An old-school Tony Hawk fan returns to the series for some underground lovin’.
I’ve been a fan of the Tony Hawk games since the original was ported to N64. When Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 was announced as a GameCube launch title, I picked it up with the system and played the hell out of it. I’m very much a street style player, so I prefer long grind combos to vertical ramp tricks, but it helps to mix them up sometimes. I guess I got a little burned out on the series from playing so much THPS3, because I never got very excited about THPS4 or even the radically upgraded Tony Hawk’s Underground, a.k.a. THUG, a.k.a. Tony Hawk 5.
Now THUG 2, the sixth game in this landmark series, is about to be released across every platform you can think of, and I’m getting back in the groove of things. In my absence from the series, Tony learned the surprisingly useful spine transfer move, got rid of the two-minute timer, and even got off the board for a bit of footwork. In addition to the “Caveman” walking move, which opens up the level design in some interesting ways, the first THUG gave the series its first real story mode and an extremely detailed Create-A-Skater feature, which encourages you to make a character that looks like yourself so you can play in your own image instead of always controlling the pros.
All of this is pretty new to me, and I’m still trying to get used to some of the new stuff. THUG 2 expands on the ideas of the last game with an even bigger story mode. Playing as yourself, you are thrust into the “World Destruction Tour,” a friendly competition between Tony Hawk and Bam Margera to see which one can cause the most havoc in various cities around the world. That basically means using your tricks and skateboard to set off all sorts of crazy scripted events that result in meeting Ben Franklin in Boston and releasing a bull in the streets of Barcelona, for example. Each level has a couple dozen goals you can try to complete, each one worth a certain number of points in the competition. Earn enough points, and you can move on to the next level. There is also a full-fledged classic mode, which drops you in the same levels as the story mode, but asks you to perform old-school Tony Hawk goals (spell “SKATE,” find the secret tape, etc) in a series of two-minute runs. Playing this mode brings back fond memories of the old games, and if I get tired of the endless level exploration and overall weirdness of story mode, it’s nice to jump into this straightforward gameplay and just skate for points. As has been one of the classic gameplay touches in this series, you can approach the goals in any order and often achieve them in more than one way, depending on your playing style. There are plenty of exploration elements in addition to the trick-based skating action, which is what sets the Tony Hawk games so far outside the traditional sports and racing genres.
The big new move in THUG 2 is tagging graffiti, but don’t worry (or get your hopes up, depending on your perspective), this series isn’t turning into Jet Grind Radio. You can only spray your tag when not riding your board, so unless you’re deft with the riding/walking transition, tagging usually means coming to a stop. Most of the tagging goals ask you to spray your insignia on a billboard or some other out-of-reach object, so it’s really all about trying to find your way up that high.
Naturally, you can create your own graffiti tag to spray all over the damn place. THUG 2 has so many customization features that they are collectively accessed from the main menu by a selection called “Create-A-Modes.” You can create your own skaters, skateparks, tricks, tags…you name it. The character editor is one of the most exhaustive ones I’ve ever seen, putting to shame what you would find in most wrestling games, even. The park editor can create some amazing levels to skate on, but it is fairly complex to use, and designing a fun stage is not as simple as you might think. Advanced users will surely be able to create some astounding areas though. Multiplayer modes are relatively unchanged for GameCube, since the system doesn’t get the online features that PS2 and Xbox owners enjoy from the Tony Hawk series. It’s still limited to two-player split-screen, but classic games like Horse and Graffiti are as much fun as ever.
I’ve only seen a couple of levels so far, but THUG 2 is looking to be a very solid sequel to last year’s hit, and a worthy upgrade to this long-running series. For those of you who found every last gap in the last game, the main reasons to look into this sequel are the expanded story mode and, of course, all the new levels. If you’re like me and have taken an extended break from the series, there’s no better time to jump back in and catch up.