Lights out, Guerrilla Radio: TONY HAWK’S PRO SKATER 2 (2000/2001)

When I finished my Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater retrospective last year, I immediately started thinking about what I wanted to do with the legendary sequel. Since I played every version of the first game (except the Game Boy Color release, which was a totally different game, and the N-Gage port because… well, the N-Gage), I’d of course try to do the same with the second game and play as many versions as I can get my hands on.

What followed was several weeks of me playing nothing but Tony Hawk games (not just various versions of 2, but also 3, 4, and Underground), and what followed THAT was a severe case of Tony Hawk game burnout. I knew I still had more versions of THPS2 to play and capture, and it all started to get a bit overwhelming. So, I took a break and focused on other things for a while. But here I am, doing everything I can once again, and it’s time to take a look at one of the greatest video games ever released! The second greatest of all time, if you go by Metacritic.

Hey. that guy looks a bit like Tony Hawk! Wonder what happened to him?

Back in the turn of the millennium, a game selling three million copies like the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was still considered a big success by Activision, so they acquired developer Neversoft in October 1999 – now expanded in terms of talent – and put them to work on a new THPS for the PlayStation. Meanwhile, development also began on several ports by multiple studios. Some of these would follow a month or two after the initial release, while others would appear the following year. We’ll get to the ports soon enough, but first we need to check out the original Neversoft release on the PlayStation. This version launched on September 20, 2000 in North America and September 29 in PAL territories.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 on the PlayStation isn’t necessarily the best version of the game, but it absolutely is the most iconic. While the first game was well received in its own right, this is where the Pro Skater series exploded in popularity and everyone took notice, helping the game sell over five million copies between all the different versions. On the surface, Pro Skater 2 (now carrying the Pro Skater branding globally, as Activision seemingly realized Europeans and Australians wouldn’t confuse Tony Hawk for an ice skater after all) looks like more of the same and initially feels very much the same as well, but there are major changes under the hood and they become evident very quickly.

The single biggest change is the introduction of the manual. The manual is basically the skateboard equivalent of a wheelie, with either the front or back wheels of your board in the air as you ride on flatland. So what’s the big deal about a simple flatland trick, you ask? Well, in terms of gameplay, the manual acts as a combo linker. If you’re good, you can string together a huge number of grinds and flatland tricks with manuals in between and score massive points (and at the end of a run when the timer expires, you can keep going for as long as you keep the combo up), but doing so requires keeping your skater balanced during each manual and grind.

I usually pop a nose manual instead of a regular manual because down-up is just more natural for me than up-down. Just like any other trick, repeating the same manual reduces the score every time, but non-special manuals barely give you any points anyway so it doesn’t matter. The multiplier is far more important.

Balancing is made easier with the balance meter that pops up during your manuals (also during grinds in some versions). If the meter goes all the way in one direction, you either bail or land depending on the type of manual you’re doing. If you’re in a nose manual and the meter goes all the way up, you lean too far forward and fall on your face, and in a regular manual you fall on your ass if the meter goes all the way down. I very rarely actually land manuals because I barely remember that’s a mechanic and it’s more natural for me to just ollie and flip trick out of the manual.

Regardless of what manuals and grinds you decide to do, the longer your combo goes the harder it gets to keep your skater upright. This is a wonderful risk vs. reward mechanic. Do you go for “just one more” trick in your combo, or do you cash in while you’re ahead? Of course, you probably continue because linking these combos is so much fun and you want the points haul. Everyone has lost a big combo to that “just one more” mentality, to the extent that THPS 1 + 2 even has an achievement for losing a huge combo.

This wasn’t a big combo by any means, but it should get the point across.

While the manuals and combo linking are the big changes here, the rest of the trick system has also been tweaked. Switch and nollie stances affect trick scores. Each skater has more tricks that can be accessed by double-tapping a direction and the trick button, although not everyone has a full set of double-tap tricks so you might wonder why they’re not working until you look at their trick list. Yes, everyone now has a trick list you can look at in-game, and you can also buy new tricks and remap old ones. You can even remove existing tricks and leave certain mappings blank, which might sound counter-productive but is actually very useful in some situations.

