A Brief History of Every Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater Game (The Decline of Neversoft and Beyond)

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2

Welcome back to our comprehensive list of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater video game franchise. If you’re just tuning in now, the first portion of this list, the Neversoft Golden Age, can be found over at our sister site Retrovolve.

The first part of this list left off midway through the Neversoft development era with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 in 2002. Now, without hucking the grindage (God I hope that means something cool), let’s jump back in with the second part of this list and the latter half of the Neversoft years.

The Decline of Neversoft Era (2003 – 2007)

Tony Hawk's Underground

Tony Hawk’s Underground (2003) – And now we’re moving past the mainline numbered entries, at least for a while. The next Tony Hawk game, Tony Hawk’s Underground, released in 2003 for PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Xbox, with additional versions for the Game Boy Advance (Vicarious Visions), and mobile (Jamdat). A version for Windows (Beenox) would later be released in Australia and New Zealand as a budget title.

Tony Hawk’s Underground, or THUG, was a departure from the Pro Skater part of the title, and it saw some changes to the formula as well. THUG set itself apart from previous titles with a career mode that emphasized creating your own skater and taking them from amateur to pro, all while battling what some view as the greatest antagonist in gaming history, Eric Sparrow.

For its time, THUG felt pretty fresh, and it seemed like an exciting way to breathe life into a stagnating franchise. It leaned more heavily on the open-stage format of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 while also allowing the player character to get off of their board and walk around (and also clamber over and on top of obstacles).

THUG was pretty much universally well received, which each version scoring above 85 on Metacritic. The PS2 version is ranked the highest, scoring a 90 out of 100 and earning the Metacritic Must-Play seal of approval. It is also my personal favorite Tony Hawk game.

Tony Hawk's Underground 2

Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 (2004) – Ever since the launch of the franchise, Activision still hadn’t let Tony Hawk take a single year off at this point (and they wouldn’t for a while yet). So it would surprise no one that a THUG follow-up, Tony Hawk’s Underground 2, would release the following year. Much like its predecessor, THUG2 was released for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube, with versions for the Game Boy Advance (Vicarious Visions) and mobile (Jamdat). A 2005 remixed version for Playstation Portable (Shaba Games), aptly titled Tony Hawk’s Underground 2: Remix, brought some additional levels.

For all intents and purposes, THUG2 was basically Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater meets Jackass. In it, Tony Hawk and Jackass-alum-slash-skateboarding-legend Bam Margera formed teams for their new World Destruction Tour. This was a rather large departure from previous Tony Hawk games, as the emphasis was now placed on skating to wreck shop with zany antics and over-the-top action. In fact, one of the characters is in a full body cast using a wheelchair instead of a skateboard. I’m sure it seemed edgy at the time, but it’s hard to deny that it seems a bit insensitive in retrospect.

Although the game was mostly well-received, there were critics who viewed the more ludicrous story as a hindrance rather than an innovation. Some would even call this the beginning of the decline of the Tony Hawk series.

For old-school Tony Hawk purists, THUG2 did include a classic mode, which allowed players to skate through both new and remade classic levels in the traditional two-minute format of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1, 2, and 3. These would have to be unlocked in Classic Mode, of course.

Tony Hawk's American Wasteland

Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland (2005) – Don’t think the franchise was ready to take a break. 2005 would see the release of yet another Tony Hawk game, although this time the developers would ditch the Underground moniker from the previous two games and instead go with Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland. THAW was released in North America for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and Xbox on October 18, 2005. It came to the Xbox 360 on November 22, 2005, with a Microsoft Windows port (by Aspyr) on February 6, 2006.

In it, players would choose from one of five pre-made characters and attempt to make their way through the skating world of Hollywood. Things would go awry, of course, leading the player to befriend some of the locals in order to learn how to skate and win the conveniently held skate competition.

The game was mostly well received, though some critics found it less challenging than earlier THPS titles. The game also boasted it would take place in “one large open Hollywood level,” but it was actually a bunch of smaller levels connected by corridors. This was a gimmick to hide loading times and give the impression of a neverending open-world skate utopia.

Vicarious Visions would develop the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS surrogate, Tony Hawk’s American Sk8Land in 2005. The DS version differed from the home consoles version, having more of a cel-shaded art style and utilizing both of the handheld’s dual screens. The GBA version was a more traditional THPS handheld port with an isometric viewpoint.

