In Defense of Mall and Downhill Jam in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2

THPS - Downhill Jam

One of the best things about Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1 + 2 is how non-linear its levels are. There’s no real “right” or “wrong” way to skate around an area, and that’s especially true of its outdoor zones. School and Minneapolis come to mind as open-world playgrounds (well, as open-world as you can expect from games that released in 1999 and 2000).

Both Mall and Downhill Jam, however, are the exact opposite. These two locations are instead meant to be played from start to finish, like a race. Mall has players traversing an abandoned shopping center as they skate from the stage’s beginning to its end. Once they reach the parking lot, they’re teleported back to the beginning to begin their trek all over again. Downhill Jam is a race that, quite literally, forces you downhill to the finish line. Like Mall, once you’ve crossed the finish line in Downhill Jam, you’re teleported back to the start where you’ll resume your run.

At first glance, it’s easy to see why these two levels are so unpopular: their linear nature goes against the very formula that makes Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 such a great game in the first place. The freedom to carve your own pathway to high scores (or, if you’re like me, to completely fail but still have fun) is gone. Instead, you’re forced to skate from Point A to Point B with the hope that you’ll make do along the way.

The thing is, there are still plenty of available opportunities to make both of these levels the playgrounds of your dreams. You just have to get creative.

For example, Mall is a rail-grinder’s paradise. Once you pass that first set of quarter-pipes, it’s on.

In the video above, the player goes for some wallriding and mostly stays on the mall’s lower levels. However, you can also grind up that first escalator and hit a huge gap jump on the left, or attempt the risky secret tape grind. These tricks can lead to some impressive combos and a whole lot of fun. Whipping along a rail as you turn a corner is an absolute dream in this game, and it’s only been enhanced with the upgrade to the HD visuals.

I would dread playing Mall back in the day. It was dark, depressing, and at times, difficult to figure out where I should to go next. But now I love it.

THPS - Mall

The same could honestly be said about Downhill Jam. While not dark, it felt empty in the original version, which is not what you want from an outdoor setting. When you look at the 1999 version of the map, it’s easy to see why it became the black sheep of THPS stages.

But let me tell you something: It’s time to change your mind and embrace the glory that is Downhill Jam in Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1 + 2

Downhill Jam has become one of my favorite stages in this game thanks to its combination of everything that makes this franchise great. Chaining combos between rails and jumps, snagging big air off of the half pipe, exploring every nook and cranny for objectives and secrets, and the sick visual of pulling off the Madonna on the water hazard gap. Downhill Jam is an adrenaline rush that satisfies every craving I have when it comes to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.

Despite the limited and linear environment, there’s still plenty of room for exploration, and each challenge leads to new discoveries that open possibilities for more challenges and ultimately better trick combos. Grinding out the valves lends you to pick up the letters for S-K-A-T-E, all while discovering the Secret Tape. Plus, the view from the top of the stage allows you to get a good glimpse of where the hard hats are hidden. 

Now, I don’t necessarily think that these levels are perfect; they’re still flawed in the grand scheme of things. Having said that, I’m surprised by how much I’m actually playing them in Free Skate. They’re fast-paced, and they require me staying on my toes. Plus, I can see myself improving as a player the more I play them.

And, given the option, I will always choose Mall or Downhill Jam over the competition levels. That’s for sure.

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