Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater celebrated its 20th anniversary this year with surprisingly little fanfare. Sure, there were some great retrospective pieces, such as this one from The Ringer, but we didn’t get any sort of official release to mark the occasion (though the 20th anniversary concert with Bad Religion sounded amazing). But did this really surprise anyone? After all, Activision essentially killed the franchise four years ago with the abysmal Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 and who knows if we’ll ever see another one.
While the Pro Skater franchise went out in about the worst way possible, it did deliver some pretty incredible titles over the years, as well as some less than stellar ones. With that in mind, let’s count down the 5 best and 5 worst games in the series (console entries only).
10 Best: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 (2002)
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 represented a major structural change for the franchise thanks to its revamped career mode. Two-minute runs were out and in their place was a free-roaming structure in which players were free to explore levels at their own pace. Rather than just bystanders to run over and annoy, NPCs now offered tasks, replacing the objectives list of prior THPS games. Add in an expanded online mode and some minor, though essential gameplay tweaks (spine transfers are totally underrated) and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 is easily one of the best in the franchise.
9 Worst: Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 (2004)
Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 is a weird game to rate, as it has its fair share of fans and detractors. How much you enjoyed it really depended on your enthusiasm for Bam Margera and the Jackass crowd, as the game puts a major focus on him and increasingly ridiculous situations and tasks that had little to do with actual skateboarding.
Some people loved this and there’s definitely an argument to be made that THUG 2 is in the upper echelon of Tony Hawk games. However, the series was also starting to get a little stale by this point and no amount of Steve-O riding a mechanical bull through the streets of Barcelona was going to hide it.
8 Best: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (1999)
If ever there was a game that came out at precisely the right time, it was Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Neversoft’s ambitious PlayStation game rose out of the ashes of a cancelled Bruce Willis shooter (yes, really) and tapped into a cultural zeitgeist where skateboarding was primed to explode in popularity. It was also just a great video game.
While rudimentary compared to later titles, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater is still very much playable today and offers a pure distillation of the franchise’s core gameplay. And that soundtrack … admit it, you have Goldfinger’s “Superman” running through your head right now.
7 Worst: Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground (2007)
Taken on its own terms, Proving Ground is a fine, if totally forgettable instalment in the franchise. However, it’s also the final Tony Hawk game created by Neversoft and as curtain calls go, Proving Ground leaves much to be desired. After all, this is the game that hammered home how stale Tony Hawk games had become, as it was released at the same time as EA’s Skate.
Skate offered skateboarding fans a totally new kind of control system and more realistic (though still fun) gameplay. Admittedly, new features such as Nail the Grab and manual wall-pushing were welcome, but proved to be too little, too late in the face of Skate. But hey, at least it’s better than the “Ride” the franchise would make us take next.
6 Best: Tony Hawk’s Underground (2003)
Tony Hawk’s Underground built upon the loose open-world narrative aspects of THPS4 and gave it an honest-to-goodness story. Following a young New Jersey skater from amateur to pro, THUG’s story was by no means groundbreaking but it was a surprisingly effective way to inject some stakes to the traditional career. Heck, it even had a memorable villain - the annoying weasel Eric.
Even if the story aspects weren’t for you, there were so many features packed into THUG (including the return of classic levels like School II) that it’s no surprise it’s considered by many to be the last truly great Tony Hawk game.
5 Worst: Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam (2006)
Named after what is arguably the worst level in the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Downhill Jam is a bit of an oddity in the franchise. Released in 2006 for the Wii and Nintendo DS, Downhill Jam is the first and only racing game in the franchise. This might sound like a fun departure but in practice, Downhill Jam was an awkward marrying of the trick-focused gameplay fans loved and a racing component that was simply much less enjoyable. The DS version is more worth your time, as it builds off the surprisingly good template of its predecessor, American Sk8land.
4 Best: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (2000)
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 took everything that made the first game such a sensation and kicked it up several notches - more tricks, more skaters, more levels, more everything! It’s important to remember that this game came out at a time when people were still discovering skateboarding culture and THPS2 was helping shape it to a considerable degree.
Much like the original game, the soundtrack was top-notch and introduced millions to some of the best punk rock and hip-hop acts of the era. And who can forget the manual, arguably the single most important gameplay addition in THPS history? Simply put, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 is one of the best games PS1 games of all time.
3 Worst: Tony Hawk: Ride (2009)
By 2009, the THPS franchise was a decade old and starting to get long in the tooth. By this point, Activision was raking in money thanks to Guitar Hero and the plastic instruments craze, so the publisher enlisted Robomodo to create the peripheral-based Tony Hawk: Ride. There was just one problem: it didn’t really work.
The expensive skateboard peripheral - meant to simulate the experience of riding an actual skateboard - had poor responsiveness and was frustrating to use. It also didn’t help that the game itself was buggier, uglier, and just plain less fun than any previous Tony Hawk game. Ditto for Tony Hawk: Shred, the marginally better but still atrocious direct sequel released a year later.
2 Best: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 (2001)
When it comes to declaring the best Tony Hawk game, the conversation generally centers around THPS2 and its sequel. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 was released in fall 2001 - a now legendary release window that saw such groundbreaking games as Final Fantasy X, Metal Gear Solid 2, and Grand Theft Auto III. While THPS3 didn’t move the needle as much as those titles, it was still one of the best games released that year.
Building off the foundations of the first two titles, THPS3 took full advantage of the PlayStation 2 hardware to deliver an experience that felt more alive thanks to the addition of NPCs and more expansive levels. While some excellent titles followed it, the Tony Hawk franchise could have ended here and it would have been a satisfying send-off.
1 Worst: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 (2015)
How did this even happen? When it was first announced Activision was reviving Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater with a back-to-basics game, it was hard not to be excited. After all, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD, released a few years prior, proved that the core gameplay was still fun and addictive in the right setting. Plus, Activision and Robomodo had made so many mistakes with the series by this point, there was no way they hadn’t learned from them, right? As it turns out, they emphatically had not. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 was an embarrassment on every level, with ugly visuals, piles of glitches, and a control scheme that was somehow worse than games that had come out two decades earlier on the PS1. It’s no wonder the Hawkman cut ties with Activision not long after.