Developer: Activision Publishing, Inc.
Price: $9.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0.0

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★☆
Game Controls Rating: ★★★★☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★½
Replay Value Rating: ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★½

I would have finished this review much sooner, but I’ve been too busy playing Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 on my iPhone.

pp_86_02_thrasherSkating (skateboarding, not roller skating, not that there’s anything wrong with that) is a deeply personal subject with me. I was a hardcore skater in the 80’s, sponsored by a local skate shop and met, ironically, every member of the original Powell Peralta Bones Brigade, except Tony Hawk. He was too busy doing phenom-related stuff. I remember when Tony Hawk took the skating sub-culture by storm. With his signature, cool, blonde hair and lanky, bean-pole style, he quickly became one of the most (if not the most) prolific skaters in history.

Long story short, skating and video games bring back the best memories of my life and Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 for the PS1, in particular, helped fill the void created when my skating days were abruptly ended by all this adult responsibility hullabaloo.

That said, I was somewhat apprehensive to see how a revolutionary game I held sacred, renown for it’s trademark, open-ended game play, would port to the iPhone, because it’s one of the few tangible semblances of skating I have left (aside from old, cracked decks I kept). The skate-rat within me finally took over and I dropped in, ready to take one last run, for better or worse.

When I first started the game, I was treated to a cool intro highlighting the game’s featured skaters, including my all-time favorite skater: Rodney Mullen. I can watch his skating highlights all day long.

The main menu provides players with four options: Career Mode, Single Session, where players have two minutes to skate their best run, Free Skate and Options. In Options, players can toggle classic control/classic twist, adjust accelerometer settings, adjust music and sound effects levels, view saved data, cheats, high scores, gap checklist and display options (gamma level [color], trick tips on/off and score display on/off). Not one to waste precious skating time, I dipped straight into Career Mode, to relive my days of punk rock glory.

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The graphics, while a relatively condensed version of a ported console game, are well done and translate as I remember/expected: colored chunks of polygonal skating paradise. The game’s camera views/angles do a perfect job of immersing you deep into the action. I did experience a little lag and the game crashed on me a few times during my review. Game play animation, overall, is smooth and all the effects from the original version are accurately reproduced, overshadowing the few complications I experienced playing the game.

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Although the game’s sound library contains quality tracks, I was disappointed that the original songs from the console version I’ve come to love weren’t included. The sound effects, however, are crisp and clean faithful reproductions; from the slap of the deck as it leaves the ramp/concrete, to the hum of the wheels as they race over the various surfaces throughout each level.

Players have the option of using the game’s traditional control configuration or the enhanced iPhone/iPod Touch accelerometer controls. Initially, I had reservations about the game’s (traditional) control-scheme, which consists of a virtual D-pad and four virtual buttons: Ollie, Grind, Flip and Grab. I’m used to playing this game on a console, not a flat piece of level glass lacking tactile feedback. However, after playing the game non-stop for almost a week now, I’ve had no problems and find the controls to be surprisingly responsive. While the control scheme does contain a slight learning/adaptation curve, I think players will find themselves pulling off successions of tricks with relative ease, but those players used to pulling off sick infinite combos using a real controller in the console version will find their abilities to do the same in this version hindered. Players also have the option to use accelerometer-based controls, which I tried for a few seconds, but quickly switched back so the vertigo would go away.

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In addition to the virtual pad, the display screen shows players’ score, Special Bar, nollie/fakie (upper left corner) and foot stance (regular or goofy, in the upper right corner) and a pause button (the circled I in the middle of the screen).

A really beneficial feature I found in this game is the replay system, which allows you to watch a replay of any run you’ve finished. The camera’s wide, all-encompassing point of view allows players to see objective items they need to collect to progress to the next locale, that are ordinarily hard to see while playing a level. Replays can also be saved for later viewing.

