5. If you haven't caught part one, click here.
All together then!
Tony Hawk's Underground 2 (2004)
Piggybacking the popularity of MTV's excellent Jackass and particularly its spin-off Viva La Bam, the next game in the series skewed a lot younger and more irreverent, though its focus on Bam Margera and his giggling, gurning friends turned off a lot of critics at the time. It's a shame, because this is the best game in the entire series from a pure gameplay standpoint; the goals are challenging, the levels bigger and better than ever, and the mechanics are tight as hell. There's even a throwback Classic Mode option for those who miss the two-minute time limits of yore. It'd be churlish of me not to mention the incredible THUG 2 Remix for PSP, too; all the content of the home console version and more crammed onto a tiny little UMD. Marvellous stuff. Play it now: Xbox 360 backwards compatability.
Tony Hawk's American Wasteland (2005)
Oh dear, what happened here? They put you on a bicycle! That's not Pro Skating! A bicycle isn't a skateboard! But even without the ill-advised BMXery, American Wasteland is the series' worst mainline game. Cursory attempts at an open world experience result in areas connected by bizarre time-warp corridors, and the levels themselves feel uninspired. The missions, too, are dull - piecemeal objectives that are all-round too easy throughout. The storyline is even worse than THUG 2's Viva La Bam love-in and the whole thing feels pitched even younger. So, sure, it could be excused as "for kids" with its Saturday morning cartoon storyline, but here's the thing - kids don't like crappy games. I'll once again shout-out a handheld game here, the DS title Tony Hawk's American Sk8land - it's an extremely accomplished, enjoyable title that delivers an only slightly compromised experience in terms of mechanics, and beats out its bigger brother. Play it now: The Xbox 360 version remains widely available.
Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam (2006)
Something of a spin-off, Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam is something of a failed experiment, but it's not withouit merit. The notion of a downhill-focused THPS is a noble one, but the execution here is too reliant on early, gimmicky Wii motion controls. Courses are short and a little plain, and the cast of real skaters has been replaced with pretty uninteresting characters. A later PS2 port brought more traditional controls to the series, but by that time the PS2 was spoiled for great Hawkery and the prospect of this lesser. simpler misfire was not an appealing one. Thankfully, the Nintendo DS version comes up trumps with a much better and more traditional feel, while retaining the downhill-focused gameplay. Play it now: The Wii version sells for next to nothing.
Tony Hawk's Project 8 (2006)
Back on top. I'll say it; Tony Hawk's Project 8 is hugely underrated, and one of the very best games in the series. The open world is a spectacularly well-designed and varied skating environment, and overall it feels like a more grounded take on the THUG formula. The new "nail the trick" mode doesn't amount to much - it has you using the analog sticks to control your board in slow motion, and feels gimmicky - but everything else here is top hole. The goals are fun, the controls pitch-perfect and the structure is the best in the series, seeing you rank up to earn a place on Tony's titular "Project 8" skate team. As well as 360 and PS3 the game also hit PS2 and PSP, with a slightly cut-down but still brilliant effort. Play it now: The Xbox 360 version is widely available and inexpensive.
Tony Hawk's Proving Ground (2007)
While an inauspicious way to end the Tony Hawk's series (Pro Skater 5 was never made), Proving Ground is far from a failure. Unfortunately, despite a THUG-like focus on coming up from the sticks and choosing your own SKATEBOARDING DESTINY, the game feels a little lacking overall. The environments in the open-world city are a little too similar, and the decision to double down on the "Nail the trick" modes feels like a reaction to EA's more sim-like series Skate than any kind of organic addition to the series. Still, there's fun to be had, and the new Aggro Kick (a, well, aggressive kick that can increase your speed) feels like something that should have been in the series for a long time. It's fun, but nothing too special. Play it now: The Xbox 360 version, again.