Impressive Tony Hawk games that arrive simultaneously with portable hardware launches are nothing new.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 took the series to the Game Boy Advance with winning results. But at the same time, you couldn't help but feel like you were playing a different game entirely. Now, Activision is set to offer up a portable version of Tony Hawk's Underground 2, which was released on consoles last year. This "remixed" version of the original delivers almost everything that was great about the console versions, and with the inclusion of four new levels, the single-player experience has gotten even better.
The biggest change made for the PSP remix of THUG2 is the addition of four new levels. Kyoto, Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Santa Cruz have been worked into the main story mode, meaning you'll hear some new dialogue in the between-level cutscenes that make these new levels fit. Each of these levels is a fine addition, and each fits right into the lineup of existing levels very well. Other things that fans of the console games will notice is that the graphics, while insanely impressive and very comparable to the PlayStation 2 version, have been scaled back slightly. Also, there's no in-level voice work at all. But the important things, like the ultra-tight control and gameplay the series is known for, are all shockingly intact.
THUG2's story mode is a whirlwind tour that gives you four skaters and a mess of goals to accomplish in each level. You start out each level as your created skater, though you'll also pick a pro skater as a partner. At the beginning of each level, you're given a list and set off into the world. There aren't any onscreen indicators to point you in the direction of a goal, though if you happen to do a trick off a piece that is part of a combo goal, the rest of the pieces will light up. If you want the skinny on what, exactly, you're supposed to be doing, you have to pause the game and go into your view goals screen, which will give you more details on what you need to do. While this approach frees the game of clutter and onscreen icons, it also means you're going to be spending a lot more time reading text in the pause menu.
Underground 2 also contains "classic mode," which brings back the two-minute run timer and goal structure of the first three Tony Hawk's Pro Skater games. Many of the levels are the same ones you see in the story mode, but a number of levels from previous entries in the series -- all the way back to the school and downhill jam levels from the very first game -- appear here.
The gameplay in THUG2 starts with THUG, which added the ability to get off your board to run around, and expands from there. Probably the most important addition in THUG2 is the sticker slap, which is an airborne wall plant that shoves you off with a good deal of acceleration, making it perfect for finding your way back onto a rail and continuing a combo by going back the way you came. The rest of the gameplay changes aren't really as useful. You can also execute vertical wall plants while going up some ramps, giving you an extra height boost that you'll rarely need to actually use but will occasionally come in handy. You can now spray graffiti tags when you're off your board, which factors into some goals. When you're special, you can enter "focus mode" by flicking the analog disc, though it's little more than a glorified slow-motion effect. A few goals in story mode require it, but beyond that, all focus will do for you is make it slightly easier to land cleanly or to balance on rails, lips, and manuals for longer periods of time.
The PSP version of THUG2 retains most of the features found in the PS2 release, including face mapping for your custom skaters. The face mapping works largely as it did on the PS2, though getting your face onto your PSP is now as simple as taking a photo with a digital camera and placing that JPEG image on your PSP's memory stick. It's easy to use, and it works surprisingly well...once you get the hang of lining up the images and making the skin colors match up. In addition to the robust skater creation, THUG2 Remix also has a handful of different create modes that let you build your own parks and create graphics for stickers, decks, and the like.
From a technical standpoint, THUG2 Remix looks very impressive. You'll have to look pretty hard to find areas where it differs from the PS2 version, but after spending several hours with the game, you'll start to see where corners were cut. Some fences and other thin objects have been reduced to flat, 2D textures.
Tony Hawk's Underground 2 Remix is, first and foremost, a great game. But with its ability to successfully mimic the console versions, it's an impressive technical achievement, too. If you played the console versions to death, the PSP's new levels probably won't be enough to warrant another purchase. But if you've stayed away from the Tony Hawk series for a while, this is a great chance to get reacquainted with it.