One of the biggest tragedies of gaming in the PS1 era is Thrasher. This game is the most realistic skateboarding game ever made, even including Skate and even True Skate. It had a ton of potential, but the actual GAME side of it wasn’t very refined. It’s a shame that it never got the sequel it needed to really flesh out the game…. Except that it kind of did. But it switched sports. Today we’re taking a look at Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX: Maximum Remix.
I usually don’t talk about BMX games, and I don’t think I’ll make much of a habit of it, but if you’re like me, you like all kinds of games like this. Especially since it has some skateboarding heritage. Thrasher Skate and Destroy is a must-play skateboarding game on the PS1. It’s the most realistic game I can think of. The physics are on point, the tricks feel really good. But there isn’t that much to do in the game. Literally all you do is get a high score in each level, then run away from the cops or security guard. There are contests, which are just a variation on getting a high score, but that’s about it. And the controls aren’t great. I always wondered what a sequel would have been like. And now I know.
This is Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX. Specifically the Maximum Remix. Although the original version was also released on PC and Dreamcast in 2000, if you want the extra levels and characters from the Maximum version, it’s only on Playstation 1. It also comes with a soundtrack CD. It also has slightly updated controls from the original. This version was released in 2001, and got some pretty bad reviews, even though I don’t think it really deserves them. It seems like there were a ton of complaints about the graphics and textures, but at this point, even the best game from the Playstation 1 looks like garbage, so that’s easy to ignore.
You can see the heritage of Thrasher shine through pretty much immediately. When you bail, you collapse and bounce off the ground like a ragdoll, and the camera hangs back. Look at it. It’s basically the same game, but with a bike.
If you aren’t familiar with Thrasher, the game has a lot of quirks compared to other games you’ve played. Like the grinds. You can throw yourself at a ledge going almost perfectly parallel to it, and it feels like an earthquake hits. You just get thrown left and right really hard, and it can be impossible to hold onto it for very long. But if you lose your balance, you don’t bail. You just pop off the coping at an angle. There’s a good chance you’ll land it, especially if there’s a bank or something to catch your fall. In fact, you’ll land most things, even if you air out of a quarter pipe. If you are anything but flat against the ground, you’ll be okay. But push it too far and you’ll slam, and the game will tell you why.
But there are more quirks with the grinds. Since you don’t bail when you lose your balance, you can do a ton of grinds, over and over again in a combo. There were a lot of times when I needed just a few more points for a high score challenge, and I just did this. You can get a lot of points for stringing together combos like this, because it’s really hard in most cases. Just not going slow on rails. Then it’s no problem.
But there are a lot more than just high score goals this time around. Mostly realistic ones too, like hitting a certain gap or grinding a certain obstacle for a minimum distance. And they go about it in a great way. You have 4 goals at the start of the level. When you get close to one of them, it pops up on screen. And the actual obstacle you have to hit will light up. This helps a lot. I love the original Tony Hawk games, but think back to Venice Beach. You have to hit the VB transfers. What does that mean and where are they? Who knows. Just go figure it out. Dave Mirra cuts way back on the frustration of blindly fumbling around the level, and it’s a great idea. There’s a lot less wasted time and skipped goals. In fact, you basically have to complete every level 100% as you go. You finish the first 4 goals, and it gives you 4 more. I really like how natural they feel. For the most part, they seem like things that you might actually want to do if you were really riding at that spot.
Speaking of the levels, there are 20 of them in this version of the game. It’s kind of out of control. You play for a few hours and realize that you’ve barely scratched the surface. And unlike a lot of the games that I play for this channel, I was really happy to see that there was a lot left to play. Most of the time, I just get frustrated and I can’t wait to get the game over with.
The levels themselves aren’t giant, but they’re really not bad for PS1 standards. But they aren’t varied all that much. Sure, you’ll be on a beach in one level, airing over volleyball nets, and then jumping over snow in another one. There’s a level that has paths cutting through a forest too. And as good as these are, the majority of them are just different skateparks. Like, every park in every Woodward location at the time is represented here. There might be a warehouse or some other nearby stuff in a lot of the levels, but it’s really just skatepark after skatepark. That started to get a little bit old. It’s kind of a small issue though.
Let’s talk about the controls. It’s very Tony Hawk esque, which is probably another reason why the reviews weren’t all that great. But there’s a lot more going on. The square button is mapped to ‘tricks’, and the circle button to ‘modifiers’. At first, it can be kind of tough to understand what the difference is. But here’s how it works. The tricks are all standalone tricks. The modifiers can be done alone, but they can also be done WITH a trick. So, down square is backflip. Down circle is barspin. You can start the flip and do a barspin to do them at the same time to make a flip driver. Add in some spins, and you’ve got a stew cooking.
There are even manuals. But I’ll be honest with you. They’re useless. The control screen says to hit up up or down down. But it’s not like Tony Hawk. That’s not a command you’re putting in. What you have to do is just tilt enough that you land on one wheel. And most of the time, you’ll just instantly land. It takes a lot of effort to balance a manual. And you can do it, but not really in a combo. You’ll only find yourself doing these when the game asks you to, and it’s not that often.
There are a lot of wall tricks too, at least compared to skateboard games at the time. You can fastplant, wall tap, and wall ride. It’s a shame though. The wallride was the best part of Thrasher. Here it doesn’t really feel like much.
There are a couple of issues with the controls though. First is that they aren’t really that intuitive. Think about Tony Hawk. If up is nosegrind and left is noseslide, what’s a crooked grind? Up-left, of course. It makes perfect sense. Here though, it’s almost random. I feel like I had to learn a lot of the tricks just by memorization. Since it asks you to do certain tricks a lot of the time, it can be annoying, since you always have to pause and look it up.
