[5 November 2004]
Where would the sport of skateboarding be without Tony Hawk? It’s a question that’s been asked plenty of times in the past. Certainly, without Hawk’s immense popularity and “job” that has been to bring the skating to the people, the whole thing might still be relegated to a fringe sport, where kids in Cali are keeping it to themselves in abandoned swimming pools. Perhaps someone else may have come along if Hawk hadn’t. Perhaps this person would have elevated the sport as well, but that variable is not a reality. What is the reality is that the words “Tony Hawk” and “skateboard” go hand in hand anymore without one not bringing up images of the other.
So perhaps the better question would be, “Where would skateboarding video games be without Tony Hawk?” Ahh, now here we have something relatively easier to ponder. Before the huge success of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, skateboarding games were not much fun. Of the earliest, the arcade “classic” 720 attempted to bring players into the virtual skate parks, but it just wasn’t much fun. The home computing junkies got other titles like Skate or Die! and a half pipe segment in California Games, but again, these experiences weren’t very engrossing or all that enjoyable as even a base game. It all takes time.
So when Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater did finally arrive on the scene many years later, it was truly groundbreaking. Here was a game that was easy to pick up, addictive as hell from the get-go, and really made the player feel like he was pulling off some of the coolest stunts ever. The game levels were huge by conventional standards, the level goals challenging enough to keep even the seasoned player trying over and over to get it right, and the soundtrack was a great mix of up and coming rock bands and hip-hop artists. What Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was in reality was a huge pop culture explosion, not just a skateboarding game.
Since then, Hawk has become even bigger. And the sequels to his original game have had their ups and down. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 was absolutely phenomenal, easily eclipsing the first game. The third installment was of course the acid test for how the game was going to look on the next-gen systems. However, the fourth entry was where the whole franchise started to feel like it was running out of steam. It’s also where I pretty much swore off future Tony Hawk games, even though I had been a huge fan from the beginning. So when Tony Hawk’s Underground made its debut, the franchise lost out on its usual 50 dollar annual fee from yours truly.
But then the other day I was watching TV and caught the commercial for Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 (or THUG 2 as it is billed). Seeing the chance to play as “Team Bam” versus “Team Tony” seemed like a cool idea. Plus everything looked new and fresh once again. Granted, since I missed out on the first installment of Underground, I didn’t know if the whole thing felt fresh being worked out of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater line of games. But this one caught my eye. So once again I found myself paying my skating dues.
Boy was I glad I did. Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 brings back those good old memories of the first game. The adrenaline rushes, the desire to work through all the goals no matter if it takes all day, and a thoroughly rockin’ soundtrack with over 50 (That’s huge!) tracks all sucked me back in to the land of Tony Hawk. But what THUG 2 also is is a game that couples the best of Tony Hawk’s world with that of Jackass and Viva La Bam.
I do think Bam Margera is a genuinely funny dude and a great skater. I would suppose most fans got their first taste of Margera’s antics through the Jackass shows. But then, he started hanging out with Tony Hawk, so his visibility jumped even higher. And needless to say, I did think it was pretty cool that he got added to the characters of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 when that title was released. That the guy has made such a name for himself, as well as any of the other Jackass clan says quite a lot not only about just goofing off and getting paid for it, but of the whole sport of skating itself. None of this craziness would have happened even 20 years ago.
But there is Bam in THUG 2, along with his dad, Phil (now a regular video game character himself). Steve-O and Wee Man are also there. It’s truly the best of both worlds. That these goofball outcasts have come so far to be in such a huge entertainment franchise is testament to the whole grass roots ideology. What kid tuned in these days doesn’t know who any of these people are? The parents might still scream, “Turn that crap off!” when Viva La Bam comes on, but the kids know and will continue to do so as long as Margera and Hawk have shirts to buy at the local malls.
So bottom line is that THUG 2 returns the Tony Hawk video game franchise back to its earliest glories. Anyone who’s loved any of the games in the series will undoubtedly find themselves having more than a great time with this one. Plus, with a “classic mode” built in that lets players enjoy any of the levels in old-style Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater mode, you’re pretty much set for life. Which is funny, because in the end of it all, you’d think all the sporting game glory would go to a “regular” franchise like the NBA or NFL. But the fact of the matter is is that Tony Hawk dominates video game sports. Move over, Madden. Just because you have an MTV band playing in your game doesn’t mean squat.