Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2. Or, as I like to call it, Tony Hawk's Pro Fever Dream.
Think about it. As a real-life pro skater, you might spend three hours out of every day practicing. Three hours trying new tricks, screwing up and the ground abruptly slipping out from under you. Imagine living your life in that fog of frustration, embarrassment, adrenaline and pride. Now let's imagine you got really sick, swallowed, like, nine Paracetamols and passed out in bed.
THPS2 is what you'd dream.
You're fastened to your skateboard. There can be no leaving the skateboard. Do not leave the skateboard. You are alone in an empty school, skate park, or maybe someplace more surreal - an airport hangar or Spanish bull-fighting arena that's full of rails and half-pipes for some reason. There isn't a soul to be seen, yet when you pull off a trick you can still hear the roaring of the crowd. Where could they be? Maybe Tony Hawk knows.
There are objectives, of course. Not that anybody tells you them. It is simply very important that you crash through barrels, collect floating letters, do tricks, score points, jump this gap, grind that rail, wallride the bells, drain the fountain, collect the secret tape. You want to be a pro skater? Then you must ollie over the magical bum, five times.
"Of course," you say, no longer sure if you're controlling the skater or the skateboard itself, which would make the human on your back some unknowable, silent burden who (if the dream scientists are to be believed) probably represents your mother.
But there is more dream logic to THPS2 than its cavernous levels and strange objectives. At odds with the bland, real-looking world, the way the game controls and your skater's velocity are exaggerated. It's more like what a pre-teen skateboarder thinks is possible if they just believe.
It starts off slow, with reality maintaining a half-hearted grip on you. Your ollies are little things, and your grinds and wall-rides end quickly. But every half hour that you invest furthers your Karate Kid-like mastery of the controls, and all those points and dollars that won't stop tumbling in are hoisting up your skater's stats.
In a twisted interpretation of the fact that the best part of real-life skating is learning to do something you couldn't before, THPS2 ends up pushing you so high it's ridiculous. By the end of career mode you're capable of getting 25 feet of air off the tiniest quarter pipe, and stringing six or seven different tricks together before landing. You're not skating, you're soaring, and the few objectives in your list that seemed laughable at first are suddenly within reach of you and your magnificent talents.
Not only does THPS2 let non-skaters skate, it lets skaters and non-skaters alike push against the envelope of what's possible in reality. If real-life skateboarding can be compared to a hopeless battle against friction and gravity, THPS2 uses the fact that it's a videogame to actually let you win.
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