For example, if you’re playing as a street skater like the legendary Rodney Mullen, whose freestyle sorcery has to be seen to be believed, one of your specials might be on something like down-up-Circle. Circle is also the button for grab tricks. So, when you’re in the middle of a combo and hit down-up-Circle for your special manual, the game might get confused and think you were going for a grab instead – which is not ideal, shall we say. Removing some of your grab moves will fix the issue, and it’s not gonna matter too much because as a street skater you weren’t really using those anyway. If you land your tricks really well, you receive a “Perfect” bonus, and barely landing them (“Sloppy”) reduces the score you’d normally get.

The one problem commonly pointed out about the gameplay is the Big Drop mechanic. Basically, falling a large distance is likely to make you bail unless your Landing stat is high enough and/or you manage to avoid bailing by pressing the ollie button at the exact right moment, landing in a grind, or landing in a manual while holding the ollie button. If the drop is big enough, it basically doesn’t matter what you do as you’ll probably bail regardless. This mechanic was not well received and was removed from all the later Tony Hawk games, except of course Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD because Robomodo hates you and wants you to suffer.

The career progression has seen a significant overhaul. Each of the 13 regular skaters (plus your created skater, and a few unlockables including Spider-Man) now earn money that can be used to buy stats or new tricks, as mentioned earlier. More money can be found in the form of cash pickups in the eight career mode levels, and finding every cash pickup is required for 100% completion. Speaking of completion, each of the five non-competition levels now has ten goals instead of five, so there is quite a bit more to do this time around.

In the N64 and GBA versions, the photo on the left is just a black silhouette. I like to think the skater kid who wrote this checklist walked out for a minute and his mom decided to take a black marker pen to the pic.

The goals are now marked as goals instead of tapes, although each of the non-competition levels still has a secret tape hidden somewhere (and the game doesn’t really help you find it either, unlike THPS1 which at least showed a rough location). The High and Pro scores are still here and need no further explanation, but now a Sick score has also been added to the list. The Sick score is massively higher than either of the previous two, up to two or three times the Pro amount, so you have to get at least reasonably competent at the game to pull it off in the later levels.

Most of the goals still involve collecting some type of doodad, although there are some fun ones this time around like “Ollie the Magic Bum 5x” at Venice Beach. Yes, your goal here is to ollie over a homeless man five times, and the twist is that instead of having five separate NPCs in the level you can find in any order, there’s only the one guy and you need to figure out where he appears next. This is, honestly, a bit trial-and-error at first (at least the places he appears in are marked with bits of cardboard), but at least it’s a little bit different from the usual collection objectives.

Other goals involve performing a specific trick at a certain spot, such as tailsliding the Venice Ledge at, well, Venice Beach. Speaking of which, I’ve played this game so much that I’ve literally had dreams about the Venice Ledge. Or, rather, the ledge has appeared in otherwise unrelated dreams, and I’ve identified it as such in those dreams. My brain is a goddamn mess. Some of the goals require you to alter the level in some way, like draining the fountain in the Philadelphia level or sending a telephone pole smashing down into level geometry to access a new area in that same level, or grinding propellers in the Hangar level to open up areas containing the secret tape and some cash pickups.

I never noticed it actually says “THE LEDGE” right there, with an arrow pointing at the ledge! I had so much trouble actually finding this thing back in the day.

All of the main levels in THPS2, by the way, are at least good. No clunkers like Downhill Jam to be found here. There are a few levels with slightly annoying goals, especially with the PlayStation draw distance being rather unhelpful when you’re trying to find certain objectives (cash pickups in particular being a bit fiddly at times), but overall this is a very strong set of levels that have appeared in later Tony Hawk games as well. And if the regular levels aren’t enough for you, there is also a park editor for you to mess around in.

Looks like I slightly mistimed the screenshot, so the video there is still showing the Skatestreet competition level instead of Philly.

