The “real” Tony hawk is finally here
Developer: Glass Bottom Games
Publisher: Glass Bottom Games
Release date: 16 Sep, 2021
With a name like SkateBIRD this game clearly advertises what it’s about from the name alone. It’s a game about birds skateboarding and it’s full of bird puns. Lots and lots of bird puns. It’s a game that got funded through kickstarter back in 2019 where it got a respectable $67 000 and now it’s finally time for its full release.
Games about skateboarding has not exactly been doing so well in recent years. The most recent Tony Hawks game was a disaster, and the only real life we’ve seen from the genre is a recent announcement from EA that they’re working on another game in the Skate series. And it’s in this rather cold market that SkateBIRD hopes to leave a mark.
Story & Setting
You’re a bird on a skateboard. That’s the premise of the whole game. As a bird on a skateboard your goal is to help “Big friend” be happy. Your Big Friend is a person stuck with a terrible job, living in a small apartment and who’s not taking proper care of himself and the space he lives in, leaving pizza cartons and other junk around. Big Friend is probably depressed. But you can’t help Big Friend alone. Along the way you recruit a bunch of other birds who will be helping you get to Big Friend, many of which have their own ideas of how to best help.
SkateBIRD is not a game that puts a heavy emphasis on story. There is a storyline that progresses over the course of the game, but most of it is just there to give you an excuse to skate in different places. The writing though is overall pretty entertaining and each bird you meet along the way have their own distinct, often cartoonish, personality. Just be prepared of bird puns, both in the dialogue itself and in the names of different characters.
SkateBIRD is an indie game that did not have a huge budget, and that shows in some of the graphics. Character models are pretty simple, and the textures can also look blurry up close. Also there are no advanced feather graphics, so the birds just have flat textures on top of them. As for the lighting, it’s pretty simple and the light does not seem to be dynamic. Also, there’s for some reason an aggressive depth of field effect that can make distant objects tough to spot.
That said, SkateBIRD is not a terrible looking game, it just does not look like it’s a game that came out of a big studio. The birds, while they have simple character models, are all really cute and consistent. The environments are also, for the most part, pretty fun looking. They’re mostly made out of real world objects that, to a tiny bird, seem really big. Plastic straws, wine bottles, pizza cartons and so on litter the place, though in a way that would not make a lot of sense. Why for an example are their skate ramps on an office table, and why is there a convenient ramp up onto a bed made out of pizza cartons?
What kind of music would a game about skateboarding birds have? If you guessed weird low-fi music with voice clips that sound like they’re taken from nature documentaries, then you’ve probably heard some of the games music before its release. But that’s not the only music in SkateBIRD, and the game has a truly eclectic soundtrack. There’s of course the low-fi nature documentary music, but then there’s some surprisingly angry-sounding skate or ska-punk (I think, I’m not particularly good at music genres), some classical rock and a few other things mixed in for good measure. It all adds up to one of the weirdest soundtracks out there, at least if you ignore games that just throw in weird songs for the sake of it.
Your own bird is by the way highly customizable. You can select species as well as what they’ll be wearing, like hats, glasses and scarves. There’s an almost ridiculous number of different species to pick from with parrots, hawks, budgies and owls being just some of the types of birds you have available. Some have varying body shapes, while others are just simple re-skins.
Being a skateboarding bird is not easy. You need to learn to do all kinds of tricks, like ollies, manuals, blunts and a bunch of other things that have names that will mean absolutely nothing to someone who don’t know much about skateboarding. Luckily the game comes with a pretty good in-game manual that describes the different tricks and how you perform them, so even if you’re someone who don’t know anything about skateboarding tricks it’s not too hard to figure things out. There’s also a manageable number of tricks in the game, so you don’t need to memorize a couple of dozen different names.
During the games campaign you’ll have to use these tricks to perform a number of missions for different birds, who want to help you help Big Friend. The nature of the missions varies, some simply require you to go to specific places or pick up certain objects (which is pretty much the same thing in terms of gameplay), others require you to do specific tricks, sometimes at certain locations, and then there are those where you just need to gather points.
The game is made up of a series of distinct levels set in different place, starting with the bedroom of Big Friend, and then moving to the building he’s working in. Each one has its own set of challenges, and you need to traverse them in different ways. Getting around on the rooftops for an example involves a lot of grinding on electrical wires, while the bedroom has plenty of ramps you can go up on. Certain tricks are used to navigate the environments, most notably grinding and ollies, while others are just there to give you points. All the levels are also littered with skateboarding ramps of different sizes. Here you can rack up points by chaining together different tricks. There’s a lot of verticality to the levels, with many of them having multiple “floors” (or what a small bird might consider to be multiple floors, like under and on top of a bed)
When you try to gain points you need to do different tricks. Chaining together tricks will earn you a combo-multiplier which in turn means even more points for you. Though if you ever both a trick and fall off your skateboard during a combo you’ll earn no points at all from the entire combo. Different tricks also earn different amounts of points, depending on their difficulty. Spinning 180° when going up a ramp earns you less than spinning 540°. Some tricks like grinding on rails or doing a “blunt” (holding still while at the top of a ramp) are also sustained and the longer you can maintain your balance, the more points you’ll earn. And as you’re a bird, screaming also counts as a trick, so make sure to do plenty of that.
The mission system works pretty well as a way to guide you through the levels and do different things, though the difficulty curve is not the smoothest. While later levels generally speaking have tougher missions than earlier ones, there are a few instances where it feels like the difficulty spikes. Also, finding the birds that gives you the missions is made harder than it should be thanks to the aggressive DoF effect that can’t be turned off. There are also places in some levels where you can get stuck. There’s a button that resets your position, and you can set where you’ll respawn when you hit it when you’re not in a mission, but it’s still annoying to get stuck.
I don’t know if I’m really the best person to rate a skateboarding game, last one I played for more than an hour was Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 on the PS1, but I quite enjoyed SkateBIRD. The game does a good job at easing you into the mechanics and it does not feel like you need to know much about skateboarding to be able to play this one. There’s some skateboarding jargon that gets thrown at you, but it’s explained in the manual, which you can access from the pause menu.
If you have a hankering for a skateboarding game, or just like cute birds and bird puns, then SkateBIRD is worth checking out. The game might lack the depth and longevity of the best Tony Hawk games, but it’s still a solid game in its own right, and who would not want to befriend some (punk) rock pigeons by doing ollies?