So here I am, doing everything I can, ranking Tony Hawk games and hoping I don’t anger fans.
The Tony Hawk franchise started all the way back in 1999 and since that first game, the franchise has been chugging along, releasing over 15 games across nearly every platform out there including the PS1, N-Gage, PSP, Xbox 360, Wii, and PS4, just to name a few. While the games changed over the years, the basic idea of riding a skateboard, landing cool tricks, and unlocking new levels, boards, and skaters has remained a constant throughout the good and bad entries.
Neversoft made the first Tony Hawk games, but over the course of the franchise’s history other developers became involved. Eventually, after Neversoft stopped developing them in 2007 Robomodo would take over the franchise, releasing some of the lesser-loved entries. Later this year Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 will be released, and it was developed by another studio, Vicarious Visions. However, that developer has a history with the franchise, as it once handled many of the portable THPS ports.
For this list, we are looking only at the main games released on home consoles. Yes, some of the portable Tony Hawk titles were great. We recently wrote about this very fact. But including all of them would have doubled this already-long list. We also left off the weird and wild ports of some games to older consoles, like Project 8 on PS2 or THPS3 on PS1. Also, even though THUGPro is great, it’s a fan-made PC mod, so it isn’t on here either. Now, let us proceed.
14. Tony Hawk’s Ride
Tony Hawk: Ride was a skateboarding game that shipped with a big skateboard accessory. To play, you stood on this thing and tried to mimic skateboarding actions, like ollies and manuals. It didn’t work well and the one time I tried to play it at a friend’s house I ate shit and almost fell into their big TV.
It wasn’t a huge hit with fans or critics. Yet in a clear case of sunk-cost fallacy, they decided to make a sequel that would also use the misbegotten skateboard controller.
13. Tony Hawk’s Shred
Why is Tony Hawk: Shred ranked above Ride? Well, because one of them had to go below the other and it doesn’t really matter which. They both suck.
That said, I will give Shred some credit. It tried to tighten up the gameplay a bit and added snowboarding. But it sold worse than Ride and ended up forcing developer Robomodo and publisher Activision to give the series a break and try something different, which would result in a few more games. Thankfully, none of them used the skateboard controller.
12. Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam
Wanna know something weird? Tony Hawk’s favourite levels in some of the older games are the crappy ones where you start at the top of a level and race down to the bottom. I don’t know why. They were never good. Anyway, someone decided to take these bad levels and make a game focused on only this type of gameplay. It also wasn’t good.
Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam was a launch game for the Wii, but to this day I’ve never met anyone who actually played it. Gameplay consisted of extremely fast downhill races in which players could do tricks and knock other skaters around with melee attacks…and yeah, ok, this is just an SSX clone. Which could have worked, but everything was bland and the skating was clunky, making it a chore to play.
11. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5
On paper, this sounded like a smart way to bring the franchise back after 2007’s Proving Ground. Go back to the basics, focus on pro skaters and smaller levels, and remove a lot of the bloat and garbage the series had picked up over a decade of annualized releases. But the developer, Robomodo, didn’t have much time to make this game, and the finished product was…well..not finished.
THPS5 was a technical nightmare, filled with bugs and glitches. The levels were ugly and some of the worst in the series. It also played like crap, with skating that felt floaty, imprecise, and just not fun. Eventually, Robomodo would close its doors after this game was released. And even the developers admitted their game was bad, tweeting to fans that they should just play the fan-created THUGPro on PC instead of THPS5. Ouch.
10. Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground
I don’t remember Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground. Before writing this list I had to look up some reviews and videos of the game. I played it, I know I did. But I can’t tell you anything about it. This would end up being the last Neversoft-developed THPS game. In a recent interview, Tony Hawk explained that after this game, Neversoft felt the desire to make more THPS games had died. The team was just done. It wasn’t fun anymore.
And Proving Ground feels like a studio trying to keep a corpse standing upright, with a mishmash of ideas and visuals. It feels gritty, but still plays like an arcade-y THPS game. And while Proving Ground has a closer camera angle, again trying to emulate Skate, it doesn’t feel like it was built with this closer angle in mind. It’s…not great. And a sad way for Neversoft to end its contributions to the franchise it started.
9. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD
Hey, while everyone is excited about the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 remaster coming out later this year, it’s good to remember that this isn’t the first time Activision has tried remastering the older games. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD was released back on the Xbox 360 and PS3 and was the first crack at this idea. It didn’t hit the mark.
I think Pro Skater HD gets unfairly criticised for being too small or not having enough in it. While it is only a partial remake of the first two games, it did a solid job translating the levels and animations into a more modern game. However, the big sticking point for many and why it remains so low on this list is the fact that it just didn’t feel right. The controls were off. Tricks didn’t work how you expected and rails felt too inconsistent. And the most important part of any THPS game is the feel. If you can’t nail that, you won’t find many fans playing your game.
8. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
It feels wrong ranking Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater this low on the list. This is the game that started it all, and it’s still a good game. But it lacked some key mechanics that would be introduced later and help truly elevate the gameplay this game introduced.