My personal favorite levels would probably be Hangar, which is Warehouse on steroids and probably one of the best opening levels in any game; School II, which is just a brilliantly designed level in general; and Venice Beach, which has some of those slightly frustrating goals (such as the VB Huge Transfer, which I never seem to get right no matter how many times I play this level) and way too much sand (which, as we know, is coarse and rough and gets everywhere) but also ensures a legendary skating spot lives forever. The level is based on The Pit, a real-life skate park in Venice Beach that was demolished shortly before the game’s launch and replaced with a new park. While the original Pit is gone, it will never be forgotten thanks to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2.

Definitely not making that transfer (it should be noted the ramp you transfer from is actually to the left, completely out of the shot, so you need a perfect approach to get enough air to clear BOTH of these gaps) and definitely landing on my head very soon. I’m DM, welcome to Jackass!

Completing all of the goals and earning gold medals in all three competitions in career mode unlocks various goodies. Doing so as a created skater unlocks Spider-Man and one of the pro skaters unlocks Officer Dick, and completing the career multiple times unlocks various cheats you can mess around with. Finding every gap in every level unlocks Private Carrera (or a different character depending on the version – in the Treyarch ports, you get a different female skater called Trixie instead, the N64 version apparently just gives you Officer Dick because Private Carrera was too horny for Nintendo’s sensibilities at the time, and the GBA port replaces both Dick and Carrera with another female skater called Mindy), and if that sounds daunting, you can just use cheat codes instead. At least in some versions.

Street? I mean, yeah, he’s a street-level superhero and all that, but the guy has a hell of a vertical leap!

Gold medals from all competitions with every character (including your custom skater, Officer Dick, and Spider-Man) unlocks the Chopper Drop bonus level, and 100% completion of the entire game with every character opens the gates to Skate Heaven, which is basically what it says on the tin. Unlocking it in Pro Skater 1 + 2 is a lot less of a time sink since you only need to 100% complete both the THPS1 and THPS2 levels once.

In case you weren’t around in 2000 and have no clue why Spider-Man is here, that was the year Neversoft’s Spider-Man game was released for the PlayStation. It used the same engine as Pro Skater, so popping Spidey into THPS2 just made sense. He’s got his own special tricks and multiple outfits including the black suit and the almighty, 90s-tastic Spider-Armor. Hell, he even has a pro video you unlock when you finish the game as him!

Of course, we can’t talk about Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 without mentioning the soundtrack. Attempting to do so would most likely summon Officer Dick to arrest me, which I’d rather avoid. So, yes. The original THPS has a fantastic soundtrack, and THPS2 is every bit as good on that front while offering a more diverse mix of sounds. You still have your punk and alternative rock from the likes of Bad Religion, Millencolin, and – of course – Rage Against the Machine, whose “Guerrilla Radio” is quite possibly the only THPS soundtrack song more iconic than “Superman” from the first game and introduced a countless number of people to the band (my introduction was actually “No Shelter” on the Godzilla 1998 soundtrack – apparently, the film producers wanted an RatM song in the movie and just let the band do whatever they wanted). This time, there’s also more of a rap flavor, as acts like Naughty by Nature and Public Enemy appear on the soundtrack.

A few levels contain hazards such as this jerk in the golf cart.

I suppose we should also talk about the visuals for a bit. The overall look of the game is very similar to the original, but the character models and environments are more detailed. The PlayStation version targets a 240p resolution at 30 frames per second, but the frame rate does wobble a bit more than I’d prefer. Just like the first game, it’s still very much playable but does get kind of chunky in the bigger and more complex levels. The short draw distance also isn’t ideal, especially when you’re trying to find objectives, and naturally the hardware-related issues with affine texture warping and integer math-based animation we saw in the first game haven’t gone anywhere. Still, this is a perfectly good-looking late-era PlayStation game and holds up reasonably well.

The Bullring is the last competition level in the game, and you need to score a hell of a lot of points to win. Preferably while not getting gored by this bull, because bails still reduce your score in the competitions. If your timing is good, you can actually do a “Bull Plant” right over the bull for some bonus points!

