In the late ‘90s, punk rock’s popularity was at an all-time high, people were saying “radical” with regularity, and skateboarding was experiencing a resurgence with the help of a certain athlete and his incredible skills. Skateboarding quickly found a home in video games as well, with the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series letting anyone become the master of both vert and street in a matter of minutes.
Other skateboarding games followed, and despite the genre nearly drying up by 2019, there are now plenty of fantastic skating games to enjoy across a variety of consoles. Now is the perfect time to freshen up on the genre, too, with the impending remake of the first two Tony Hawk games.
- All Tony Hawk games, ranked
- The best video game soundtracks of all time
- The best retro video game consoles
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (consoles)
The second-best video game of all-time, according to Metacritic, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 is unmatched if you’re looking for a to-the-point skateboarding game that encapsulates the genre at the peak of its popularity and influence.
A perfect physics system, a great cast of professional skateboarders, and the introduction of the level editor gave fans endless options for how they could spend their time shredding, with the free skate mode just as entertaining and addictive as the more structured options.
Its soundtrack is nothing short of stellar, as well, with famous skate punk bands like Millencolin and Lagwagon included alongside the likes of Anthrax and Rage Against the Machine. The energy is enough to keep you skating and eating frozen pizza until 3 a.m.
Skater XL has been in Steam Early Access since 2018, but it just recently launched its full 1.0 version. Before Skate 4 was announced, Skater XL basically served its role. Unlike the Tony Hawk games, Skater XL is a skateboarding simulator, meaning pulling off even the most basic of tricks requires some effort. In fact, there aren’t any tricks programmed into the game.
Instead, each one of your thumbsticks controls a foot, and as you move them, the board will respond automatically. Skater XL takes the focus off of stringing together a crazy combo — though, there’s a place for that — and brings it back down to individual tricks. With the freedom the game affords you, you can even make your own tricks. Currently, Skater XL is only available on PC, though ports for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Switch should come later this year.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (Game Boy Advance)
Game Boy Advance ports of console games didn’t usually warrant much excitement on the part of players, and even less often did they find themselves on “best of” lists for anything. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, however, was not like most Game Boy Advance ports.
Developed by the extremely talented Vicarious Visions, the game managed to translate the feeling of the console games to the small screen, with only the visual and audio quality taking a hit. Nailing a perfect grind or 720 on the vert ramp feels just like it does on the more powerful systems, and you can easily play one level until your Game Boy Advance battery completely dies.
Tony Hawk’s Underground
For the first several entries in the Tony Hawk’s series, the focus was entirely on skateboarding. With Underground, the series made the seemingly odd decision to let you get off the skateboard and run around its virtual worlds, completing other activities.
It didn’t lose the older games’ knack for skating, however, and it even included a full story mode, filled with celebrity appearances and betrayals you might see in a teen-themed CW show. Despite being partially responsible for moving the entire franchise away from its bread-and-butter skateboarding, Tony Hawk’s Underground remains a classic game that can’t be overlooked.
The last full-fledged AAA skateboarding game worth playing — we don’t talk about Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 — Electronic Arts’ Skate 3 was the best version of the company’s own take on the genre.
More grounded than Activision’s own offerings but with a focus on skill-based skating gameplay, Skate 3 established a loyal following that is still asking Electronic Arts to invest in a sequel to this day, despite being released back in 2010. Although that’s coming true, finally, Skate 3 is still worth playing.
In contrast to the punk rock tunes of the Tony Hawk games, Skate 3 featured an eclectic mix that included Dinosaur Jr., Beastie Boys, and even Steel Panther.
Session is basically Skater XL when it comes to mechanics. It uses the same thumbstick system where you control each foot independently. Session is entirely focused on realism, though, even more so than Skater XL. In many ways, it’s a better game, with tight mechanics and iconic skating spots, beautifully recreated one for one. Session is still very new, though, only entering Early Access late last year, and it’ll be many more months before we see a 1.0 launch.
Still, Session is worth a shot now. Although still littered with bugs, the core premise is excellent, and there are some unique features. Our favorite is the video editor, where you can stitch together clips of your tricks to create your own montage. It’d be great to incorporate that into an Underground-style progression system, where different sponsors will reach out based on your demo. For now, though, we simply have the video editor, and given the state of skateboarding games in 2020, that’s more than enough.
Skate It (Nintendo DS)
Instead of attempting to take the console versions of Skate and shrink them down for a one-to-one port, Skate It for Nintendo DS smartly uses the console’s unique touch screen features to create an intuitive trick system.
Swiping the stylus across the skateboard on the bottom screen makes your skater perform different tricks without sacrificing the precision and breadth of tricks available in the console version. It was also a real looker, with 3D character models that are among the most detailed and best-animated on the DS, along with gorgeous environments that push the system to its limits.
OlliOlli2: Welcome to Olliwood
Unlike many of the other best skateboarding games, OlliOlli2: Welcome to Hollywood isn’t about finding the best 3D environments to pull off your ultimate tricks. Instead, it’s essentially an auto-running platformer with skateboarding as your means of transportation.
Your goal is to get to the end of each level without wiping out, and you can pull off a variety of moves to raise your score and find secrets before you cross the finish line. Despite being in 2D and going for a retro-inspired, movie-themed look, OlliOlli2 is surprisingly deep, and it’s available on just about every system you can imagine at this point.
Skate or Die!
Despite Tony Hawk bringing skating video games into everyday conversation, the series wasn’t the first to try virtual skateboarding. One of the best early skateboarding games was Skate or Die!, a variety-filled skating game for the Nintendo Entertainment System and other late ‘80s systems that included a top-down obstacle-filled mode, downhill events, and a halfpipe to show off your best tricks.
Lacking the customization options we’d see in later skating games, Skate or Die! nonetheless had the attitude we’ve come to expect from skating culture. It also included just enough cheesiness to allow its ridiculous name a free pass.
Skateboard Park Tycoon: Back in the USA 2004
From Skate or Die! to Tony Hawk to Skate, we’ve run the gamut of skateboarding games. Now, it’s time for something different. Skateboard Park Tycoon is a relic and a hilarious one at that. Activision released the game at the height of the skateboarding and tycoon crazes — combining the two genres with questionable results. Honestly, the game doesn’t fit in either category seamlessly or well. Still, it’s a blast to play, and that’s the priority here.
Skateboard Park Tycoon sure looks like it would fit on a ‘90s-era game shelf. The concept is cool, though — you can DIY a skate park and then skateboard in it. Of course, Activision came to its senses and stopped support for the game a long time ago. The only way to access the game is via an abandonware website. Or, you can sift through Amazon for a cheap big-box copy — there are still some out there.
- The best Tony Hawk games, ranked
- Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2: Where to find all the alien plushies
- Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2: Essential tips and tricks for starting out
- The best Sega Dreamcast games of all time
- The best PS2 games of all time