Unless you've been living under a rock for the last six years, you've undoubtedly heard of skateboarding legend Tony Hawk and his equally legendary series of skateboarding games. Since 1999, Activision and Neversoft have teamed with Tony Hawk to create the eponymous Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and Tony Hawk's Underground series of games. Like clockwork, every new game in the series has come out in the fall of each year for the home consoles with an immersive game experience unmatched by any other game in the extreme sports genre. There have been attempts to translate the rich three-dimensional experience from the home console to the Game Boy Advance but, hardware limitations being what they are, the results have always been a hybrid 3D/2D environment. The GBA games were fun but they hardly captured the essential je ne sais quoi their big brother console versions had plenty of. Besides, it was probably the best a portable system could do with the Tony Hawk series, right?
Tony Hawk's Underground 2 Remix blows that notion out of the water - with a giant nuclear warhead.
If you've played any of the other game in the series, you're familiar with the premise. There's a classic mode in which you skate through a series of levels, each subsequent level unlocked by finishing a requisite number of goals in previous levels. Some of the goals are the same throughout all the levels such as attaining three high scores, spelling out S-K-A-T-E and C-O-M-B-O, and collecting the secret tape hidden in each level while some are specific to the level. The change from Pro Skater to Underground brought with it a surprisingly textured and layered story mode where you work your way up in the underground skating scene. All of these options found in the console version of Tony Hawk's Underground 2 are present in the PSP iteration.
What's really astounding about the PSP version of the game is that it really looks and feels like you're playing the console version instead. The graphics are simply amazing - say adios to the isometric environment of the GBA Tony Hawk games - this game is in glorious, full-fledged 3D. Because, let's face it, Tony Hawk is meant to be played in all three dimensions. Sure, it's not as pretty as the console version - parts of the background and non-interactive elements have a decidedly 2D feel not to mention a spot of blurriness - but that's to be expected. Frankly, the ability to differentiate between the different characters on a handheld console without squinting (though that's my experience; yours may be different) is a huge plus in my book. Also, the frame rate is crisp and the action in the game moves along on the screen with nary a hitch. The fact that it could look almost as nice as the game you play on the Playstation 2 is a testament to the hard work developer Shaba Games put into this puppy.
Another facet of the game that has made survived the translation from console to the PSP is the soundtrack. Any fan of the Tony Hawk series will tell you that, as great as the gameplay and the graphics have been, what really launched the series into the upper echelons of the gaming pantheon were the licensed music. If you don't believe me, try playing the game with the music off and you'll see what I'm talking about. Tony Hawk's Underground 2 Remix doesn't disappoint when it comes to an eclectic array of music - Metallica, Jimmy Eat World, Less Than Jake, and Ween can all be heard while playing this game. Heck, this game even has Frank Sinatra in the mix - that's right, everyone's favorite blue-eyed, cantankerous New Jerseyan can be heard singing "That's Life" while you rack up a million point round. In total, there are 54 songs catering to a wide variety of aural preferences that can be arranged and re-arranged in a playlist to suit your mood.
The controls in this game are very tight - it's about as close to a perfect port as it can get in that respect. The PSP's digital pad is a decent enough substitute for the analog stick found on the controllers of the home consoles but if the system has an analog stick (or nub, whatever you want to refer to it as), why didn't the developers think of utilizing it as a way to control the skater? Instead, the primary role of the analog stick is to control the camera, not the skater. To me, the lack of an option to use the analog control is a serious detriment, especially when I have the skater pick up his board to walk around the level - it's especially difficult to get a full range of motion with the digital pad in that instance.
The classic mode in THUG 2 Remix contains a hybrid of levels from the story modes as well as levels from older games in the series such as the school and the opening warehouse level from the very first THPS. Nostalgia aside, there's a nice mix of goals to achieve that keeps the game moving along but if you've played one classic mode, you've really played them all.
What makes this game a remix (hence, THUG 2 Remix) can be found in the story mode with the addition of four new levels - Atlanta, Kyoto, Las Vegas, and Santa Cruz. The introduction of the new levels has changed the order of the existing levels so even if you've already finished the story mode on the home console version, this added wrinkle will add hours to the game's lasting appeal. The new levels are what you would expect - environments and situations intrinsic to the area the level is based on appear in the game whether it is slot machines in Vegas or beaches in Santa Cruz. Again, nothing really earth-shattering and new in these levels but more levels equals more game to play so there's really no faulting that.
The last thing to mention about THUG 2 Remix is the support for wireless networking. The game allows for up to four people in close proximity (ad hoc wireless connection) to play with each other. Like the home console version, you can challenge your friends to a game of HORSE or a high score challenge. Unfortunately, there is no official online multiplayer mode (infrastructure wireless connection) but that can be resolved through third-party solutions (do your own research, people!).
All in all, THUG 2 Remix for the PSP is an excellent port of the beefier home console game. It won't replace the game sitting in your Playstation 2 but the extra features tossed into the game are enough to make it a complementary experience. At the very least, it will actually feel like you're playing a Tony Hawk game and not some crippled imitation. Just remember that, when you mess up a trick and want to throw your controller down out of frustration, you're holding a $250 gaming system, not a $25 controller.