But of course, the PlayStation was only the beginning. The first port arrived on October 25, 2000 in North America and November 17 in PAL regions, and this one was for PC! Yes, Activision actually commissioned a PC port of THPS2 from LTI Gray Matter. This is a very basic port of the PlayStation version without any real enhancements aside from higher resolutions, filtered and perspective-correct textures, longer draw distances and a smoother (but still capped without community patches) 30 fps. It also lacks the split-screen multiplayer mode, which I now realize I haven’t even mentioned in either of these THPS articles because I’ve always mostly played these games in single player. But yes, the console versions do include several multiplayer modes for your enjoyment, such as the amazing HORSE mode, and none of them are here in the PC port because Activision presumably thinks PC users are nerds who don’t have any friends.

Control-wise, you can use the keyboard or a gamepad. Some of the buttons on Xinput controllers like my Xbox One controller aren’t recognized, but there is a patch to fix that. Apparently, some people are very good at keyboard Tony Hawk, but I can’t imagine playing that way. But if that’s your thing, go nuts!

Now, I had some real trouble capturing the PC version for this article. Neither OBS nor Fraps wanted anything to do with this thing. I tried various modern patches but had no luck, partly because I was using a very specific version of the game – the South Korean release, which I like to call the “K-pop Stan Edition” for reasons that will soon become obvious, and doesn’t support the most important community patch that requires a specific executable. Eventually, I found a little mod that actually did work with this version and allowed me to play the game in windowed mode at 640×480, and lo and behold!

I don’t think these models quite capture the likenesses of Lee Hyori and the rest of FIN.K.L.

This Korean edition (and other versions released in Asia, except the Japanese release) features some very interesting bonus content. Activision struck a cross-promotion deal with popular K-pop girl group FIN.K.L. for this version, so the members of the group appear as selectable skaters (with multiple outfits as well, just like the other skaters) and several of their songs have been added to the soundtrack. Some of these songs are slow ballads and I’m pretty sure I heard at least one Christmas song, so they’re not exactly the kind of thing you’d expect to hear in a Tony Hawk game. Some of the more upbeat tracks fit in well enough, or about as well as K-pop in general fits in a game like this.

While I’m fully aware Tony Hawk had nothing to do with any of this and probably doesn’t even know this version exists, I still like to think Tony Hawk was the original K-pop stan and demanded this version to be made or he’d pull the license. That is my headcanon and I am sticking to it.

Next up is the Dreamcast version from Treyarch, which launched in North America on November 7 and in PAL-land on December 15. The THPS1 port by Treyarch was brilliant and the best version of the game, so how did they fare the second time around? Let’s… wait a sec, where’s my footage? Did I lose it when my old PC exploded last year, or did I not record any in the first place? Just a minute.

Ah yeah, there we go. Look at that beautiful draw distance and that lovely shadow.

Well, apparently I didn’t record any Dreamcast footage last year, but that’s okay because it’s always nice to play a bit of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 even when it’s just for recording footage and grabbing screenshots. Anyway, Treyarch pretty much nailed it again. The character models and environments have both been improved from the PlayStation version, with smoother animation, more polygons, increased draw distances, texture improvements, and all that good stuff we saw in the previous game.

The only real blemish in the visuals are the janky grass and dirt particles. They’re equally janky on the PlayStation and even worse on the N64, but maybe something could’ve been done to improve them on the Dreamcast.

The game once again runs at 480p at a smooth 30 frames per second, and it’s just a great time all around. Everything from the PlayStation version is here, and while the rather mushy Dreamcast d-pad isn’t quite ideal for performing tricks (and the lack of a Select button on the controller means you have to hit L+R+Start to change camera zoom level, which isn’t optimal either), the game simply looks and runs so much better on Sega’s next-gen system that this is how I prefer to experience Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 – at least as far as the releases from the year 2000 are concerned. My Dreamcast does seem to be suffering from some slight disc drive issues, though, as they’re wont to do…

The game isn’t supposed to look quite this moody. During the first part of my recording session, I accidentally had the incorrect RGB levels selected so the visuals are looking a bit dark (the shot above have the correct levels because Venice Beach is later in the career and I went back to get a new School II shot). While I’m generally pretty sensitive to incorrect video levels, I actually didn’t notice until I reached New York City in the career and suddenly couldn’t see a damn thing.