But the trick + modifier system doesn’t always work. What about a backflip tailwhip? Both of them are tricks. So if you want to do them at the same time, you have to do down-right, down, then square. On paper, it does make some level of sense, but it makes experimenting really tough. In the Tony Hawk games, most of the tricks take roughly the same amount of time. Harder tricks are a little bit slower, but it’s rare that you won’t have enough time to do a trick on an average air.
This game is different. Since there are so many button combinations that have a flip in them, you might end up accidentally doing a backflip with almost no air time, hoping for a turndown or can-can or something like that. Because of this, I just stuck to the few tricks I knew, and didn’t experiment too much. That held me back in contests and high score challenges. Lucky I can rail dance. I did this a million times. There’s something else too. Front flip is up up square. But down down square is actually double backflip. Which you’ll pretty much never have enough time to land, until you upgrade your bike later on. Since it’s such a basic combo to hit, I found myself doing doubles all of the time. Luckily, if you land right side up after the first flip, it’ll let you get away with it.
It can get worse though. At one point, I had to do a ‘truck driver’. From my years of watching BMX on the XGames, that name rang a bell, but I couldn’t remember exactly what it meant. I went through the trick list…. And it’s nowhere to be found. I knew it had something to do with a barspin, since spinning your bars around can be like turning a truck steering wheel, right? Well, it’s a 360 with a barspin. Simple, and it doesn’t have its own button input, so it sucks that they didn’t tell you what it meant. That wouldn’t have been so hard.
So even though there is a lot going on, the difficulty of the game is coming from doing tricks, not from finding all the hidden tomatoes to throw at people and making birds poop on tourists. So I appreciate that. Let’s say you want to do a nothing flair – that’s a no handed, no footed, backflip 180. You hit down square to start the backflip, then hold R1 or L1 to spin. After that starts, hurry up and hit down-left, down-right circle, and you’ll do the nothing. When you start to get a hang of what you’re doing, it feels satisfying doing combos like that on purpose.
Overall, the game is very good, but it has one fatal, unforgivable flaw. It’s on a bike. I respect BMX, and I think it’s cool, but it just doesn’t translate to games that well. First of all, your character is way too big. It’s really easy to get caught on stuff, bump into walls, and just have trouble getting around in general. For a fast paced action game with a clock counting down on you, it’s really annoying when you can’t stop on time to turn around and look.
Also, sticking to BMX style obstacles is sometimes a pain. Having these double dirt jumps is a little annoying. If you’ve ever played a ATV or dirtbike racing game, you have seen this done better. You preload your shocks and try to tweak your airtime to match where the landing is. But with this, you just pedal as much as you can, then hold down x for a second and let go. It doesn’t really feel like you’re flowing with the dirt course and landing everything right. In fact, if you overshoot a jump, it might not even count it.
The other thing is just having fakie. I know that that’s how it is with bikes. You do 360s or 720s on straight airs, and 180s, 540s or 900s on transition. But it just doesn’t play very well. It sucks trying to whip around the best trick you can do, just to land fakie and basically ruin your line. You can hit up to turn around, and if you don’t get stuck, that works. But it took away most of your speed, which isn’t easy to come by. Land a trick to fakie in a halfpipe, and you have to do two or three airs to get back up to where you were. Assuming you can turn around at all. Sometimes you turn around on a ramp at the wrong time, then have to turn around again… It’s a mess. Yeah, that’s what you get trying to ride around backward on your bike, but it’s just not as fun from a gameplay perspective. I miss being able to do a 360 to fakie, then do a trick switch, then come back and do something nollie. So as good as this game is, it would be better on a skateboard. The game tries to help a little bit though. Every time you ride on vert, it will do a 180 for you. Do an X-up? You’ll land it back forward. No big deal. Unless you do a flip. For some reason, it will always make you land that fakie. You have to spin those yourself. You’ll forget this a lot and do flips to fakie all the time.
Another annoyance is the lack of camera control. I know this was very common for games at the time, but there a lot of times where you’ll see the alert on screen that tells you you’re close to a challenge, but you just can’t see it. You can’t stop and look around freely. That would have been a big help.
OK, so the game is mostly good. You’re having a good time beating levels and clearing competitions. Next thing you know, you’ve beat the final level. What do you get? Well, you get the secret bike. It’s weird, during my playthrough, I tried to change my bike, but didn’t see anything in there. Now, I have the secret bike, but I had all of these too! That probably would have make a big difference because it’s the only way to boost your stats. But I also noticed all the hardcore challenges. So you get the 4 amateur goals, the 4 pro goals, but now you can go back and replay the old levels with new challenges.
These are cool, but they’re also really really hard.
Here I am with the secret bike, which has the best stats you can get. My challenge is to grind 4 light posts. Hitting just this one is almost impossibly high. It feels like you almost have to break the game and glitch it out to even grind this thing.
So if you’re up for a challenge, the hardcore mode has got you covered. You know, you really get your money’s worth out of this game. There’s a ton of stuff to do here. If this was Tony Hawk 2, I’d probably be on my third playthrough by now.
So yeah, that’s Dave Mirra. A game I didn’t really care to play at the time, and one that has sit at the bottom of my list for a long time. I was very surprised by how good it was, and I had a really good time with it. I had some experience with later games in the series, mostly through demo discs, and I wasn’t all that thrilled with it. But I think I missed out. I would have loved this game back when it was new. Assuming I could get over accepting that I would never get Thrasher 2.