Even if you're a diehard fan of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, there could be a crucial blind spot in your appreciation for the series. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 isn't the sequel we were all hoping for, but if you're looking to relive the Birdman's glory days in all-new, unfamiliar skateparks, then the true fifth game in the series has got you covered. I'm talking, of course, about Disney's Extreme Skate Adventure. No other skating game lets you cruise around as dynamic animal duo Timon and Pumbaa riding a shared board, or do flip tricks on a frying pan as Terk, the female gorilla voiced by a Rosie O'Donnell soundalike.
Perhaps you've seen this game before, but dismissed it as kid-friendly shlock destined for a bargain bin. Extreme Skate Adventure was developed by Toys for Bob (now famous for the Skylanders series) rather than Neversoft, and revolves around three timeless Disney properties: Toy Story, Tarzan, and The Lion King (ok, maybe Tarzan is something of an outlier). But just think about that concept for a second. Here's a game where you can grind around the base of Pride Rock as Simba (who's riding a physically improbable shield-turned-skateboard), or make Woody do some sweet grabs with his toy 'board off the half-pipe shaped playsets scattered around Andy's Room. If that premise doesn't immediately excite you, I hate to think what's become of your inner child. And I can assure you: the game is just as wonderful as whatever you're imagining right now.
For my money, the series peaked with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4: its levels are crafted with the same combo-facilitating care as THPS3's but without the two-minute time limits, giving you the freedom to skate around busting out sick combos at your leisure. THPS4 also has a far more interesting mission structure, asking you to seek out NPCs who trigger mini-vignettes, some of which will persistently alter parts of the stage. Here's the kicker: Disney's Extreme Skate Adventure uses the exact same engine as THPS4, save for balance and manual meters that are slightly more forgiving (y'know, for the little ones who haven't mastered Tony's controls over the course of four games).
Now, merely being built with the same game engine does not a spiritual successor make. But by some miracle, Toys for Bob managed to make a mixture of THPS and Disney that feels wholly authentic to both of these wildly unalike influences. The skatable versions of vistas like Pizza Planet, Tarzan's Treehouse, and Scar's Canyon all look the part, while still nailing the overlapping trick lines layouts, hidden secrets, and sense of place that define the best THPS levels. The soundtrack is a scant 13 songs, many of which are sugary singles you might hear on Radio Disney - but they still manage to cover a wide range of genres (including grunge and rap!), and I could listen to classics like 'Sell Out' by Reel Big Fish and 'Where's Your Head At' by Basement Jaxx all day.
Oh, and the characters! Sure, Tony Hawk and his real-world peers all seem like fine folks - but they've got nothing on the likes of Buzz Lightyear, Tantor, and Rafiki. Incredibly, many of the iconic cameos are voiced by their original actors; for instance, Toy Story's Emperor Zurg, Hamm, and the adorable Wheezy all sound like the genuine article because they are. Heck, they even got Tom Hanks' younger brother Jim to do the voice of Woody. In addition to the usual kickflips and indy grabs, every skater has a variety of lovingly themed tricks that play off their cartoony proportions.
So yes, the real Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5 has nothing to do with Tony Hawk. Come to think of it, Disney's Extreme Skate Adventure is factually the fifth game in the series, given that it was released a full two months before THUG. You should be able to find a used copy (and a console to play it on) for a pittance, and shame shouldn't be a factor - I'll gladly tell anyone that I played this game to full completion in my late teens. Truly, it is the Kingdom Hearts of skating games, and it is straight-up magical. If you grew up playing Tony Hawk games and watching The Lion King - as I hope was the case for every '90s kid - then Disney's Extreme Skate Adventure is must-play material.