March 2, 2011

Ahead of Its Time - Thrasher: Skate and Destroy

When I left for college, I looked through all my old games to see if there was anything I wanted to bring. My PS3 can play original PlayStation games, so I was especially interested in looking through those. In the end, I decided on bringing just one game: Thrasher: Skate and Destroy. This was one of my favorite games as a kid, and I've played it more than I have all of the Tony Hawk skating games combined. Yet for some reason, Thrasher was itself destroyed by the original Tony Hawk Pro Skater in sales, as both games came out around the same time. But when you look at the design and gameplay differences, Thrasher follows all the basic elements of the hugely popular Skate series today which has recently killed Tony Hawk forever. How was Thrasher so ahead of its time?

Thrasher is a near-simulation of skateboarding, particularly in comparison to the crazy arcade style of Tony Hawk. You can only do one flip trick in a single jump, naturally, good luck getting any more spins than a 540 rotation, and in the expert mode, you actually have to press a button to land. The plausibility of pulling off a nice chain of grinds appealed to me more even then, but clearly, the general population wasn't ready for that until Skate came out a few years ago.

These gameplay decisions made the game's learning curve too much for its time, but other features that took forever to enter the skating game genre wowed me as a kid: the "sell-out simulation" of choosing sponsorships as you win contests, the use of generic skaters I could sort of role-play as, and the thrill of running from authority while still throwing down skating moves. It's remarkable how many things Thrasher did right that the more successful games in the genre would take years and years to implement.

Z-Axis and Rockstar Games deserve a ton of credit for this lesser-known gem of skating games, and for inspiring me to poorly try to recreate the videogame in real life for years and years. Plus, the hip-hop soundtrack is amazing.