Still, even without stuff like reverts, THPS1 holds up. The soundtrack is still great, the controls feel snappy, and the levels are still a blast to play. But there is a roughness to everything that later games would resolve. It’s clear this was the start of something special, and while this game would lead to some of the best skateboarding games ever made, it just isn’t nearly as good as those later entries.
7. Tony Hawk’s Underground 2
In the first Underground, you could feel some of the more wacky, weird, and Jackass-ish elements of skater culture starting to poke through to the surface. Underground 2 rips the cover off entirely and pushes all of that stuff to the front, resulting in a game that feels incredibly dated in 2020. And honestly, I didn’t care much for it back when it first came out. I liked (and still enjoy) Jackass. But THUG2 goes overboard including stunts, pranks, and Jackass-adjacent folks.
The Tony Hawk games have never been obsessed with being realistic or grounded; you can skate around Area 51 in the original game. But they did at least balance the absurd and the skating. THUG2 doesn’t. It just goes all out and ends up being more of a mess that only plays well thanks to the THUG engine and gameplay it is built on.
6. Tony Hawk’s Project 8
Technically, American Wasteland came out on Xbox 360, but was basically a quick port of the Xbox and PS2 versions. The first real next-gen Tony Hawk game was Project 8. It boasted better visuals and improved animations over older games. However, this came at the cost of performance. It just didn’t run very well, which makes it hard to go back to today.
But it was also a stripped-down return to a more basic Tony Hawk game. It felt, in a lot of ways, like a sequel to the original Underground, complete with so-so cutscenes and a character creator. It also added in a weird mode that was clearly trying to copy some of the success of the Skate games, which at this point were starting to threaten the Tony Hawk franchise. If it ran better and wasn’t so obsessed with competing with Skate, Project 8 might have ranked higher on our list.
5. Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland
After the mess that was Underground 2 and all of its Jackass content and wackiness, American Wasteland felt like an attempt to steer the series back toward skateboarding and skater culture. And while I do love its soundtrack and the Southern Cali world you skate around it, the addition of too much stuff hurt Wasteland.
This game included BMX bikes, big maps with shops you could enter, and long loading screens hidden behind boring tunnels you rode through to reach new areas of the map. While Wasteland was an improvement over Underground 2, it also still felt too bloated compared to some of the leaner and tighter entries in the series.
4. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4
In a lot of ways Pro Skater 4 is just more Pro Skater 3. They look similar, feel nearly the same, and use a lot of the same tricks. But Pro Skater 4 tried to expand the Tony Hawk series from time-limited missions to more open maps filled with things to do and missions to complete. This would end up being the formula for nearly all future THPS games, but here it isn’t quite refined yet.
Pro Skater 4‘s biggest problem is ultimately what preceded it and what followed it. If Pro Skater 4 was the first and only game in the series people would probably still be singing its praises in 2020. But as a follow-up to THPS3, it felt a bit too samey and unfocused. And Underground, the next game in the franchise, would do a lot of what THPS4 was trying, but pull it off more successfully. So nowadays THPS4 is a good, but forgotten entry.
3. Tony Hawk’s Underground
After multiple entries in which Neversoft added nearly everything you can do on a skateboard, Underground took the next logical step: It let you get off the board. For some, this is where the series began to go off the rails. But regardless of what you think of later entries, Underground felt like a big shake-up for the, at this point, five-year-old franchise.
Not only could players now walk around levels off their board, but the format of the main campaign changed. There was now a story, with cutscenes and characters. And while today the narrative of THUG seems simple, at the time I remember game featured a storyline starring my own custom character.
2. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
The first game was great, but felt like it was missing something. It had a solid soundtrack, classic levels, and a good roster of skaters. But a piece of the skating puzzle was missing. That was of course the manual. With this flatland trick, players could connect combos across large sections of any map or skatepark without needing to hit a rail to keep their combo alive. This was useful in empty areas of levels that were otherwise devoid of things to trick off, and elevated the skateboarding gameplay from the original in a big and important way.
Pro Skater 2 also introduced the create-a-skater feature, letting players make their own skateboarder instead of playing as one of the pros. This would go on to be a popular feature in nearly all future games. Oh, and for many, THPS2 has the best soundtrack featured in any game in the series.
1. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3
Perfection. That’s the best way to describe Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3. After the first two entries set the foundation and built out the formula, THPS3 hit on PS2 and was the pinnacle of classic Tony Hawk action. Not only did it take everything from the first two games and bring it to a new, more powerful console, but it debuted one of the franchise’s most important gameplay mechanics: Reverts.
Reverts changed everything. They let you link big combos together in a way never seen before. You could, for example, hit up a vert ramp and do a big special trick, revert out of it, manual and then pop onto a rail and rack up a huge amount of points. Later games in the series continued to add more and more. Some of it worked, a lot didn’t, but this is where everything perfectly clicked into place. Pro Skater 3 isn’t just the best Tony Hawk game ever made, it’s also arguably the best skateboarding game ever made.
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