I remember it well. I was living in Florida. I was young, less than five. My babysitter, TJ, came over with a cool new game with some guy who had a bird for a name. Little did I know that this game with the mouthful for a name would drastically change my life.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater is a game that marked a radical shift in what I played. Up until then, every game had been fantastic: kart racing with fantastic creatures, fighting evil, stomping on turtles and traveling through pipes, being a secret agent. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater marked the first time that something I could grasp, something real, was presented to me, through video games, as an adventure. Suddenly, everything I saw: curbs, handrails, even cars were thought of in ways I could perform the most radical trick off of them.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater (or THPS, or just Tony Hawk, for those of us who don't have all day) was not the first skateboarding video game, but it was the most revolutionary. Neversoft created a control scheme that has been copied over and over again, thanks in part to the diamond shape layout of controller buttons. Bottom button in the diamond for jumping (or Ollieing), left and right buttons for flip and grab tricks respectively, and the top for grinds. This layout, or a variation of it, can be seen in almost all action sports games since: Matt Hoffman's BMX, SSX, etc. The simple design of "A+_" quickly found itself enriched by different terrain, surfaces, and goals. Transferring from an aerial grab trick to a grind around the edge of the bowl showed gamers the possibility each different obstacle had. This was fleshed out more and more as you gained new maps in the single player. As well, it played into combos. Combos were a genius addition to the game, as combos were a concept that many gamers already grasped. In fighting games, combos were a way gamers measured success, and incorporating this (with tricks instead of hits) allowed THPS to reward players: longer and better combos added more multipliers to your score, giving you a better score if you combo'd your tricks. The game didn't play like the average sports game: there were no confusing controls, or teams and mascots, or controlling of many players at once. It felt more like an arcade game, where the goal was to rack up a high score and complete goals within a time limit.
Now, what keeps you coming back to Tony Hawk is the multiplayer. With multiple game modes to choose from (Horse, Trick Attack, Graffiti), there are tons of combinations between game mode and map, making sure you never get the feeling of the game wearing too stale. That itself is fine and dandy, but where the game takes a step above itself is the skater selection. With 10 real life skaters (and two unlockable, fictional ones), each with different special skills and tricks, players were allowed to find a style and skater that appealed to them (or if you are me, pick Bob Burnquist because he has glasses). The amount of variation in THPS was unbelievable, especially among skateboarding games of the past.
Now, all of that is great, but there are so many great games. What makes this one shine? The icing on the cake has to be the atmosphere. Neversoft spared no expense on making this game truly feel like skateboarding. A soundtrack full of notable punk and ska bands that actually sound like they belong in a skating environment, tons of different levels with interactive elements and varying aesthetics. THPS makes you really feel like a skateboarder. Hell, this is the game that actually introduced me to what skateboarding really was. It started a lifelong interest in the sport. Also, the cartridge was blue! How baller is that?
Today, the game doesn't hold up quite as well. The controls are a bit clunky, and the exclusion of certain tricks (such as the Manual) that later became mainstays in the series, or skaters (like Rodney Mullen) that also appeared later on. Despite that, it is still entertaining to play. It's interesting to see a game that has had such a heavy influence on an entire genre of gaming. Overall, Tony Hawk Pro Skater is a huge step in video game and skateboarding history that deserves immense credit. God save Officer Dick.