Thrasher: Skate & Destroy (1999)

Thrasher: Skate & Destroy came out just a bit after Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, and I was in full blown Skateboarding fandom. I couldn’t get enough of skating and even though I was horrible at it in real life, I was able to fulfill my fantasies in video game form. Thrasher took a much different approach to the skateboarding genre that was starting to become popular, which was both it’s blessing but also lead to its downfall.

Thrasher has much smaller levels that you are confined in, and the reason for that is because the main movement is so much more methodical and slower. Instead of instantly jetting off like a rocket and leaping a dozen feet into the air to perform a few tricks in a row. The skaters feel sluggish, and building up speed takes time. Each move has to be thought out and pre-loaded in a sense too, which makes skating runs rack up a couple hundred points, instead of thousands.

Grinding also becomes a much more tactical process, as you must line up perfectly, have a good amount of speed already built up upon approach, and be able to jump high enough to land on the surface well. If all those factors line up, you will be able to do a grind, but your speed will instantly decrease very rapidly. Tricking out of the grind is possible, but also requires you to have balance, the right landing angle, and also height enough to be able to land well.

One of the cooler differences of Thrasher, over Tony Hawk is that when you load into the level, you are able to skate around in a practice session before you commit to starting a timed run. This allows you to explore the level at your own timing. Practicing also lets you find out the best layout of a certain run and also just mess around. The second level is in a subway with a train running through it. I remember countless weekends with my friend Brendan staying up all hours of the night laughing hysterically as we just had our skater get absolutely demolished and murdered by the train. The Ragdoll Physics also played a huge role in this, as this was one of the first times I remember seeing ragdolling in video games.

Once the Select button is pressed, the level officially starts, and you have 2 minutes to rack up as many points as possible. Each level requires you to not only build up the proper amount of points, but also make it to the exit area of the level as well. This wouldn’t be that hard, but two main issues can crop up. First, there is a life gauge, and bailing out of tricks or falling and hurting yourself will deplete your life meter. The bigger the bail, the more damage is dealt. If you deplete the life meter all the way, you have to retry, no matter how big the score.

The second main issue in a level is that, once the timer hits zero, if you haven’t built up the score needed to beat the level, and haven’t gotten to the exit, instead of just ending the level, a cop shows up. The camera then turns into a first person view, from the cops perspective, as he chases you down and tries to taser you. While trying to escape, you can still skate around the level and perform tricks, which will earn you more points, if it is done from the cop. If you know the layout of the level well enough, you can outrun him or get him trapped. But the safest bet, is to be very close to the level exit and be able to control your character well enough from a 3rd person camera view.

There are also a few competition levels, that don’t have any cops or exit areas. But they do require you to hit a certain score to pass. But the caveat on these types of levels are that if you fall during the run, you will lose points. So there is more of a pressure for your skater to make zero mistakes and every single trick to be completed flawlessly. I remember having a much harder time with these levels when I was younger. It might have been the fact that I was so reckless, so I would rack up thousands of points, but also lose thousands at the same time due to the penalties.

The soundtrack to this game can not be overlooked as well. Instead of your usual Ska and Punk/Rock artists with the Pro Skater games, Thrasher took to the darker tone, with a focus on Rap and R&B. Bands like Run DMC, A Tribe Called Quest and even The Sugarhill Gang are plastered over this game, and imprinted in my memory forever. Even if I haven’t heard of some of the songs in years, I was able to sing along with the songs as I played the game. Even being able to recall the exact moment or feeling with just a few lines of a verse being sung. Although I do gravitate more towards the Rock/Ska side of the Skating music, I have a fondness for this soundtrack.

Thrasher offers a much different experience than that of the Tony Hawk series of skating games. But it’s still a really enjoyable game and something so bizarre, and requires you to retrain your brain just to be able to complete the first level. It’s so distinct, and unique that you have to just try it out, and set some time aside to learn the controls, like the Skate games, that you will enjoy and even appreciate the difference and dedication to make something so offbeat.