Also released on November 7 in North America was the Game Boy Color version, which actually made it to store shelves before the Dreamcast release in PAL regions and launched alongside the PC port on November 17. As was the case with the original THPS port, this is a completely different game from the console and PC versions and plays like a sidescrolling skateboard game, but it does at least have a bit more Tony Hawk flair to it than its rather generic GBC predecessor. Each level is visually based on the original maps from THPS2 with recognizable landmarks and has a checklist with the S-K-A-T-E letters and a couple of other goals, so Natsume at least tried to make it resemble the full game in some way.

I only gave this one a brief test via emulation, but it seems like a competent skateboarding game for the Game Boy Color even if they obviously couldn’t replicate the gameplay on such low-end portable hardware. I quite like the look of Tony’s sprite there, it’s surprisingly expressive. Kind of reminds me of Kunio-kun or something. Maybe Double Dragon.

While the Game Boy Color could never do justice to the gameplay of the Pro Skater series, its successor would fare much better at presenting the THPS experience on a handheld. The Game Boy Advance was released in June 2001, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 was one of the launch titles on June 11 in North America and June 22 in PAL regions.

Here’s something I kinda don’t like to admit – when the Game Boy Advance came out, I was a bit disappointed. Well, many people were, but mostly because you couldn’t see the screen properly on the original model since Nintendo didn’t bother to include a backlight. While I certainly wasnt happy about that, it wasn’t the main problem I had at the time. No, I was disappointed because having read so much about this amazing 32-bit Game Boy, I was expecting something that could handle PlayStation/N64 style games rather than what was basically a portable Super NES. Of course, going for 2D meant the GBA has aged far, far more gracefully than it would’ve if my wishes had come to pass, and naturally I very quickly saw the error of my ways.

However, since the Game Boy Advance is closer to a portable SNES than a portable PlayStation or N64, a straight port of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 was always out of the question. That meant developer Vicarious Visions had to come up with something a bit different, and what they did is still remarkable.

THPS2 on the Game Boy Advance is a 2.5D, isometric version of the game, featuring low-poly character models on top of 2D backgrounds. While the visuals don’t hold up too well on a larger screen, they look fantastic on an actual GBA. If you can see them, of course. Yes, I’m still mad about that original GBA screen, although these days you do at least have plenty of options to fix the problem. IPS displays for the original model, the backlit GBA SP AGS-101, the DS, various emulation/FPGA boxes, or just the good old GameCube Game Boy Player (preferably with the Game Boy Interface homebrew software, which is a million times better than the default GB Player software and is what I used for capturing gameplay). The game also runs at a full 60 frames per second, which is very impressive.

Hey, that guy looks just like Tony Hawk!

The isometric gameplay definitely takes some getting used to, especially with the default controls, but once you get past the learning curve you find that Vicarious Visions have managed to retain the gameplay basically wholesale. Once you get your bearings, muscle memory soon takes over and you’ll be in the Tony Zone before you know it, hitting all those big combos you remember from the console or PC versions. It’s really quite incredible how faithfully the gameplay has been translated. This IS Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, just with a different presentation and slightly modified controls to accommodate the general lack of buttons on the GBA. Nearly everything feels spot-on. The biggest complaint I have is that landing on rails to grind them can be weirdly fiddly, and the same goes for doing ollies over fences. It just feels awkward.

Some concessions were inevitable. First off, there are only six levels in the career mode, with the most complex THPS2 maps missing and Warehouse showing up to make up the numbers a little bit. Venice Beach, Philadelphia, and the Bullring are gone, as are Chopper Drop and Skate Heaven. The GBA version does get its own bonus level, the Rooftops, but it’s not particularly fun especially considering how long it takes to unlock without cheating. At least all the pro skaters and Spider-Man are still here, and Mindy replaces Officer Dick and Private Carrera. Create a Skater and the Park Editor are both gone, as you might expect.

