Game remasters have been on quite a powerful streak as of late, with Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, and Call of Duty games getting some kind of remake or upgrade during these past few years. It looks like nostalgia has proven to be the great salesperson and Activision is looking to get more out it as they have announced a remaster of Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1+2, two classics in one modern package. But up to what point is any of this indicative of nostalgia and not just a plain rallying call to make games feel like games again? Let me explain.
First, a disclaimer. I grew up on a healthy diet of Tony Hawk games, action/adventure games, and platformers, all of which were highly explorable. When Grand Theft Auto III brought the open world game into the mainstream, I was there to play it and I enjoyed it. But the open world formula didn’t win me over. I preferred games divided up by levels, and I still do.
Don’t get me wrong: I do like a good open world game (with both Red Dead Redemption games and Horizon: Zero Dawn among my favorites), but nothing beats a series of beautifully designed, curated, and highly explorable levels filled with secrets for me to find (think the Dishonored, Devil May Cry, and the main Wolfenstein series). So if you’re going to “OK Boomer” me, at least know from where I’m coming. (Also, I’m not a boomer.)
That said, the Tony Hawk remaster is coming out in a very complicated gaming ecosystem where a long-term ‘games as a service’ culture has taken a life of its own. Twitch and its many streaming competitors are supporting this trend, and DLC is still used as a way to keep gamers playing the same games by grinding for loot. Cosmetic microtransactions complete the new circle of life with endless customization options, offering players a chance to carve out unique identities within a shared world.
All these things might extend a game’s lifespan, but it begs the question of what playtime longevity means today vs. what it meant in the days of Tony Hawk Pro Skater. Back then, I argue, it came down to a solid gameplay base and accessible re-playability. The latter means the ability to jump to any level and do it all over again with having to start a New Game Plus to get to a specific enjoyable sequence.
The developer behind the Tony Hawk remaster is Vicarious Visions, whose work on the recent Crash Bandicoot trilogy proved that a face-lift goes a long way to bringing classics to new audiences. What made that remaster succeed so wildly, though, was that it made the already fun and infinitely engaging gameplay mechanics look better and run smoother.
Crash jumps, runs, and slides the same way as he did when he first came out, but feels graciously refined. Rather than adding to the game’s mechanics, they took what already worked and made it respond to the expectations of modern gaming. And it works because the core mechanics were already exceptionally tight.
The commercial success of the game rested on the fact that gamers were getting to play an already amazing set of games that now look like they were released with the full might of current tech behind them. Tony Hawk seems to be aiming for the same thing.
You could argue a lot has to do with nostalgia, that gamers are a bunch of romantics yearning for simpler and better times. But the recent popularity of remasters and even remakes may also stem from a desire to be able to play a game without thinking about a 40-hour plus time investment consisting of loot-grinding or RPG-like upgrading systems designed to pad out the experience.
Am I saying games should revert to the traditional level design/non-grindy days of the early Playstation and Nintendo days? Not in the slightest. There are more than enough examples of how games can go above and beyond current trends to provide better versions of those trends. God of War, Control, and the Batman Arkham series come to mind, given they mix in more distinct level-like areas with secrets and skill-based unlockables that promote exploration. But what makes those games extend their stay with gamers is the degree of attention paid to their gameplay mechanics. They are good enough to become timeless. Tony Hawk Pro Skater falls into that category. It’s timeless.
Tony Hawk Pro Skater follows a simple formula that remains fresh throughout because of how much it manages to achieve with what is a gloriously simple design at the wheel. Gameplay is divided into timed sessions where you’re tasked with collecting SKATE letters and mix tapes while breaking scoring records and pulling off insane trick combos. You do this in every level with different skaters until you discover everything.
That’s it, in essence.
The driving force was the challenge. How long could you keep a combo going? How many points could you score in the classic warehouse level from THPS 1? The questions nobody asked were: how much is Tony Hawk’s season pass worth? When are the new characters and levels coming out? Will we get new shirts and shoes for our skaters in future DLC? The game had it all in one package and what you unlocked was earned, not paid for.
That focus on skill and challenge and how you needed to work for unlocks was an important part of the formula that kept gamers coming back for more. It’s what made a game, well, a game. It’s no surprise, then, that retro gaming events and conventions have been popping up all over the place as of late. Even comic conventions have spaces dedicated to retro gaming, and they’re frequented by gamers of all ages, including those new to the retro experience (who aren’t there for nostalgia’s sake).
I think this is what’s really driving the excitement over remasters and remakes. The nostalgia’s there, but it’s that clamoring for complete and timeless gaming experiences, where you need to put in the work to master them, where the heart of the matter truly lies. Tony Hawk Pro Skater had this in spades and I think it’ll bring both old and new gamers alike into the kinds of games that might need to make more than just a comeback.
One last thing: the Tony Hawk remaster does feature online modes, but I am eternally grateful that it’ll also come with the original split screen multiplayer modes. It’s how I connected with and made a lot of friends back in the day (which was in the early 2000s, so I’m not that old!).
THPS 1+2 is set to release on September 4, 2020 for PS4, XBox One, and PC.