Ranking The Tony Hawk Series

by Dan Ryckert on Mar 15, 2012 at 11:00 AM

Long before Call of Duty and Guitar Hero became cultural phenomenons with annual installments, Activision found major success in an unlikely place. Few extreme sport games have found mass appeal beyond their built-in fanbase, but Tony Hawk's Pro Skater struck a chord with gamers of all types when it released in 1999. The series' addictive, highly skill-based gameplay and wacky sense of humor kept it relevant for several years, before eventually falling in the eyes of critics and fans. With the highly-anticipated Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD coming later this year, we decided to take a look at the highs and lows of the long-running series. Read on to see how we rank the Tony Hawk series from worst to best.

11. Tony Hawk Ride/Shred (2009/2010)

As I mentioned in the intro, part of what made the Tony Hawk series so appealing to gamers was the focus on skill. Sure, you could have fun just dorking around and grinding on rails, but the addiction set in when you were trying to top your previous high score with an insane combo. Tony Hawk Ride and Shred made sure that fans of the series were deprived of even the slightest semblance of this feeling. Its ridiculous board peripheral turned what used to be a fast-paced test of hand-eye coordination into a chore. Its sloppy controls required so little skill that even bulldogs could enjoy it.

10. Tony Hawk’s Downhill Jam (2006)

One element of the series that gamers loved was its open environments that encouraged exploration. Whether you were searching for S-K-A-T-E levels or looking for bums to ollie over, there was something fun about discovering what each level had to offer. This Wii launch title ditched that approach, opting to include downhill races exclusively. This departure combined with the unresponsive motion controls made it one of most thorougly unenjoyable games in the series.

9. Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 (2004)

While the first Underground stuck with most of the elements that made the series a success, Underground 2 felt like it was trying way too hard to be Jackass Skateboarding. Playable characters included the MTV show's Bam and Phil Margera, Wee Man, and Steve-O, and the story featured painfully unfunny attempts at humor. The sub-par objectives frequently involved non-skateboard modes of transportation such as Jesse James' Segway-like chopper and a crippled kid's wheelchair. Considering the game focuses more on juvenile humor and MTV personalities than solid gameplay, this entry turned off many fans.

8. Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground (2007)

Most of the games on this list have some kind of hook, gimmick, or new gameplay mechanic that separates it from the rest of the series. Proving Ground attempted to incorporate a create-a-park mode during actual gameplay, and the result left something to be desired. In a series that's all about stringing combos together and racking up huge scores, pausing the action to adjust ramps and rails felt jarring and unnecessary.

7. Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland (2005)

Every previous Tony Hawk game prior to American Wasteland featured completely separate levels. This entry went a different route, with one gigantic streaming version of Los Angeles. Load times were a non-issue, but many areas were separated by sparsely-populated corridors. Despite these bland areas, the actual skating gameplay proved to be enjoyable. By not tampering with the controls too much, Neversoft made American Wasteland a passable current-gen debut for the series.

6. Tony Hawk’s Project 8 (2006)

Project 8 stands as the best current-gen Tony Hawk, with an emphasis on classic gameplay, an interesting and large game world, and significantly improved graphics. Objectives often had three possible ways to win: AM (amateur), Pro, and Sick. You could complete a grind-based objective by going the minimum required distance, or you could try to knock it out of the park with a Sick score. Despite its solid gameplay, Project 8 also featured some of the lamest unlockable characters in Jason Lee and Blink 182's Travis Barker.

5. Tony Hawk’s Underground (2003)

While few will claim Underground is a bad game, many point to it as the entry that started the decline of the series. The skating was as solid as ever, but this is where Neversoft seemed to run out of new ideas that improved the experience. Being able to step off your board and walk around wasn't engaging, and driving vehicles around didn't add anything to the experience. In one interesting feature, Activision introduced a feature EA would frequently incorporate years later. By sending a digital picture of yourself to a dedicated website, you could download your own face and map it onto your custom skater. It didn't look great, but seeing yourself in a video game (in any form) was a nice novelty at the time.

4. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 (2002)

The first three games in the series added crucial mechanics to the skating, but THPS4 opted to make a major change to the game's structure. Instead of being confined to two-minute runs in each area, players were now free to explore each level at their leisure and accept missions from NPCs. This hybrid of Free Skate and Career mode felt fresh after three entries in the classic style, but gameplay improvements were limited to minor abilities like spine transfers and skitching.

3. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (1999)

It's the game that started it all, and it came right out of the gate with an amazing entry. Each two-minute run challenged you to accomplish numerous entertaining objectives, whether you were going for a huge combo or finding a hidden VHS tape. Struggling to top your previous high scores was more addicting then it had been since the classic days of the arcade.

2. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (2000)

Activision wasted no time in getting this sequel on store shelves, but it was more than a quick cash-in. The simple addition of the manual had more of an impact on the skating gameplay than any other mechanic in the series. With it, players could link huge combos together by maintaining balance between them. It added another layer of strategy to the already-addictive gameplay, and everything from the stages to the visuals felt more polished than the original.

1. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 (2001)

After THPS3, the series began to run out of new, engaging gameplay mechanics, and the twists on the classic formula were hit or miss. Before THPS3, the games were incredible, but the gameplay could still be improved upon. Manuals opened up combo opportunities in THPS2, but THPS3's reverts (allowing players to spin out of ramps into a manual) broke the possibilities wide open. It was the last piece of the gameplay puzzle that felt like a significant, major improvement (later tweaks in the series were nice, but not vital). By refining the already-stellar gameplay seen in its predecessors and avoiding the mistakes made in the future, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 stands as the best game in the series.

You'll notice that the top five entries were all made over nine years ago. Is there a place for skateboarding games in the future? Check out our recent interview with Tony Hawk himself here.