Alright, so I reviewed Pro Skater 1 a little while ago. It’s a really good game, but it doesn’t really hold up that great. Not having manuals seems like a glaring oversight in retrospect, and it just doesn’t feel like a Tony Hawk game yet. The series was new and it needed to grow up a little bit. But what followed it is an absolute masterpiece.
Pro Skater 2 came out on pretty much every device capable of playing games at the time. Which one should you play? I’ll give you a few options. First is the Playstation version. This is the original. This is the version created by the original team. This is the version that got nothing but 9s and 10s from gaming journals. For the most authentic Tony Hawk 2 experience, I would go Playstation.
There’s also the N64. The graphics are a bit better, and I think Pro Skater 1 is pretty good on the 64 – check my review and you’ll see that most of the footage is from that. BUT the fact that the soundtrack is cut down and edited is a big deal this time. The Pro Skater 2 soundtrack is incredible. I can’t play any of it for you or I’ll go to YouTube jail, but it’s a big loss if you don’t get a chance to hear it.
Another option is the Dreamcast. I’ll show some footage of that. It’s definitely a better-looking version without compromise, assuming you still have a Dreamcast.
Then there’s also the PC version. I finally got a chance to take this off the shelf and give it a try. It installed just fine and recognized my controller. But in my case, it HAS to play in 640×480, and you can NOT run the config file, or this will happen. There are patches available, but try that at your own risk.
Lastly, there’s the Xbox version, Pro Skater 2X. This game is a strong contender for the best version of Tony 2. The engine is the same, so there’s no problem there, but they added volumetric grass, lens flares, motion blur, all in 480p. They also included the Pro Skater 1 career mode, and also exclusive 2X levels. I’ll show those in a bit. If you’re coming into this game fresh, without nostalgia, try to get your hands on this.
Alright, so pick out whatever version works best for you, and let’s get started.
Tony Hawk 2 was improved in every way over the first game. There are more skaters, and more stat points for each one, so they all feel unique. The trick list has been expanded and built on, and there are more challenges in every level.
In Pro Skater 1, you would collect SKATE as well as one other specific thing, then the secret tape and high scores.
Now, the levels are bigger and more dense, with much more to do – like ollieing the magic bum, doing lip tricks at the hidden skatepark, and finding cash in secret tunnels.
Pro Skater 2 is full of some of the best, most iconic Tony Hawk levels of all time. Later games got too bogged down in trying to be a realistic type of place, you know. Look at Suburbia in Tony Hawk 3. There’s a big dead zone in the middle of the level with nothing to skate. Sure, they threw some tiny ramps in there, but it’s not like you can do anything on them. The theme of the level required there to be some kind of cul de sac to tie everything together, so it has to be there.
Compare that to New York, Philadelphia or Venice. They’re all loosely based on real locations, but there’s no wasted space. There are lines everywhere for your combos, but they all make sense for the location.
And the game is loaded with easter eggs and secrets, and this attention to detail is one of my favorite parts of the game. You can skate in the gym in the School 2 level, or outside at skatestreet. You can unlock secret characters, and even secret levels, like Skate Heaven.
On top of all of that, there are cheat codes you can play around with, 2 player modes, and a Create-a-park feature. With all this stuff to do, you could play Tony Hawk 2 for years without getting bored. And I did. Even after Pro Skater 3 came out, I still went back to 2 for a long time.
When I eventually ran out of things to do in the game, I started making up my own gameplay modes.
One of the things I used to do with a friend is compete for the best “Keepin’ it Real” run, something that we invented. What is it?
Here’s what you do. Go into the cheat menu and turn on sim mode. This will make gravity a lot stronger, but it lets you spin faster. Next, start up a single session, and try to complete a whole run doing nothing unrealistic. That means no riding on grass or dirt, you have to let your skater push for himself instead of just crouching and speeding around, and no doing gaps that are unrealistically big. On top of that, everything has to be clean and perfect. If you do a spinning trick, it has to say ‘perfect’ on the screen. You can’t repeat tricks, except as parts of combos, and you have to cover as much of the level as possible.
Try to complete a whole run, and save the replay to enjoy decades later.
Now before I forget, let’s take a look at Tony Hawk 2X. So this game came out at the launch of the original Xbox. Tony Hawk 3 was already out on PS2. So it wasn’t a major release, and it was really late, but it might be the best version you can get. You get everything the original version offers, except, once you beat the career, you unlock levels from Tony Hawk 1, and also exclusive 2X levels. Let’s take a look at the 2X stuff.
So these levels were designed by Treyarch, and they don’t really have the same level of polish at the original stuff. Weirdly, they’re styled after the Pro Skater 1 levels, with only a few challenges to do. That said, they did their best to match the feel of Pro Skater with the design and layout of the levels, with one exception: the construction site.
So the Xbox was brand new at the time. The most powerful gaming system the world had ever seen. They bumped up the graphics quite a bit, but they still wanted to show off a little more. The construction site is a mostly vertical level. You can climb this structure and get to get the secret tape all the way at the top. The PlayStation 1 wouldn’t have been able to handle the draw distances of looking out from the top. But even though this is a gimmick and doesn’t feel like an authentic Tony Hawk level, it’s still one of the better ones.
Aside from that, you’ve got the Club, which isn’t bad. There’s the Skatepark of Tampa, which is pretty good, and was later reused in Tony Hawk Underground. After you beat that, you get the Subway as a bonus level. There are no goals, and you’ll get bored pretty quick.
Lastly there’s the Detroit Skyline. There aren’t any challenges here either, and it’s kind of a mess. I guess it’s worth a couple minutes, but you’ll get bored here too. And why call it Detroit? There are a few skyscrapers there, but it’s mostly a wide city, not a tall one. Eh, I guess that doesn’t matter.
You do get the Tony Hawk 1 career as well. I mentioned this in my review of that game, but the fact that you can do manuals makes this way too easy. You can knock out all the high scores and contests with ease, and it completely changes the feel of the game. But it’s really cool to have the levels and see them all remade with updated graphics. It’s definitely a good bonus.
Another thing I’ve come to appreciate, especially after Tony Hawk HD, is how solid the engine is. I remember the game crashing on me once or MAYBE twice, in hundreds of hours of gameplay. And I’m pretty sure that was when I was messing around with multiple cheat codes and just doing weird stuff the game wasn’t designed for.
The game is solid, well designed, fun, and replayable. What’s not to love? Tony Hawk 2 is by far my favorite game in the series, with nothing else even coming close. This and Thrasher are two must-haves from the Playstation era.
Pro Skater 2 launched a million skateboard careers, and inspired me to skate too. Rodney Mullen’s ending video was so good that I went to K-mart and bought a skateboard, determined to learn caspers, and I did, just not like him of course. Did these games get you started too? Let me know in the comments. Is Pro Skater 2 the best game in the series? What do you think?