The first THPS game was widely accepted as the most enjoyable and accurate skating game yet, and this sequel is even better. The whole game has a polished and professional feel, and almost everything - bar the game physics - are true-to-life. A huge array of skaters from the pro circuit such as Bob Burnquist, Rodney Mullen and Elyssa Steamer make appearances, as well as hidden characters such as Officer Dick from the first game, and even SpiderMan, who is of course the subject of Neversoft's other THPS engine title. Even more impressive is the option to create your own skater: choose the body (male only, unfortunatley), face, hair, clothing, weight, skate style and array of tricks, grabs, jumps and grinds, and you can have yourself on screen pulling off all those moves you were too scared to do back in high school. And pulling those gnarly tricks off is no problem. The control system is nice and easy to pick up, with a control system that's both easy to learn and highly customisable. The main buttons are simply jump, grab, grind and fliptrick. Simply get some air, then press one of the buttons and a combination of directions on the D-pad, and you'll be pulling off Japan Airs, Tailgrabs and 50-50 grinds in a matter of minutes. Sadly, the analogue stick doesn't seem to make much of a difference to affairs, so I just stuck with the d-pad. However, this is more than adequate, and pulling off huge combos is a breeze. By doing a manual when you land out of a trick, you can keep the trick multiplier going and get crazy scores well into the millions. Although all the tricks and skaters are true-to-life, the physics allow for improved balance and air time, so as well as being realistic, the game retains a fun, arcade-esque feel, and it pulls the balance off really well.
Keepin' it Real
As well as the obligatory option just to hit one of the many parks and strut your funky stuff, the Career mode from the first game makes a welcome comeback. In this outing, instead of five objectives to complete per level, there are 10. There's still point goals, collecting the five letters of "SKATE", and the Hidden Tape to find, but there's also localised goals for each city. In the aircraft hangar, you have to knock over 5 oil drums. In New York, you have to grind your way down some rail tracks. Also making a return are the various competition stages, where you're given 1 minute to accumulate as many points as possible, being penalised for falls and repetition. The career mode is the most fun way to play: by building up money you can buy new decks and tricks, and customise your skater even more, even raise his or her skills. Plus, by completing these objectives you open up more and more levels, and by completing them all with a character you get one of the many hidden cheat modes, such as Disco Mode, Perfect Balance and Wireframe Mode. Numerous other modes are included too, particularly in the excellent 2 player feature. In 2-player Horse, you and a friend must out-trick each other in various parts of levels, the person who falls or does an inferior trick earning a letter. The first one to spell out HORSE (or any other word, me and my friends like to use "MOFO" or "JACKASS") is crowned the loser. In Grafitti, every time you pull off a trick on a ramp or rail, it will be "tagged" with your colour, until your opponent does a more impressive trick, and whoever has the most tags at the end of two minutes wins. Of course there is the basic Trick Attack, and a 2 player free skate mode, for boring traditionalists.
Lay of the Land
More levels are available this time around, with a whole new set of worldwide skate parks to hit. From Marseille to LA, and from Montana to Mexico, each park is full of detail and absolutley huge, compared to the prequel. There was a whole hidden section in Philly that took me a long time to find, and it was worth it. The same can be said for nearly all the settings. You can grind down handrails, jump buses, hit the world's biggest half pipe in Mexico, and score some big air in a schoolyard. It will take you a long time to uncover all the secrets and stunts in each level, but there's an incentive to do so. Each track has a huge list of designated Transfers and Tricks that you have to hit in order to totally complete the game. The cryptic names of each can be viewed from the Option screen, so you can hit the park and score them all. This gives a huge amount of replay value, and is a hell of a lot of fun. Even more of a come-back factor is the groundbreaking Park Editor. Using 4 predefined themes, you can add ramps, bowls, ledges, rails, hills, walls, basically anything within the capabilities of the surprisingly impressive editor. Sadly, these can't be as big as the in-game parks, due to the memory situation, but it's a fabulous feature nonetheless, and you can make some devilish 2 player levels.
The game looks wonderful, as well. Far more detailedand polished than its Sony counterpart, the Dreamcast allows the visual aspect of the game to flourish. The animation is as fluid as a perfect 540, with all the skate tricks being recreated faithfully. The frame rate is pretty much constant as well, and the smoothness of the textures is more impressive than the Playstation could manage. Overall the conversion of amazingly well carried out; the fuzziness of the menu screens being my only complaint. The soundtrack features many punk, pop-punk and hiphop acts compared to the mostly one-genre offering of the previous game. Bad Religion, Rage Against the Machine and Powerman 5000 head the lineup of acts offering yet more authenticism to the skate experience. In between this and the ambient sounds of a New York street or a Marseille skatepark, it's a truly immersive experience... until your skater lands gonads-first onto a rail while he's admiring the lighting and detail.
Neversoft have bettered their best, with even more secrets, tricks, courses, options and skaters than before. While some simulations lose sight of fun in their quest to provide yet more realism and features, this cannot be said of THPS2. With a veritable plethora of secrets and hidden areas, and an easy-to-pick-up control system, it's hard to have anything but fun while playing this. The best skate sim ever, and one of the best sports or arcade titles ever on the Dreamcast. Essential, even for owners of the first game.