Skating Through Time: Unveiling the Epic Legacy of Tony Hawk's Underground - The Ultimate Blend of Thrills, Storytelling, and Innovation!

Over the years, the Tony Hawk video game series has delivered numerous outstanding titles, including the latest additions such as Tony Hawk’s Skate Jam in 2018 and the re-release of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 in 2020. For enthusiasts like myself, these games sparked an interest in skateboarding, leading us to invest our allowances in secondhand skateboards with dreams of sponsorship and global skate spot exploration. While those aspirations may not have materialized for most of us, the enduring truth remains that Tony Hawk video games have consistently provided an exhilarating experience, standing the test of time as some of the finest games ever created.

Amidst this extensive series, comprising more than 20 games, certain titles have left a lasting impression. Although determining the objectively best game proves challenging, I personally regard Tony Hawk’s Underground as the pinnacle. I devoted countless hours to this game during my youth and revisited it nearly every year since its 2003 release.

Skating Through Time: Unveiling the Epic Legacy of Tony Hawk's Underground - The Ultimate Blend of Thrills, Storytelling, and Innovation! 1

Tony Hawk’s Underground redefined the concept of a skating video game, setting the stage for later successes like Skate, with its engaging storyline and free-roaming structure. Despite advancements in graphics and in-game physics, no other skating game, in my opinion, matches the sheer enjoyment of Tony Hawk’s Underground. While some may argue for the revolutionary impact of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, my preference leans toward Underground due to its pure fun factor and the emotional connection it fosters.

Here's why Tony Hawk’s Underground stands out as the paramount Tony Hawk game in my eyes:

Getting Off Your Board

Tony Hawk’s Underground, initially released on the PlayStation 2, GameCube, Game Boy Advance, and Xbox, distinguished itself as the first game in the series that allowed players to dismount their boards, unlocking a realm of new possibilities. Soaring through the air off a halfpipe, detaching mid-air, traversing a rooftop, and seamlessly transitioning into a different halfpipe allowed for wild, extended combos, lasting up to ten minutes and accumulating over a billion points. The ability to dismount also facilitated easier exploration of maps, enabling players to climb ladders leading to massive drops and uncover secret rooms. Without this innovation, extraordinary feats like scaling a hotel in the Hawaii level or performing audacious maneuvers over a helicopter would have remained impossible.

The Storyline

Tony Hawk’s Underground boasted the most developed and captivating storyline in the series. Beginning in the abandoned crack houses of New Jersey, the narrative follows your character's journey from impressing skateboarding legend Chad Muska to ascending through the Tampa Am competition and dominating Slam City Jam in Canada. A standout element of the storyline is the character arc of Eric Sparrow, your wingman-turned-adversary, corrupted by fame and money. The emotionally charged storyline, driven by Sparrow's moral decline, communicates a profound message about the nobility of pursuing one's passions over the allure of fame. The game's climax, featuring an epic showdown on the streets of your hometown, adds a memorable dimension to the narrative.

Levels and Easter Eggs

Tony Hawk’s Underground featured some of the most enjoyable and distinctive maps in the series. Each level exuded a unique atmosphere, from the grungy New Jersey level, capturing the essence of an underground skating scene, to the dynamic Moscow level, filled with humorous references to communism. The Tampa level, based on its real-world counterpart, incorporated riverboats and strip clubs for creative grinding and flipping opportunities. Throughout the levels, hidden Easter eggs added moments of serendipitous excitement. Exploring uncharted territory, players could discover secret playable levels like Venice in the Hawaii level or unlock the School II level in the New Jersey level, replicating a level from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2.

Skating Through Time: Unveiling the Epic Legacy of Tony Hawk's Underground - The Ultimate Blend of Thrills, Storytelling, and Innovation! 2

Characters and Customization

One of the exhilarating aspects of Underground was its extensive customization options. In the story mode, players could alter their character's appearance extensively, from wearing unconventional outfits to changing skin color or even turning their character's head into the Neversoft logo. Skateboard customization offered a high degree of intricacy, allowing players to create unique decks with layered patterns and images. The ability to design custom skate parks, complete with ramps, rails, and even lava pits, added to the game's creativity. Additionally, preset characters, including skateboarding legends and unconventional choices like Gene Simmons and Iron Man, contributed to the game's diverse and entertaining lineup.

The Verdict

In summary, Tony Hawk’s Underground's exceptional storyline and the unprecedented freedom it offered players elevate it above all other games in the series. While occasional playthroughs of titles like Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland or Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 may be enjoyable, they fall short, in my humble opinion, of the perfection achieved by Tony Hawk’s Underground.