In the collective consciousness of skateboarding games, Tony Hawk has been the only one to hold the throne. There was never a rivalry, like with 2K Sports and EA Games. Challengers came and went, sure, but for the most part, they never got past their debut title. They were swallowed up by the giant wave that Mr. Hawk created.
Thrasher: Skate and Destroy was one of those games, but it was significantly different from Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. Not in a bad way, like Street Sk8r was, but it offered a fundamentally different experience. It was more realistic, down to earth, and had you running from the cops.
Thrasher: Skate and Destroy (PlayStation)
Developed by: Z-Axis
Released on: September 26th, 1999
Bargain Binned: $10 on eBay, 100 Goozex Points
Thrasher: Skate and Destroy is fairly simple. You pick the hooligan of your choice, and skate around the area in an attempt to garner points through you're various tricks. That's stock and standard across the field. In comparison with Tony Hawk, it's almost the same: a large, open environment within which you could play around with at your own pace.
Tony Hawk was successful at this for a few reasons: brand identity, easy-to-use controls, and a fairly simple learning curve. Thrasher had a lot to fight against, but what it fought with was damned good.
I specifically mentioned before that your character was a hooligan. A little twist in the gameplay is that once you've done you're skating, you need to run away from the cops. Once the clock hits about ten seconds, the sirens blare and the fat man rolls out of the car, ready to give chase. The camera will switch to the cop's perspective, and you need to keep yourself away, lest you end up screaming, "Don't taze me, bro!" It's a minor touch, but it was an extra level of challenge to see how well you knew the stage.
The killer problem for Thrasher: Skate and Destroy was the control scheme. Button layout was not ideal for the game, and the way jumping in the game worked was not intuitive. Tony Hawk's controls separated jumping and other tricks, but Thrasher had you jumping directly into a trick. It's a seemingly small difference, but it creates a barrier of entry that prevented it from converting over people from the Tony Hawk crowd.
That being said, though, the game had a really smooth feeling when it came to pulling off combos, provided you got past that control barrier. Things didn't turn into the button-mashing fury I've seen with many Tony Hawk players reduced to. Balancing felt natural, and as such, the fact that there were no meters or guages to tell you when you're getting off-balance didn't bother me at all.
A large part of this was because the game was paired with Thrasher magazine, which touted the game as "[setting] new standards of realism, excitement, and control as the first underground street skating game to arrive on the PlayStation." You can check out some of the original promotions for the game over on the website, which is still up.
The realism also came from the damage meter you had in the game. You couldn't bust your head open five thousand times and be alright in Thrasher. You especially wouldn't be alright if you jumped in front of the train in the subway stage. If you wanted to get a better score, you had to actually master the tricks, so that you wouldn't fall off, instead of just relying on pulling off three or four massive combos within the time limit to score big.
Just be warned: the graphics are a little dated, even for the time it came out, so the massive bloodsprays aren't going to be all that pretty. Thrasher is hard to play if you don't deal with aged games all that well. You can seek out the sequel to the game if you so desire, but I never got my hands on it, nor knew it existed, until I checked wiki.
If you're looking to pick up Thrasher at this point, there are some copies floating about on eBay in the $10 range, and it was recently put onto Europe's PSN network. So, steal a British man's account and download this game. Or, y'know, do things legally and buy a game on eBay.