Sometimes, you feel like a game is made because the creators had a story to tell, sometimes it feels more like they had a product they wanted to sell, rarely it feels like it was all over a bloody meme. And so it would seem with SkateBIRD, a game about birds skating that has a title that also sounds a little bit like the word Skateboard. Combined with the already meme status that birds seem to enjoy by themselves, and your welcoming in waves upon waves of absolute hilarity. Does this level of meme translate into a quality game on the other hand? Kind of.
SkateBIRD comes to us from Glass Bottom Games, the indie developer behind 3D side-scrolling detective sim Hot Tin Roof, and punching simulator Spartan Fist. SkateBIRD is a bit of a departure for the team, being the first skating, or indeed sports game, they’ve ever produced. Unless punching a lot of people so hard they explode counts as a sport.
In SkateBIRD, you control your own custom-made Avian extreme sports enthusiasts. One day you notice that your ‘big friend’ hasn’t been feeling so great lately, so you and the other birds decide to use your skateboarding prowess to try and make them feel better. There’s no real explanation as to why exactly it is that you and the other birds can skate, but this isn’t the sort of game where the answer is likely to matter.
In terms of gameplay, SkateBIRD has controls that are suspiciously similar to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. All of the face buttons are all the same for a start, and you spine transfer in a pretty similar way too. The only key difference in terms of actual buttons is that you hold a face button to manual, rather than tapping a combination of the direction buttons. So all in all, if you’ve played a Pro Skater game at all in your life, this will feel pretty familiar.
The similarity doesn’t end there either. Just like a Tony Hawk game, this game is split up into different levels, each with a set number of challenges you have to complete before you can move onto the next area, as well as collectibles and optional challenges. You can also create your own skater, with unlockable costumes also scattered around the various stages, though obviously here you choose from different breeds of bird, rather than different kinds of skater kid.
Enough about what makes SkateBIRD like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, what makes it distinct? Well, mostly that’s about the way the controls actually feel, as well as the psychics. Obviously, this is an indie game with a much smaller team behind it than one of those games with a celebrity attached, so the physics and control lack a certain level of polish that made Pro Skater smoother and easier to get hang of.
Consequently, it takes a fair bit of getting used to if you really want to do well in SkateBIRD. It’s really easy to accidentally upend your bird, ruining your score multiplier as well as your momentum. It’s also a fair bit harder to get your bird to go through some of the tighter gaps at times. For instance, whenever you’re called on to get up a ramp, chances are that you’re either going off the end at least once, at certain points climbing these inclines is timed, which means the game can get a bit frustrating.
There’s an overall problem with the time limits here. Some of them feel fine, giving you plenty of time to get things done, but more often than not you’re given very strict time limits to accomplish your various goals. Compounding the issue with tight time limits is the problem of unclear goals. Your actual mission isn’t always explained to you terribly well, and you can be left banging your head against a wall trying to accomplish them within your strict time limits.
There were even several times where I completed objectives without knowing what I was doing, such as in the second level when you’re asked to bounce between the different rooftops using the strategically placed vents. I bounced between the rooves for ages, having to restart the mission over and over again, each time being forced to rewatch that same opening section before I could start. In the end, I don’t even know what changed to make it work, but I can say that I’m glad to see the back of that particular mission.
If it sounds like I’m dumping on SkateBIRD I want to make it clear that it is still a good game. Once you’re used to the slightly weird controls, you can successfully pull off some pretty amazing combos. While most of the time limits are tight, they mostly just add a nice feeling of challenge to the missions, at least those missions that are clear on your goal. Combined with the soundtrack and the new unlockables for your bird and skateboard, it’s a lot of fun to just skate around and pull off tricks.
There’s also an interesting take on the speed system. Some of the missions require you to get quite high on vert ramps, to grab a collectible or a letter or something. Instead of having to build up speed by going up and down ramps, your actual top speed is decided by your overall score modifier. As you get a higher score and a bigger modifier, you go faster and faster. It’s a pretty interesting take on the system that does help to give SkateBIRD a more unique identity, and it works well for getting a quick boost of speed just before hitting a ramp by adding a manual into the mix or hopping and quickly pulling off a flip trick.
Another point in favor of the game is the visuals and music. There’s a decent mix of basement grunge, upbeat ska, and various other genres that make 90s skaters feel right at home. Plus, you can not only unlock more tracks by picking up audio cassettes (remember those kids?) scattered around the level, but you can create your own mixtape in the pause menu if you grow really attached to certain tracks. Visually, SkateBIRD might not be up there with the best-looking games of all time, but it has a consistent visual design, and the visuals are nice and bright. It sort of puts you in mind of an upscaled PS1 game, especially with the ‘small thing in a large world’ aesthetic, might as well be playing Toy Story 2: Skateboarding. Before you google it, no that’s not a real game.
Overall, SkateBIRD mostly does what it sets out to do. It’s a meme-y skateboarding game with bright graphics and the ability to dress up your little budgie in a beanie for a giggle. It’s certainly playable enough if you can get used to the strange physics, and there’s enjoyment to be had here. Having said that, the combination of some slightly wobbly controls, tight time limits, and unclear objectives does make it unnecessarily stressful at times, especially considering how chilled-out the game seems the rest of the time. While there’s certainly a lot of fun hidden away in here, no one could blame you for giving up 2 hours in because the controls make getting through certain missions more hassle than they’re worth.
TechRaptor reviewed SkateBIRD on Nintendo Switch with a code provided by the developer. The game is also available on PC and Xbox One.
- The Bird Characters are Fun
- Simple and Fun Gameplay When You Get Used to it
- Great Music and Bright Visuals
- Frustrating Vague Goals and Tough Time Limits
- Psychics Are a Bit Weird and Broken in Places
- Controls Can be Overly Fiddly for Certain Objectives