It’s tough to overstate what a big deal Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was when it first hit consoles in 1999.
“This was the game that, for so many reasons, changed skateboarding. It really brought it back to the forefront of the conversation again,” says Corey Bracken, founder of the local board brand Pilllar and its corresponding Northeast coffee shop. As a student at Augsburg College, “I remember sitting in my dorm room, with all my roommates, and it was on from pretty much 7 a.m. ‘til midnight. I lived with eight other guys—someone was always playing it, at all hours of the day.”
The game was a huge hit, one of the most popular and best-selling franchises of its time, leading to annual sequels available across nearly every gaming platform. And about a year ago, a remastered version of the first two games in the franchise, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2, did the same thing for a new generation of gamers and skateboarders.
But while both the 1999 and 2021 Tony Hawk releases, along with several other games in the series, have been met with critical acclaim and tremendous sales, folks in the Twin Cities have a specific bone to pick with Mr. Hawk: The “Downtown Minneapolis” level. Why does it look nothing at all like downtown Minneapolis?
“When I saw there was a Minneapolis level I was like, ‘Yes! This is so sick!’” Bracken says. “And then I played the level, and I was like… what Minneapolis is this?”
It’s summed up succinctly in a recent tweet from the Tiktok-famous, Fred Durst-endorsed local indie-pop band Durry:
In Tony Hawk, “Downtown Minneapolis” is a night-time wasteland of abandoned rooftops and speeding yellow taxis (which, Durry’s Austin Durry notes, Minneapolis doesn’t have). The ground is slick with rain; cranes arch over the skyline (which, Bracken notes, doesn’t resemble the Minneapolis skyline at all). One central feature is a big fountain, unlike any fountain you’ll see downtown, and the streets are much narrower than the city’s wide boulevards.
Now, sure, the game did originally come out in the 1990s—we could do a lot less, video-game-graphically, at that time. But Trevor Anderson, a local skateboarder who was also an architect with the city of Minneapolis from 2012-2016, notes that other levels—like “Burnside,” which faithfully recreates Burnside Skatepark in Portland—are pretty damn close to the real thing. “That one, they clearly did their homework,” he says. “I’ve been to the real Burnside, and it’s very accurate.”
Getting more granular still, Bill Lindeke, who moderated a Twitch livestream play-through of Tony Hawk for Streets MN last year, adds that some of the street lamps are wrong, along with the look of the stoplights. “It’s like how most of the ‘city’ scenes in Purple Rain were actually shot in L.A., and you can tell when you watch the film by just looking at the street signs,” he says.
The one feature that is specific to Minneapolis are the skyways, which you smash through as part of the career challenge. “But it’s not like, ‘Oh that’s the skyway that crosses Hennepin,’” Bracken says.
And some other stuff might not be correct, per se, but still feels spiritually accurate. Minneapolis may not have yellow cabs, for example, but Lindeke notes that “the game recreates the feeling of drivers careening towards you on Sixth Street or Fourth Street with pitch-perfect accuracy. The threat of (and actual) carnage is well done.” There are also a lot of parking ramps, which downtown has in abundance, and the rendering of City Hall is dead on.
In a more accurate, more Minneapolis-y version of the game, Durry says he’d like to see more local landmarks: “Honestly the whole sculpture garden is begging for it.” (Locally, Familia Skate Shop actually hosts an annual event with a skate-able Spoonbridge & Cherry.) “Grinding the Stone Arch Bridge? Wall ride the stars on First Ave? So many options.”
Bracken would have liked it if the game leaned into the skyway system, beyond just having players smash through it, and says that there are a ton of popular bank to ledges and handrails over at the U of M.
“I would definitely include Peavey Plaza, because I’m a huge fan of that plaza,” Anderson adds.
And both Bracken and Anderson think the game got the season wrong—if you know about the skyway system, surely you know about our cruel winters! Wouldn’t it have been fun to put skaters on just-plowed streets, or see them ollying over dirty snow at the start of the spring season, as you sometimes do in skate videos?
“If it were up to me, I would do Minneapolis in like, April, where it’s skate-able, but there’s still going to be snow, and you’ve just gotta work with that,” Anderson says. “Our season here is so short.”
Ultimately, “I think we have a beautiful city full of video-game-skateboard-able landmarks,” Durry says, “and it’s a shame they missed the opportunity,”