‘Pro skater’ still impresses 11 years later

After more than a decade, "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater" remains a classic.

In the last decade, kids have turned to multiple sources to learn the art of skateboarding. The X Games remain a yearly staple on ESPN, and Lupe Fiasco insisted a simple "kick, push" was all that is needed. But years before Lupe tried to teach America how to skateboard, there was another learning medium.

In 1999, Activision signed Tony Hawk to a video game deal. This decision is still paying dividends in the boarding industry today. The game brought aerials, grinds and flips to a new generation and played a part in the large increase of American interest in so-called "extreme sports."

When "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater" was released, it was obvious a phenomenon was upon us. Kids didn't want to be Michael Jordan anymore; they wanted to be Bob Burnquist. Toss around the old pigskin? Why do that when you could limber up with a couple ollies? Of course, 11 years have passed since the initial release of the game, and countless sequel versions have been created, but nothing has quite captured the magic of that first ride.

I remember my trips down to Iowa (yes, "down," I hail from Minnesota) to visit my cousins when I was 7 years old. I would exchange gratuities with the various aunts and grandmas, then hustle to the basement where the Nintendo 64 was laid out like a plastic deity in front of the television. With a flip of the switch, we were transfixed. From the way we stared, Uncle Mike probably thought we had stumbled across some "Baywatch" reruns.

It was something more than that, though. Not necessarily on a moral level -- the soundtrack featured Dead Kennedys and Primus, and bloodshed is a common theme in the game -- but on some kind of relevant echelon. Even if we weren't sure what that echelon was. Hours were spent in front of the TV, and countless dinners were left untouched on the living room floor. "Pro Skater" became as much of a family tradition as Thanksgiving turkey or counting the sunspots on Great-Grandpa John's face.

Getting to the game itself, "Pro Skater" boasts multiple gameplay modes, which prevent monotony and challenge the player. The career and single session modes provide time trials for your virtual skateboarding skills, as you make stops across the nation to various warehouses, streets and parks -- all conveniently abandoned. The race is on to collect as many points and tapes as you can.

Have you always wanted to experience pure frustration culminating in indescribable joy? Go on a mission to find the extra hidden tape on each level. It's like trying to find Bobby Fischer with a kaleidoscope.

The real fun is had in the free skate mode, which lets you try as many tricks as you wish for as long as you want. Want to challenge a friend? Activision transfers the game H-O-R-S-E from the hardwood to the halfpipe. Those days when you smashed that joystick until your eyes bled were justified when your buddy simply could not replicate your epic 900 switch kick flip to indy. That'd be an 'H,' sucker.

The most important thing about "Pro Skater" is the nostalgic trip it conjures. When I play, I feel like I'm back in Iowa with my cousins, hanging out and having a blast. Sure, we could've been watching those "Baywatch" episodes, but for the only time in our lives, Pamela Anderson just couldn't compare to what Tony Hawk had to offer.

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