WORDS: STUART GOMEZ
For a generation of skateboarders, the mid-eighties were halcyon days. Not only were we discovering the joys of skateboarding—unlocking secrets and leveling up our skate game—we were most likely catching the video game bug, as well. In many cases, skateboarding introduced us to a lifetime of video game addiction. I’m not sure if the reverse is also true, but it’s possible.
Both activities happened to be in a transitional phase at that time, with progression becoming the watchword of the era, and both would need to keep moving forward to survive. (Tellingly, there is a noticeable gap in skate video game production that dovetailed with the skateboard industry’s darkest days, picking up again in the mid-nineties.) Every new release promised to be the most realistic, or raddest, interpolation of skateboarding yet, and only rarely did a release live up to this promise. But when it did, it was an adrenaline-filled experience that mimicked the frustration and elation of a typical sesh.
Each successive generation of gamers and skaters have a shared version of this experience, and we’d like to share our experience with you. So, put down your joystick for a second and reminisce over these sixteen important skate video games—past, present, and future. (Thanks to WHODATN1NJA for hooking up the emulators!)
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Ah, memories… the 720º arcade game is a true classic. Fast-paced and intuitive, you could pop quarter after quarter in the machine, ignoring the fact that you were frittering away your coper/noseguard fund. For better or worse, 720º introduced the “Skate or Die!” slogan to the masses which endures as a term of ridicule, yet checkerboard wheels failed to catch on. The 720º NES port is the stuff of blisters.
Skate Boardin' Series
The Atari 2600 started to look dated back in 1982 (when the superior Colecovision was released) so it isn’t surprising that by 1987 this lackluster entry would trail 720º and Skate or Die! in popularity. Let’s call it Pitfall! on wheels. Super Skateboardin’ came out a year later on the 7800, but it was basically just Elevator Action with road rash.
California Games series
California isn’t a place, it’s a state of mind. At least that’s what Epyx was selling us in ’87 (and we bought it in droves). With only three tricks, its “Half Pipe” mode was less than bodacious. Curiously, the rollerskating challenge—with its 360 spins and sidewalk cracks—offered more “skate” reward. The second game’s epic death screen lives on, dude.
T & C Surf Designs Series
In the mid ‘80s, skateboarding and surfing were inseparable as cultural touchstones. Like the proverbial yin and yang… Hey, wait a minute! T & C knew what it was doing with this fantastic side-scroller (once you learn to indy-grab into a boardslide, you’re good to go). The second game’s weird Excitebike-meets-Ghosts ‘n Goblins gameplay? Not so much.
Skate or Die! Series
This is the foundation for the modern skate video game. Developed by EA, yeah that EA (as in SKATE), Skate or Die! had diverse gameplay, but overplayed the competitive aspects a bit (head-to-head jousting with giant Q-Tips?). The sequel’sadventure mode was Double Dragons-esque, and its most excellent spine ramp resulted in some side-splitting slam animations.
Young christian skaters with hardcore, strict parents had no chance in hell of playing Skate or Die 2—Aggro Eddie’s mohawk alone was a red flag. So, enter Wisdom Tree’s shameless 1994 carbon copy of 1990’s Menace Beach—with minor alterations. Your mission: Get to Sunday School on time. This game is punishingly hard (before you can say "Deuteronomy," you’re dead); we can only imagine how many FUCK!'s were yelled.
ESPN Extreme Games Series
The mid-nineties welcomed the fifth-gen of console games. Looking back at ESPN’s Extreme series is reminder of just how far we’ve come, three generations later. The gameplay is still very fun—it’s hard to beat a downhill race where you can beat up douches on mountain bikes—and is probably best described as Pole Position on a seven-percent downgrade.
Released in 1997, Top Skater was a super cool arcade game with a badass peripheral. Of course, the self-conscious skater wouldn’t be caught dead on this thing (it looks like a skateboard with a roll cage). The graphics and NBA Jam-esque voiceover were engaging, but the soundtrack did nothing to slow the Pennywise domination that began with Questionable.
Many of us have fond memories of 1999’s Street Sk8er, but when we revisit the game it’s a cringeworthy experience. Why? We seemed to forget some of the more obnoxious aspects of the gameplay, the schlocky announcer (“Wicked Air!” “Medic!”), and that half of the game takes place on a half-pipe—this street sk8er is an ATV! But later that year, the world of skateboarding games would change forever.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater
The Tony Hawk’s series revolutionized how skating would be represented in games: by motion-capturing all the action of a diverse lineup (including Staff Photographer Atiba Jefferson), THPS had the most realistic and addictive gameplay so far. Beginning in 1999, a new edition was cranked out for eleven consecutive years. THPS kept us glued to the TV with barely any free time left to, you know, skate.
The Simpsons Skateboarding
Catching a lot of flak in 2003 for its subpar gameplay—THPS had set the bar pretty high—The Simpsons Skateboarding was somewhat unfairly maligned. While we can’t imagine shelling out $50 for this game today, it does have some redeeming value, especially in its humor. Nothing beats watching Homer slam on a method air. “D’oh!”
Disney's Extreme Skate Adventure
The Venn diagram of skateboarders/Disneyphiles/gaming has a notable overlap of interlinked spheres (now there’s an idea for a hidden Mickey). This game’s for every kid at heart who doesn’t care about formal trick names (Timon and Pumbaa’s special is called a “Butt Balance Bonanza”) and it’s easy to play—if you’re familiar with THPS 4’s engine.
The timing was perfect for EA’s SKATE trilogy. Advanced graphics, gameplay, and enthusiastic participation among skateboarding’s movers and shakers (The Mag played a significant role in the challenges), SKATE continues to dominate—even though the third, and final, game was published in 2010. The Berrics made a valiant effort to make the series a quadrilogy, but EA made it clear that three is the magic number… for the time being.
Shaun White Skateboarding
Being released shortly after the advanced SKATE 3, Shaun White Skateboarding had its work cut out for it. Anchored by one of the most recognizable faces of extreme sports, this game had potential. It’s certainly one of the most gorgeous games to date. But, overall, the game suffers from a strange tone (a mode that requires you to kill pigeons doesn’t really fly these days).
The premier touchscreen-enabled skateboarding game has been incredibly successful. According to the True Skate iTunes page: “#1 in 80 countries. Loved by skaters all over the world.” Currently in the process of making its 4K version, Big Screen, a reality), True Skate continues to be the most accessible skateboarding game on the market—all you need is a phone and a couple of fingers.
It’s 2017 and there is a growing need for the "Next Great Skateboarding Game.” Marc-andré Houde's creā-ture Studios may have the answer. Its open world sandbox game has been teased since 2015. Running on the Unreal 4 engine, Project: Session promises a more realistic system for ground navigation, with 100% skate physics (Skate or Die! had probably 5%). Supposedly, the game is on schedule for a 2017 release. Thumbs crossed!