Atari’s 720 — as in degrees, was the earliest installment here and the only one where a swarm of bees attacks players if they don’t choose an event to participate in (just like real life?) Available both as an arcade game (with a perplexing rolling ball control), and NES title, this title exposed players to several contest-themed events: Ramp, Downhill, Slalom, and one known simply as “Jump,” that required a targeted landing. All of them were really hard and the arguably most fun part of the game was the purgatory of “Skate City,” where again, bees would attack if one were to doddle here too long. Still, a “Game Over” helped popularize the phrase “Skate or Die!” and what 720 got wrong, others corrected. Also, the arcade cabinet incorporated a cool boombox design with actual working speakers, so that’s got to count for something.
4 Top Skater
Not all these charters were living room hits. During a lengthy drought of skateboarding titles, the actual sport became more technical. Sega’s Top Skater answered this real life development by placing arcade players atop a deck shaped control flanked on either side by a pair of stabilizing bars. More of a race against the clock with extra time awarded for tricks than anything else, this title deserves kudos for reviving an interest in the genre. Though others would come along to do it better, the fact that skaters everywhere lined up for a chance to bust huge gaps in the virtual realm earned Top Skater a rightful spot on this list.
3 Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2
This one only gets the bronze out of consideration for the NES runner up that made Neversoft’s Pro Skater even possible. Players flip and grind through various levels that each captured the different types of street skating while recreating actual skateboard spots, including two now defunct settings: Venice Beach and Skate Street Ventura (R.I.P.). One of the main improvements from the original was the introduction of manuals, allowing players to string together trick combinations for more fluid lines. Add in the ability to build one’s own skatepark and it becomes very clear why THPS2 makes the cut.
2 Skate or Die
Much respect for the old school title that started it all. Though not the first game to feature skateboarding, this property (also from Electronic Arts), was the most successful at incorporating the basic elements of the sport. Features like the Downhill Jam, Half-Pipe, and Pool Joust let players experience a rudimentary form of street skating, mix aerial control with smaller coping tricks, and addressed the dangerous subculture with weaponized pool battle (popularized in the 1986 film Thrashin’). Also: mohawks! With characters named Rodney Recloose, Bionic Lester, Poseur Pete, and Aggro Eddie, Skate or Die! managed more grungy humor than should be expected on an 8-bit creation.
After a whole lot of effin’ and jeffin’ Electronic Arts up and made the most accurate skateboarding experience to date. In the first of three installments, players can either freeskate the day away through the obstacle-rich paradise of San Vanelona, or follow a loosely structured story of the hero’s rise to sponsorship. The reason this title deserves the top spot is its contribution to control, with the joysticks acting as remarkable surrogates for a rear and front foot. Additionally, tricks landed slightly off-balance make the rider sway accordingly, adding the realism of sloppy and clean performances. With the soundtrack featuring a slew of awesome punk classics and respectable underground jammers, SKATE offers the total package to let skaters live out their every concrete fantasy.
There’s a fair amount of other titles out there that were either too repetitive or simply unimpressive to be included. This group represents the best of the best, in the perfect order. Anyone who says otherwise is clearly a poser, but go ahead and try your own list — just don’t be surprised when it ends in road rash.