The great music is also gone, for obvious reasons, and in its place is about five absolutely horrendous and generic tracks. As any GBA fan knows, GBA audio is usually dodgy at the best of times because the system lacks dedicated sound hardware, but these tunes would’ve been horrible even if the GBA had the best sound chip in the world. I ended up turning the music off in favor of listening to the real THPS2 soundtrack on Spotify.

This is the first THPS game with a balance meter for grinds. The meter was most likely added because balancing would otherwise have been almost impossible on the tiny and dark original GBA screen.

The levels in the game have been slightly redesigned to accommodate the 2.5D gameplay, with goals having been changed around a little (surprisingly little, I should say) and map layouts simplified. For example, you can no longer ride the subway rails to get to the Banks in New York. These changes also mean the secret tape and cash pickup locations are quite different from the console version, which will wreak havoc on your memory and can actually be extremely frustrating because you can’t really see the collectibles until you’re right next to them.

Fortunately, most of the goals are fairly simple to find, but whoever placed the secret tape in New York is a complete and utter sadist. Picking up the tape requires a basically frame-and-pixel-perfect series of grinds, wallrides and wallies (an ollie off a wallride, new to THPS2) halfway up a building. This would already be extremely challenging in the regular THPS2 because of the general sketchiness of wallrides but feels nigh-impossible here because wallrides are still janky and you also can’t see what’s up ahead. I wish I’d been recording when I finally did manage to pick up the tape after hours of failed attempts. I’m almost certain I would never have managed to pull that off on an actual GBA, as the controls on the SP in particular do get a bit cramped thanks to the heavy use of the shoulder buttons.

While it’s got its issues, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 on the Game Boy Advance is an excellent version of a classic game and much, much better than it has any right to be. Vicarious Visions would develop more handheld ports of Tony Hawk games and eventually go on to make the amazing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2. Then they got merged into Blizzard (not Infinity Ward like I originally said in the last retrospective – that was the final fate of Neversoft) and their THPS 3 + 4 remake was cancelled because Activision hates us.

The next port of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 came out for the Mac on June 14, 2001. This version is basically just the PC port again, so let’s move swiftly on to more interesting versions. Next in line is the Nintendo 64, which received its THPS2 port on August 21 (NA) and October 12, 2001 (EU). By this point, Nintendo’s 64-bit machine was well and truly on its last legs, but Edge of Reality managed to bring a fine version of THPS2 to the system.

First, the good news: the entire game is here (with the exception of Private Carrera, and Chopper Drop being replaced by Hoffman Factory from Mat Hoffman’s Pro BMX), plays very well, and looks quite nice too while running smoother than the PlayStation original. The Expansion Pak is supported but only the menus are rendered at a higher resolution, which does mean that you may run into issues with the resolution switch depending on your setup (of course, the RetroTINK 5X Pro in triple buffer mode handles the transition like a champ). While the N64’s visuals are compromised by the copious amount of blur we all know and, uh, love, we do get the usual complement of hardware anti-aliasing, perspective-correct and filtered (albeit low-res) textures with some pleasant lighting effects and smooth animation. The overall presentation is very soft but really doesn’t look half bad and, again, the game still plays great.

Occasionally, you can see the edges of the image wobbling or garbage bits of text appearing along the edges like you can see here. This would’ve been hidden by the overscan on a 4:3 CRT TV back in the day but is a bit unsightly here. The same thing happened in the port of the first game.

However, the state of the soundtrack is simply dire this time around. Only six of the fifteen songs make the cut, and those six tracks have been butchered beyond recognition. The N64 rendition of “Guerrilla Radio”, for example, consists of a few short samples stitched together in a crude manner – out of order, I might add, and things get real silly when you hear “hell” has been replaced just as crudely with a “hyeargh” edit. All of the FMVs are gone as well, naturally, but the music is the bigger issue here.

I know there’s only so much you can do on an N64 cartridge, especially if you don’t shell out for a massive Resident Evil 2 or Conker’s Bad Fur Day-style one, but this nightmarish approximation of the THPS2 soundtrack almost manages to ruin the experience. I say almost, because the gameplay still just about manages to rise above it all. If you’re going to play this version, do yourself a favor and turn the in-game music off while putting on the real soundtrack on whatever streaming service you prefer.