Tony Hawk's Downhill Jam

Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam (2006) – There were two Tony Hawk games released in 2006, and they couldn’t be more different from one another. The first was a Wii launch title, Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam. Co-developed by Toys for Bob, this is the only mainline Tony Hawk game to be released during the Neversoft era that wasn’t developed exclusively by Neversoft. The Wii version of Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam, or THDJ, was preceded by versions on the the Game Boy Advance (Visual Impact) and the Nintendo DS (Vicarious Visions). The following year, the game would land on the PlayStation 2 (SuperVillain Studios).

Although far from horrible, THDJ was not great. Not only did the title make for the worst acronym thus far, the game was also mostly designed to take advantage of the Wii’s motion controls while also compensating for the inherent limitations of said controls. Each level was a downhill race as opposed to the more skatepark-like levels of previous titles.

Even for those who had remained loyal to the franchise through THUG2 and THAW, THDJ was signalling the impending demise of the Tony Hawk franchise. THDJ, more than any other title before it — even the handheld versions — lacked that core Tony Hawk gameplay loop.

Tony Hawk's Project 8

Tony Hawk’s Project 8 (2006) – The other Tony Hawk game of 2006, the eighth installment in the Tony Hawk’s franchise (if you’re not counting Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2x or THDJ), was Tony Hawk’s Project 8. Bridging the sixth and seventh console generations, THP8 was released for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, with additional versions for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox (Shaba Games), as well as the Playstation Portable (Page 44 Studios). A mobile version came out in 2007.

The cross-generational approach would lead to mixed results, as the gen-six versions had to make drastic cuts to get the game running on the older machines.

THP8 was also the first Tony Hawk game to see direct competition from the EA-published Skate series, which offered a more realistic take on skateboarding, emphasizing skill on a per-trick basis instead of Tony Hawk’s gazillion-point skate-athon. This was most evident in THP8’s inclusion of the Nail-The-Trick mechanic, intended to both ape but also elaborate on the flick-it control style of Skate.

Without going into too much detail, Skate used the right analog stick for most of the game’s tricks, which were performed by the player by flicking the thumbstick in various movement patterns to simulate their character’s feet on the board. THP8’s Nail-The-Trick basically slowed down time when triggered by simultaneously clicking L3 and R3. This would allow the player to manipulate the skater’s feet — and the physics of the board’s rotation — to fine-tune otherwise near-impossible moves.

Nail-The-Trick was a cool mechanic that felt fresh, but it couldn’t quite mirror the realism of Skate. And that’s to say nothing of the rest of the game, which was characteristically unreal in almost every other department. So for the first time, King Hawk wasn’t alone in the skateboard-sim world, and the newcomer was making headway.

Tony Hawk's Proving Ground

Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground (2007) – This leads us to the final game released by Neversoft during their nine-year Tony Hawk tenure, 2007’s Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground. Released for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, with ports for the Nintendo DS (Vicarious Vision), as well as the Wii and PlayStation 2 (Page 44 Studios), THPG would follow the formula of THP8. The PS3 and XBox 360 versions featured a large open-world area, added the Nail-The-Manual and Nail-The-Grind mechanics, and included classic modes that could be played via in-game arcade machines.

These features would be absent from the other ports, which adhered to a more traditional level-select setup while also not including the Nail-The-Manual mechanic.

THPG was met with average reviews, with no version breaking the 80 out of 100 metacritic score. For some, the franchise was growing stale; for others it had been stale for quite some time now. And the popularity of Skate — with its emphasis on more genuine skating mechanics and its depiction of skateboarding as a lifestyle in general — was rising while the Tony Hawk series was losing its once-pristine identity.

The Robomodo Era (2008–2015)

In 2008, Neversoft would pass the torch to Robomodo, kicking off a new era of Tony Hawk games.

Tony Hawk's Motion

Tony Hawk’s Motion (2008) – Before the Robomodo era would properly begin, Creat Studios would release the inauspicious Tony Hawk’s Motion for the Nintendo DS.

Tony Hawk’s Motion would come with an add-on called the “Motion Pack,” which plugged into the GBA cartridge slot on the DS, bringing tilt-style motion control to the handheld. This accessory was exclusive to THM.

Although THM was the first Tony Hawk game to implement snowboarding in addition to skateboarding, the Motion Plus conceit was hard to swallow. With complaints of lousy control mechanics and a general lack of content, Tony Hawk’s Motion was not a beloved entry in the series.

The new era was not off to a great start.

Tony Hawk: Vert (2009) – One more game would release before the Robomoto era would officially start rolling. Tony Hawk: Vert was a mobile-exclusive title developed by Glu Mobile. Focused solely on vert skating, THV wasn’t actually received that poorly. The again, it doesn’t seem like it was received much in general, if you catch my drift.

