Grinding on the go.
I approached Tony Hawk's Underground 2: Remix for the PSP with equal parts excitement and trepidation. It wasn't that I was afraid it would suck; Neversoft and Shaba's track record is just about flawless when it comes to porting their skateboard masterpieces over to other systems, and there was no reason to think it wouldn't happen again. No, my fears had nothing to do with quality.
My fears had to do with quantity, or, more specifically, the number of hours I would once again lose to Tony et al. The act of playing his games for about five years now has led to an autonomic response, my fingers seemingly acting on their own as I barrel through another ollie-into-kickflip-into-nosegrind-into-manual-into-etc-etc-etc. It would take a total disaster of a port, a miracle, to keep me from backing my life into a corner and Mcflipping away the day.
Sadly, I do not live on 34th Street and Christmas is long gone. THUG 2: Remix is a great start to PSP skating, a smooth port of the console game with a few new levels thrown in for good measure. My life is ruined.
The game rehashes the same modes and gameplay of THUG 2 for the PS2, Xbox and Gamecube. If you've played any of those games, you already know most everything there is to know about Remix.
So once again, the single-player is broken down into Story mode and Classic mode. The former is the main attraction, I suppose. Two teams led by superstars Tony Hawk and how-is-he-still-famous Bam Margera embark on a round-the-world skating odyssey in which the team that does the most damage - physically, emotionally and socially - wins. You start off on Team Hawk, although over the course of the plot you'll skate for Bam, too.
Not that it matters who wins or anything, because the Story mode is simply there to get you through the game's twelve levels with at least some sort of rhyme and reason. It's a linear plot and a linear progression, complete with appearances by other real skaters like Mike Vallely, Bob Burnquist and Rodney Mullen as well as your annoying, fictitious ex-friend, Eric Sparrow.
The four levels new to Remix – Santa Cruz, Atlanta, Kyoto, and Vegas – are integrated smoothly via new cut-scenes and dialogue. While most of the speech falls under the same retarded fart joke umbrella that stunk up the console versions, the levels themselves are fine additions and play just as well as the eight found in THUG 2. Vegas in particular is a blast, maybe because it's Vegas and Vegas just always seems like fun. Plus, you don't lose four hundred bucks in twenty minutes at the craps table or get beaten up after spilling your gin and tonic on a cop. NOT THAT I KNOW.
As before, you don't have to nail all the goals in a level to proceed. THUG 2: Remix gives you four different skaters for each level, all of whom have their own set of goals. You'll start off as yourself and can pick a pro partner, but you'll eventually find two other skaters to play as, including a zany one (inventor Ben Franklin, an Australian shrimp vendor, a Louisianan jester, etc) and a motorized one (Steve-O on the back of a mechanical bull, for instance).
Each goal for each skater is worth a certain number of points. In a nice twist, it doesn't actually matter which goals you complete so long as you score enough points to open up the next level. If you can't figure out how to nail a particularly nasty combo, you can pass on it and try another goal with someone else altogether. This gives each level a more open feel and helps the replay value, as you might even pass a level without playing as all four potential skaters.
While the new levels add some length, Remix's Story mode is fairly brief and a little annoying due to the incessant mischief and lame dialogue. It's just a bad direction for the series, and if you didn't like it on the consoles, you won't like it now.
Lucky for you, THUG 2: Remix includes Classic mode. This recalls earlier games in the Pro Skater series by pitting you against traditional challenges. In order to open up levels, you'll have to search out S-K-A-T-E letters, nab the Sick score, collect five of something or other, etc, etc. Purists will dig it, particularly when they open up the six old-school levels that have been recreated. Remember the Airport (THPS 3) or the Downhill Jam (THPS)? You will.
The most notable addition to the series' gameplay is the sticker slap, which lets you jump in the air and plant off a wall to keep your combo going. This solves the dilemma of the dead end and makes your huge combos even larger. Otherwise, the new moves are minor tweaks and don't impact the game beyond being requirements in Story mode. The only one worth mentioning is "Focus mode," the Tony Hawk version of bullet-time that makes it a little easier to land tricks cleanly, which sounds more useful than it actually is. If you've mastered any of the five earlier games in the series, you already know the gist of it all.
But I guarantee you've never played it while waiting for a bus. The PSP iteration of THUG 2 plays just like the console games, which is to say it plays very well indeed. The controls are the same, although the missing two shoulder buttons might make for a slight adjustment. Otherwise, you'll be manualing and reverting just as well as you did on your TV.
It almost looks as good, too. Though the overall graphical quality is dialed back a notch, THUG 2 Remix does justice to its console kin with a solid look and feel. It's easy to forgive niggling aliasing issues when you consider that the entire THUG 2 experience has been smoothly recreated here, and the framerate stays pretty sharp throughout.
So does the sound, which doesn't suffer at all in the translation. The series is known for its solid soundtracks and this is no exception. Really the only audio goofs have to do with the weak voice-acting, but what do you expect from a guy like Bam?
All the "create-a-something" modes are here, allowing you to build your own skaters, graphics, decks, levels, goals and tricks. You can even import your own face and use it on your created skater by downloading a picture from your PC to your memory stick. Man, that USB port rules.
So does the PSP's wi-fi, although THUG 2 Remix only uses its Ad Hoc mode. You can play all the same multiplayer games found in the console games, from H-O-R-S-E and Grafitti to new modes like Elimiskate, and they play well if you muster up a few friends. It's just odd that THUG 2 Remix doesn't have any Infrastructure support to allow true online play, especially when you consider that Neversoft actually figured out how to get Tony Hawk 3 for the PS2 online well before the PS2 online adapter was released. If they could get that game online when the hardware wasn't there, why can't they get it online when the functionality is built-in?
In truth, though, that's just about the only way in which THUG 2 Remix doesn't ace its port to the PSP. How in the world they managed to squeeze all the info from the console versions into this one without the PSP suffering a heart attack is beyond me, though it proves that the handheld can handle some depth. If you're a fan, rest assured this is just as good as you hoped…or bad, depending on how much free time you have.