Fifty years of skateboarding and twenty years of sub-standard game-based facsimiles culminated in this: Sega Skateboarding’s Top Skater - an arcade game you actually controlled while mounted atop a deck. Predictably, the skate community embraced its authenticity for finally allowing Joe McEveryman to pull off an ollie by gripping the padded handle bars and leaning back slightly. You know, just like in real life!
Above: Helping fatties thrash since 1997
If you’ve ever seen an arcade you can probably remember Top Skater blaring over the deafening bleeps and bloops with a fully licensed soundtrack (uh, 5 songs) from Pennywise. With a single cashed check, these mighty Warped Tour veterans proudly represented skate culture… while simultaneously alienating it for selling out to the Sonic suits. We call that a Punk Rock Paradox.
Above: “The most addictive game ever” At a dollar a minute, you’d better hope so
Thrasher Magazine and Rockstar Games? Should’ve been a match made in Sk8 Heaven, right? The critics were kind, but the public… not so much. Released in the wake of the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, gamers overlooked Skate and Destroy’s then “technically superior,” sim focus and difficult learning curve, somewhat understandably. (And that’s saying nothing of its sucka free hip-hop soundtrack, featuring Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest and Afrika Bambaataa!)
Above: Poor character model, or the first groundbreaking appearance by a topless shemale?
Buttons reserved for damage-minimizing tucks and landing ollies proved too complicated, especially when compared to Hawk’s instantly adaptable ease of play. Breakable boards, heightened ragdoll physics and bizarre modes involving being chased by a police officer (viewed from the cop’s POV?) differentiated Thrasher:SaD plenty, even if they couldn’t stave off retail damnation.
Above: Bro vs Taser ‘99
Yet another EA contribution to the skateboarding’s digital graveyard. But there’s something about that 8 in the title that lets you know this time… they meant business. Street Sk8er may’ve been the first PSX game dedicated exclusively to skating, but that apparently wasn’t enough to rescue it from the relative obscurity it enjoys today.
Above: Pop Quiz! What game is this?
In terms of gameplay, Street Sk8er borrowed heavily from the Sega’s successful Top Skater coin-op. Although perhaps, we should say too heavily, since the developers wrongly assumed home console users would put up with replaying a pithy handful of levels over and over again. Even if the trick system can loosely be considered a predecessor to the Tony Hawk series, the papercraft character models did little to bolster the Sk8er’s appeal. We suppose we should acknowledge the inclusion of two-player point duels… so there ya go! You’re dismissed now, Street Sk8er.
By all accounts Street Sk8er 2 improved greatly over its predecessor with souped up graphics, four-player support, enhanced level design and a better balance of racing and tricks could now be enjoyed by all. And that would’ve mattered, had the game managed to distinguish itself from the 70 other skate games and not get trounced at retail by Tony Hawk 2 several months later. For all it did right, Street Sk8er 2 will be remembered for little more than appearing in this feature. And that’s a fate we wish on no game.
Above: Now that’s ugly you can set your watch by
Grab the reigns of Andy MacDonald and several other Not Ready for Tony Time Players, and power through THQ’s steaming digital dump of a T-Hawk imitator. Even while grifting the Birdman’s button-scheme, Mr MacDonald’s pale comparison suffered from an abysmal framerate, character animations that rejected any logical human interaction and a grind feature that was more bail than rail.
Above: Worse than it looks
What exactly did MTV bring to the party? Why, a timeless soundtrack featuring unforgettable musical combos like Goldfinger, Flash Point and the Pulitzer Prize winning pot ensemble, Cypress Hill. For each failure in the musical department the oxymoronic cable outlet made up for it by thrusting its logo into your eyelids whenever possible, most notably in the MTV Hunt challenge, where players quest to find MTV logos scattered through the level.
If you’re one of those types who holds a monk-like faith in review scores, then it should be noted that Grind Session enjoyed some glowing critical accolades during its brief year of relevance. But you’re probably not that kind of person, and you’d rather remember this imposter as the shittiest crap that ever sucked… even if it isn’t.
Above: A worthy wannabe that never got to be
Grind Session was lauded for it cut-above course design, as well as unique additions like the Tech Lines that provided a visual hint of lines to run, and the Skater’s Eye, a first-person view that can be accessed at any time. And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Neversoft got the message loud and clear. Grind’s developer, Shaba Games, has since been brought under the Activision umbrella and worked on several quality Tony Hawk titles.