Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
Kickflip + Manual + Wall Ride + Rock the Bells! + Wallie + 180 Kickflip to Indie + BS Boardslide + 180 Melon + Manua– gone. Tony slips backwards and it looks painful. Before he can complete the squirm animation and get back on his feet, I’ve already tapped start, down, X. Oh man, this song. Wall Ride + Rock the Bells! + Wallie + 180 Judo + FS 50-50 + 180 Melon. 15,000? Poor. Start, down, X.
That’s the mark of Someone Who Knows What They’re Doing with Tony Hawk: the muscle memory restart. It is both borne and encouraging of impatience. You’ve been playing this game for too long.
There are few titles – even in the strictest high-score tradition – that can induce such obsessive perfectionism. Toiling for hours to score 300,000 on Marseilles only to achieve it and scold oneself for reneging on that last combo is not, it seems, an uncommon experience. Secret tapes and S-K-A-T-E and hangtime gaps are all well and good, but at the end of the day it’s all about perfecting those lines and accumulating increasingly unhinged point hauls.
With this comes frustration. No less but quite possibly more than ninety-seven per cent of the time spent with Pro Skater 2 whilst occupying this mindset is nowhere approaching “fun”. It’s, largely, in turns frustrating and nerve-destroying. The controller becomes greasy, coated in gross palm sweat. You curse, you sigh. You occasionally walk away in utter disgust. Your standards become more stringent with every successful combo. Paradoxically, the ability to reach these new, slightly unreasonable heights declines the longer you play. Concentration goes as agitation sets in. Restarts occur once every few seconds, even upon landing scores that once seemed stratospheric.
Those three (or less) per cent of the play time, though, are bliss. Twenty seconds over the time limit you land safely, preposterous score assured. Fuck yes. The celebration is often a muted one. It’s a release; a long, satisfied sigh and a moment of contemplation. Perhaps the slow-motion replay is half-heartedly observed through glazed eyes. Maybe you’ll simply turn off the machine, safe in the knowledge that you won’t feel the urge to crack the latest ceiling for another day or two – or if not at least another half hour…
The machine is turned back on, and the clouds of self-torment gather once more.
It’s worth noting at this point that there’s “content” in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. There are numerous skaters to choose from, of course, the man himself being my thoughtless, default choice. My friend is a fan of Rodney Mullen. Being so accustomed to The Hawk it’s difficult to get a grip of the latter’s Body Varial move, and the unpredictable spin animation can scupper a decent combo. Circle’s for grabs dammit! Most other skaters are out of the question, and dress like idiots besides.
The levels themselves are the game’s foundation. Though Philadelphia is utterly bland and the two special stages can’t be commented on – we don’t have a memory card – the rest are shining examples of tight and varied design. Initially daunting, they reveal themselves a little more with each retry, enabling the experience to evolve with the player as he or she peels back its layers. At first it’s a platformer, with each fresh pair of hands and eyes aiming for the objects, gaps and rails that seem just out of reach. Some training and it morphs into a Proper Skating Game, with the student able to pull off increasingly impressive tricks and commit level goals to memory. With time and a pinch of dedication it becomes the exercise in execution described above. Those manuals – possibly the most inspired iterative improvement in any video game series – string together very specific button presses. Flying around Marseilles becomes second nature, but then questions of judgement enter the picture. Choosing not to end a huge combo and losing balance during a grind is ego-shattering.
Pro Skater 2’s – ahem – turn of the century presentation thus works to disguise in baggy clothing a classic high-score game of the utmost seriousness. The fondly remembered soundtrack is, let’s face it, basically terrible. They’re largely the kind of songs nobody over the age of twelve can listen to seriously, but they don’t half get you in the mood. And that essence of pre-teen douchebaggery is as central to the experience as the skating itself: it’s why everyone uses “ASS” on the scoreboard, or “WANKER” as the word in split-screen Horse. It’s something to be immersed in so as to remind people they’re just playing a stupid (but brilliant) adaption of a stupid (but exciting) sport performed by stupid (but talented) individuals.
There’s the core of Tony Hawk 2’s genius, the thing that elevates it to more than just an extreme sports game and something of a generational watershed. By refusing to take itself seriously, it allows us to refrain from doing so ourselves and so before beating oneself up about the days lost, pounds gained and brain cells fried, it’s necessary to stop and ponder what was accomplished. “Absolutely nothing” is a perfectly healthy conclusion. Few nothings, though, are quite this entertaining, and that is, quite possibly, the definition of time well spent.