For some reason, the cash pickup messages were changed in this version. Picking up 50 bucks says “FITTY BUCKS”, which briefly made me think “wait, did it always say that?” Getting 250 bucks doesn’t say anything interesting.

So are we done yet? Of course we’re not! Let’s fast-forward to November 15, 2001 and the North American launch of Microsoft’s Xbox console. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 had already been released for the PlayStation 2 on October 30, but the Xbox version of that game wouldn’t be done until the spring of 2002. Activision wanted to have a Tony Hawk game ready for the Xbox launch, so they commissioned another project from Treyarch. This time, however, the game we got was not just a simple port. Enter Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2x, the best version of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (until the 2020 remake) and one of the best games in the series.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2x is obviously based on the Dreamcast renderer built by Treyarch, but the renderer has been heavily reworked to make use of the Xbox hardware capabilities. The game has seen such an overhaul that, to be honest, Pro Skater 2x doesn’t really look like the original THPS2 at all. All the gameplay assets have been updated with more polygons, enhanced textures and extra background details in each map, the draw distance has been massively boosted, there is an all-new sky system with moving clouds, enhanced particle effects have been implemented, motion blur has been added (unfortunately, it’s one of those accumulation-style implementations that give motion blur a bad name, but thankfully it can be disabled in the options), the lighting model has been completely redone, the list goes on, and it all runs at 480p and 60 frames per second.

There’s a new menu system and HUD as well, although I’m not really a fan of either as they look a bit too different from the original versions and lack some of the original personality. Another thing I’m not really a fan of is the slightly muted color palette. The game still looks excellent and the enhanced lighting is very much an upgrade, but I kind of prefer the more vibrant colors of the Dreamcast version. Still, these are just nitpicks.

Oh, hey, I almost forgot the big visual improvement everyone talks about! Pro Skater 2x has actual blades of grass, which is often called “3D grass” or something to that effect. The grass is not actually 3D, just a series of texture layers creating an impression of realistic grass. The trick would become very obvious if the grass was viewed from certain angles, but as it is it works well and adds a nice visual flourish to the game.

THPS2x could really be considered more of a remaster or even remake of the the first two games than just a port. Yes, I said the first two games, as the entire THPS1 career mode is included as a bonus. The objectives are unchanged and obviously not designed with THPS2 gameplay in mind, so the THPS1 portion of 2x is not going to challenge you too hard even if you play it without upgrading your stats (once unlocked by finishing the THPS2 and THPS2x careers – more on that second one in a bit – the THPS1 career can be played separately). It really should be treated more as a fun bonus than anything else, but regardless it’s still great to have these levels in the game in this remastered form.

Oh, hello again.

Treyarch also added a handful of all-new bonus levels you can unlock in career mode. Generally speaking, these are not particularly amazing compared to the classic levels, but they’re fun to mess around in and they do a decent job showing off the power of the Xbox with the lengthy draw distances, complex geometry and dynamic lighting. Unlike previous bonus levels in the games, the Club and Construction Site levels actually feature goals and form their own 2x career mode, and the Tampa Skate Park level is a proper competition to finish things up.

Hey, that light looks like the Xbox logo! (there is also one that looks like the Treyarch logo)

Unfortunately, the goals in these levels are THPS1 style, meaning there are only five in each level, but the ones that are there are at least fairly challenging (and occasionally frustrating because of wonky collision detection, especially on the Construction Site ramps). The Tampa competition level is also quite tough compared to its later Tony Hawk’s Underground incarnation, or perhaps I was just having issues finding good skating lines for building big combos. Once you beat all these levels, the Subway and Sky Lines maps are unlocked. These are more traditional bonus levels without any goals or much of anything of note.

