“I rip rock and gravel when I time travel, my rhyme busts shots with the beats that I battle.” The opening lyrics of my childhood. I can still hear the jazzy beats blasting through my old Sony Trinitron as I tore through the same few parks over and over again in the early masterpiece that is Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. The number of hours spent doing the same tricks and listening to the same music, and the familiar grunts of absolutely wrecking my shit when I messed up a stunt is times I genuinely cherish. They’re memories that I could begin talking about and probably evoke the same goosebumps and nostalgia trips in anyone that hears me. And unfortunately, they haven’t been the same since. Considering the mainstay power that the Tony Hawk name had in the early days of the PS1/N64 era and how it continued to hold resonance into the following generation, it makes one question. What the hell happened?! It’s honestly baffling to be able to look at the past ten years and only recall one skateboard game that was worth a damn. Skate 3 was arguably the last worthwhile game focused on the pastime, and that game came out in 2010. Skate 3 had actual color, vibrancy, and personality to its world. Not only that, it was one of the last sports games to have a decent set list of licensed music and great sound design. And the engine of the game felt fun, free and crazy. The ragdoll physics were some of the best I had seen in any game of the past few years. Fast forward to the year 2015, when the big comeback was supposed to happen. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 was fast approaching, and I couldn’t have been more excited. I remember picking that game up day one and jumping in as soon as I got home from work. I recall playing it for a solid hour, and I can tell you that with each passing minute my weak smile curled into a disgusted grimace. Initially, as I was thinking about writing this, I wondered if it would just lead into a blind nostalgia pandering thought piece about how nothing could be as good as when I was a kid and didn’t know any better. But I can recall in recent memory firing up Pro Skater 2 on a PSONE in my shop and being able to launch back into it with perfect precision. Being able to pull off all the tricks I had spent ages memorizing and marveling at how the game still felt good to play. It aged graphically, but it didn’t particularly age in its control or its feel. It was arcadey, it was still fun, the satisfaction of the trick still evoked emotion, and the impact of mistakes still made me laugh. It was still a game first and had everything else topped onto it like seasonings in a sauce. Tony Hawk 5 on the other hand, threw some salt and pepper into a pot and then remembered sauce was supposed to go in there and flopped it in at the last minute. It had lost its purpose and forgotten what it was meant to be. The franchise wasn’t about Tony Hawk, or branding, or any petty BS that Activision slapped onto every nook and cranny of the product. I wasn’t playing Tony Hawk or Matt Hoffman or Amped or any freaking sports game because I wanted to emulate them and feel like I was doing it myself. I played those games because the game made it fun to play that way! The franchise began losing its audience the more gimmicky and real it tried to be. Remember the RIDE boards on Wii/360/PS3? Remember the engines getting so focused on realism and graphics? Can you recall when you began looking at the presentations for these games and turning your head when they came on because you couldn’t bring yourself to care, even though you used to? Do you think they ever stopped to look and see if they were still building a game or a large marketing commercial? Herein lies the problem. Skateboard games, snowboarding games, BMX, all the “extreme sports,” games can be chalked up as products of the culture that was the 90’s. But at their core, they were still video games. They balanced realism of the time with entertaining physics and engaging gameplay. Look at Tony Hawk 5 or hell, even some of the sports games that EA endlessly pumps out today. Do you see a game or cynical marketing cash-grab with a brand smacked onto it? These extreme sports games aren’t missing the mark because they lost their way. They’re just genuinely not even trying anymore. Activision didn’t even care to release Tony Hawk in a playable state, and EA has been money grubbing for the past decade now. There’s no soul to these games, no care put into them anymore. At least Ubisoft is trying to make something happen with Steep and seems to be struggling but finding an okay balance of gameplay with online synergy. But these games just continue to lack balance as companies try to force them out to bank on your nostalgia. If it’s not broken gameplay, it’s a lack of attention to sound design or crafting memorable music. While all the attention to realism is there, there’s a lack of arcade-like entertainment or color that makes it feel like a game again. These practices had all but killed the extreme sports genre in recent memory. And in a lot of ways, it’s beginning to bleed over into other genres as well. It isn’t about nostalgia, but companies that are trying to pander to our nostalgia. This focus on bringing games as close to real life as possible is indeed aggravating as if the people making the product can’t tell if it’s product or a game anymore. This incessant need to sell us cosmetic DLC that none of us want in place of crafting a worthwhile experience. The saddest part is that the last fun skateboarding game I played in recent memory was Olli-Olli, an indie game I played on 3DS and Vita. And that's a 2D indie skateboarding game. The selling point? It's a good feeling, fun to play skateboarding game. The colors are simplistic, the music is subtle but fits the aesthetic and the tricks are satisfying to execute. It's the closest we've been to a return to form, and it's a retro looking indie title. Rumors have been floating around about Skate 4 for years now, and I can’t bring myself to be excited anymore after seeing what these companies think we care about. It could be the polar opposite and be what sends us back in the right direction, or it can be just another game lost to the plague of marketing gluttony. It’s not impossible to fix these issues. They can get these game’s right again. If they just try to remember that they’re games in the first place.