Skating Games: The Timeless Genre

A while back, my Xbox One seemed like it had finally died on me. It turned out to just be a power supply issue, but for the week that it was out of order, I found myself revisiting a lot of games from when I was a kid. Most were from the PS1 and PS2 era, things like Twisted Metal, Tomb Raider, Spiderman, etc. Unsurprisingly, I found myself unable to play most of them for more than a couple of hours, as the controls, visuals, and cameras became too difficult to contend with. There turned out to only be a few that held up well under modern scrutiny, chief among them being Tony Hawk’s Underground 2. 

My metric for determining whether a game has held up well is to ask myself one question: If this game came out today, exactly as it is right now, could I still enjoy it? Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of games from the era that I still love, but I understand the power of nostalgia. The truth is, if the original Twisted Metal came out today, I doubt I would give it more than half an hour of my time. However, with THUG 2, and most of the Tony Hawk games, I honestly think I would enjoy them every bit as much, and I want to dive into why that is. 

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from: Things From Another World

A Dead Genre

The thing with skating games is that, until recently, it seemed like they were a dead genre. We recently got the announcements of a new Skate game, as well remasters of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2, but before that, the closest we had was the disastrous Pro Skater 5 (a game that isn’t even available to purchase anymore on digital storefronts). In the absence of new proper entries into either franchise or any newcomers to the genre, skating games stagnated for well over a decade.

As a result, there was never any innovation, never any refinement of the formula after the golden age of the skating game genre in the early 2000’s. On the flip side, many of the other games from the era went on to newer generations, growing with the industry and their fan bases. Take Tomb Raider as a prime example. One of the reasons it can be so difficult to go back to the originals is because the medium has advanced so far past what they used to be. Third-person shooting, parkour, puzzle-solving, all the mechanics that made up the original Tomb Raider games have been improved massively in the last 20 years. The difference between the originals and the reboot trilogy is night and day, and unless you have rose-colored glasses the size of night-vision goggles, you’re going to find it difficult to go back. This isn’t the case with skating games. Because nothing has come out in the intervening years that have changed the game, so to speak, there are no improvements or refinements that I find I’m missing when I go back and play them. 

Another reason for the games aging well is the inherent simplicity. It’s the same reason that really old games, such as Tetris, are still commonly played to this day. Let’s focus specifically on THUG 2, which I personally consider to be the apex of the genre. While a lot of mainstream games these days tend to give us giant, sprawling worlds, packed to the brim with things to do, skating games never really tried to do that (and when they did, they failed miserably). They just wanted to be fun, and typically had no great ambitions beyond that.

In the case of THUG 2, there may be a lot to criticize, such as the camera controls when on foot, the shoddy voice acting, and the weird animations, but there were only a few things it really needed to get right. It made sure that the act of skating around open levels, causing chaos, and performing cool tricks was inherently fun. It felt like the rest of the game was built around that core mechanic, and everything else, while appreciated, was extraneous. As I mentioned before, the lack of any new games recently to build on that premise ensures that, if that’s what you want from a game, you aren’t going to find it done better than THUG 2 on the Playstation 2. Throw in a timeless and exceptionally well-curated soundtrack that combines punk rock, old school hip-hop, and some Frank Sinatra for good measure, and you have a game that’s going to hold up for decades to come. That’s a quality that just wasn’t shared by other games from the time, no matter their qualities. 

The Future of Skating Games

With a potential revival of the genre on the rise, I’m looking forward to seeing if I still think this in a few years. To be honest, I think I will. I’ve seen modern games try to do similar things, but none really seemed to grasp the essential components of a skating game. Take Sunset Overdrive, for example, an Xbox One launch title that you probably haven’t thought about in years. I heard people at the time compare it to a Tony Hawk game with guns, a fairly apt comparison.

That being said, I’ve played that game once since I got it, and I’ve played THUG 2 through to completion twice so far this year. The traversal was bare-bones, the soundtrack was forgettable, and the humor fell flat more often than not. However, it did make me think that if anyone were to try a new Tony Hawk game, and put some effort into it, it would be a smash hit. For that matter, it could be one of the very few live service games that I could see succeeding. After all, when you do something so much better than any of your competitors, it’s not really a competition at all, and in a medium where skating games are all but gone, I’m willing to bet that a new one would keep people coming back for years after launch. 

Please, for the love of God, leave the dub-step behind though. Bring back the punk. 

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