Tony Hawk Ride

Tony Hawk: Ride (2009) – Robomoto’s first Tony Hawk game, Tony Hawk: Ride, was absolute trash. Whatever the intent was for this game, any concept that might have been intriguing on paper got lost in the game’s poor execution. Tony Hawk: Ride was a glass of warm gimmick gone sour.

Attempting to cash in on the plastic guitar and instrument craze made popular by games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, Tony Hawk: Ride was hoping that millions of people would enjoy standing on a plastic skateboard deck while miming the motions of skateboard tricks. Believe it or not, the peripheral concept didn’t translate to skateboards as well as it did to guitars.

Tony Hawk: Shred (2010) – In a baffling turn of events, Robomodo would double down on their awful skateboard peripheral with 2010’s abysmal Tony Hawk: Shred. The literal rock bottom for the Tony Hawk franchise, the game is reported to have only sold 3,000 copies in its first week. If the game’s lousy presentation wasn’t enough, the board and game bundle cost $120. That’s a high price for this level of disappointment.

Tony Hawk: Shred was enough of a failure that the Tony Hawk series would take a brief hiatus to figure out what in the fudge it was doing. 2011 would be the first year since the franchise began that wouldn’t see a new Tony Hawk game.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD (2012) – And that brings us to the 2012 release of Tony Hawk HD for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Windows. While it’s not accurate to say this was the first time the series had looked backward, I would argue that it’s the first time it did so in an attempt to forge a path forward.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD was a digital remaster of a handful of levels from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 and 2, with the option to access content from THPS3 as paid DLC. Tony Hawk HD was received moderately well, faring far better than the previous two entries. Unfortunately, that lukewarm goodwill didn’t give the series enough momentum to propel itself forward. 2013 would be another year without a Tony Hawk game.

Tony Hawk’s Shred Session (2014) – The next game on our list is Tony Hawk’s Shred Session, a mobile-only free-to-play endless runner title that received a soft launch but was ultimately cancelled before worldwide release. So if you were one of the “lucky” few thousand or so who got to play it, let me know how it was in the comments section at the bottom of ths article.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 (2015) – And that brings us to the colossal trainwreck that was Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5. The licensing deal between Tony Hawk and Activision was scheduled to expire at the end of 2015, so Activision paired Robomodo with co-developer Disruptive Games to crank out one more title and milk that dead ghost of a cow one last time.

And crank one out they did.

The fact that this would be the first numbered title in the mainline series since 2002 was a slap in the face to Tony Hawk fans. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 was one big slapdash cash grab (try saying that five times with a mouth full of cinnamon crackers). A throwback to the staples of the series, THPS5 was likely cobbled together in a manner of months and was trashed heavily upon release for its myriad bugs, glitches, and control and performance issues.

It was a mess.

It was also the last game Robomodo would develop, as the studio was shut down shortly thereafter. This unceremoniously brings the Robomodo era to its long-overdo end and ushers in the current era.

The Post-Robomodo Era (2016–present)

Tony Hawk's Skate Jam

Tony Hawk’s Skate Jam (2018) – After the licensing deal with Activision ended in 2015, Tony Hawk attempted to sift through the ashes to find what charred skeleton remained of his failed video-game Phoenix. What emerged was 2018’s Tony Hawk’s Skate Jam, another mobile-only game developed and published by Maple Media.

Heralded by the Birdman himself as a return to form, THSJ received mixed reviews. Some seemed to enjoy the title and likened it to the classic titles of yore, others found it cumbersome, merely a veneer of the old formula. The brand would go dormant again for two more years.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 ( 2020) – Tony Hawk and Activision would announce in May of 2020 that the band was getting back together and they’d be releasing yet another remaster of THPS 1 & 2 (the third such attempt). This one comes in the form of 2020’s cleverly titled Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2, with THPS handheld veterans Vicarious Visions on development duty.

Building off of the source code from the original two games in the series, Vicarious Visions seems to have nailed the feel of the original THPS games (and I say that after having played the warehouse demo). Although I’m sure diehard fans would love to see a brand new outing for the Birdman, this will certainly suffice for now. If it proves to be viable, maybe it will even lead to a brand-new title in the franchise. This isn’t actually an unrealistic pondering, as Vicarious Visions revived the Crash Bandicoot franchise in the exact same way.

So there you have it, a comprehensive list of Tony Hawk games both good and bad. Although the series fizzled hard as it made its way into the 2010s, it does seem to be back on the right track.

I’m sure we’ll have plenty more coverage here at Half-Glass Gaming once Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 & 2 releases on September 4th, 2020.

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