As far as the gameplay itself is concerned, this is still THPS2. The grind balance meter has been added, but aside from that it’s the same Pro Skater 2 gameplay we know and love. Reviewers at the time lamented the fact none of the Pro Skater 3 gameplay additions – namely, the revert – made it in, but I honestly don’t mind. This is the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 gameplay in its ultimate form. If I want Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 gameplay, I’ll play that game. Or THPS 1 + 2, which contains most of the gameplay additions from the later releases (and allows purists to turn all of them off if they so desire). The reviews from 2001 are surprisingly lukewarm in general considering how great this release is, but I suppose the critics just wanted something new instead of a remaster.

At least Eric Sparrow isn’t here.

All the modes, all the skaters (including Spider-Man), all the maps from THPS1 and 2, all the THPS2 songs are here. You can even use custom soundtracks to play your own tunes you’ve ripped to the Xbox hard drive, although the only real use for that I can think of in this case would be to listen to the THPS1 soundtrack in the THPS1 levels. There’s eight-player system link and four-player local multiplayer. The Create a Skater mode has been enhanced, and you can now create female skaters. This is just an amazing package overall.

So, what’s the catch? Well, first off, there’s the original Xbox controller. The mighty Duke pad is roughly the size of a Dodge Charger, which never bothered me but most people seem to dislike it. The bigger issue with that controller is the D-pad, which was based on the old Microsoft Sidewinder PC gamepad and just doesn’t work well for precise movements. However, the Duke was phased out early on in the Xbox’s life cycle in favor of the vastly improved Controller S, so this is really a non-issue at this point and the game plays great on the smaller controller.

I just realized I kind of made a Dukes of Hazzard reference in the previous paragraph by complete accident. I only mentioned the Dodge Charger because it was the biggest and fattest American muscle car I could think of, not even considering the Duke Boys connection!

In case you can’t tell, I’m a Rodney Mullen fan, which generally means my created skaters will also skate like Rodney Mullen.

The other, bigger problem is availability. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2x is forever stuck on the original Xbox due to licensing concerns, and that’s not all. The game was only released in North America, as the THPS3 port was ready for the PAL launch of the Xbox in March 2002 and made this release redundant as far as Activision was concerned. I didn’t even know it existed until years later! Personally, I think they should’ve offered 2x and THPS3 as a double pack in the PAL regions, or perhaps released 2x at a budget price once the Classics line was introduced, but sadly that didn’t happen and the game remained exclusive to North America. That, of course, means it’s expensive to import and you need an Xbox that can play NTSC games. While most original Xbox fans have modded systems at this point, it’s still something to consider if you want to play the original disc version. Various alternatives to the original disc are certainly out there if you want to go that route, but some amount of modding is still involved.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2x is the best Tony Hawk game most people never played, and I highly recommend giving it a shot if you’re a fan of THPS2. Any of my complaints are minor nitpicks at worst, and before THPS 1 + 2 this was as good as it got. This was also the last release of THPS2 for quite some time.

For posterity, here is a terrible phone photo of all the versions of THPS2 I physically own, not counting my PS4 copy of 1 + 2. And before anyone asks – no, that GBA cart is not a fake. That’s what European carts look like, they have the CE and the round Nintendo seal.

In 2010, an iOS port of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 was released. This was a basic port with touch controls and a new soundtrack, and by “new” I mean “crap”. All the songs were replaced with no-name bands, completely ruining the original vibe even if you could deal with the touch controls. Fittingly enough, this version was released on April 1. It has also been delisted from the App Store, so I have no way to play it even if I wanted to, which I really don’t.

And that is FINALLY a wrap for Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2! Obviously, the later remakes exist as well, but as I said in the THPS1 article, those are outside the scope of these retrospectives. I might revisit THPS 1 + 2 in an article at some point, but will not be touching THPSHD with a ten-foot pole. I might also look at THPS3 and the other classic games, but I don’t have any concrete plans at the moment.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this marathon of a post! Sorry it took so long to put this together, but hopefully the end result was worth it. I certainly had fun making it and especially playing the game, because playing THPS2 is always a delight and kind of sends me to a different place where the only thing that matters is skating. As Bad Religion might put it, “it’s the most beautiful place in the whole fucking world!”

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