Players achieve their score by successfully performing combinations of moves involving aerials, flips and grinds. Point values for moves are based on: 1) The number of tricks performed in succession, 2) The amount of hang time, which is how long the player stays above the ramp surface before landing, and 3) The degree of rotation the player successfully executes.

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Successfully completing tricks fills the skater’s special bar which, when full, allows the player to pull off one of his/her signature moves (which are worth mucho points). Failing to land a trick properly will result in a bloodied skater with no points.

In all three modes of play, players assume the identity of one of 13 professional skate-boarders featured in the game (I chose Steve Caballero since Hawk snubbed me all those years ago). Each player has 10 featured attributes, such as air, hang time, rail balance, etc. that can be upgraded in career mode (nice Glamour Shot, Steve. P.S. You look like a zombie armed with a death-board):

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The game has 13 different progressive locales, the first being an old, airplane hangar, aptly called: “The Hangar,” converted into a skater’s Xanadu. Skaters are tasked with completing various goals per locale, such as achieving Pro and Sick scores, collecting various items, etc. and are rewarded, upon completing each goal, with virtual cash, which can be used to buy attribute stats, tricks and items in the skate shop.

Players can also tune their trucks (the hardware the skateboard’s wheels are attached to) in the skate shop (loose, for sharp/sensitive turning, tight, for gradual turning and medium for in-between). In order to progress in the game, players must achieve a certain number of goals or earn a certain amount of cash in a given locale to unlock the next one.

Other locations feature competitions players can compete in to earn cash prizes. Once unlocked, all locations can be skated in using the timed and free skate modes.

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Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 perfectly balances its in-depth career mode with it’s trademark open-ended environments that provide players with an almost endless supply of re-playability. After beating the game, players can continue to try to best their scores and their friends’ scores (providing they have friends), while continuously pushing the envelope to see how long they can keep combos going before bailing.

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Playing this game on my iPhone brought back a lot of fond memories for me. From the moment I dropped in, I was instantly awash with all the fond memories I have of skating and wasting hours / days / months playing this game, over and again. I was also relieved that this port was ultimately successful: The combined sense of air, height and accomplishment you feel as you finally hit your groove, shredding over and throughout the course, while pulling off successful successions of tricks, is very rewarding and deeply satisfying.

In addition to the virtual controls, Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 does have its share of flaws, albeit they are minor. Player progress can be interrupted by alerts, phone calls, etc. and there is only one save slot available after each level. Moreover, there is no online leaderboard integration and, as mentioned before, the stellar soundtrack featured in the console version is absent in this port.

Oftentimes, hardcore fans of a console game are critical and easily disappointed when playing a ported version of their beloved original. Video games are radically different today than they were during the days the PS1 ruled the roost and the gaming world’s technological advancements have essentially spoiled our generation rotten. But nostalgic, addictive games like Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2’s timeless appeal manages to break these barriers and defy the laws of our current gaming world: Although a decade old, Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 is still cherished and thus, relevant, regardless of where the game is ported to.

Speaking of elephants, let’s address the one in this room: Is Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 worth $9.99? Yes. Should you buy it? That depends. I think fans (hardcore and Beibercore) of the console version will be pleased with this port and will not be disappointed. After all, you finally have a chance to keep Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 with you at all times, allowing you to play the game anytime and anywhere you want. I think those who aren’t familiar with this game, but enjoy skating games, will also be pleased with this purchase. Based on its huge cult following, I think most everyone else will enjoy this game, but choosing whether or not to pony up the $9.99 is a decision I’ll leave to you.

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In the end, Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 for the iDevice is not perfect, but it’s the perfect game to port to the iDevice. All said, Activision’s efforts in creating a faithful port of a hit console game a decade old was successful and should be applauded. The virtual control scheme, while not perfect, works; it just may take some players a little time to adjust to it before they’re comfortable with the controls. After all these years, Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2 is back, still relevant, fun and as addicting as it was when it first launched in 2000 and has a dedicated spot within my iPhone’s real estate.

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