Skateboarding games have a certain pedigree to live up to. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater has cemented itself as a staple in this genre, pumping out game after game to set the benchmark.. EA also has its name in the hat with its Skate games; I know we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief knowing that they’re actually making Skate 4. However, there now seems to be a new kid on the block, Glass Bottom Games’ new title, SkateBIRD. Will it be the new benchmark for skateboarding games? Or will it fly itself into a closed window, crumpling onto the floor in a shower of feathers?
You play as a bird (or should I say birb, as the game repeatedly calls you) of your choice and you have to work together with your other feathery companions to find out why Big Friend, your human owner, has gone and left you. It’s a pretty simple story and didn’t hold me for too long. But let’s be honest, the majority of skateboarding games aren’t exactly built around hours of dialogue, in-depth story and extensive twists and turns.
You get to fully customise your character (birb), able to pick from a genuinely surprising amount of bird breeds to play as. There’s a Downy Woodpecker, a Kookaburra, a Raven; the list goes on. You can also dress your birb in headwear, backpacks and shades. I’ll be honest and admit that I spent a little longer on this than I care to mention. After a large amount of fun deciding who to be and what to wear, I couldn’t wait to get my claws on a board and get skating. Sadly, that’s where a lot of the fun stopped.
No matter how long I played as a birb, I still found it difficult to understand the physics of SkateBIRD. Playing as a bird/birb is different to that of a human. You’re a lot lighter for one, but you also don’t push off the floor with your foot and you slightly glide/float. This makes navigating each area, frankly, beyond frustrating. You see, in SkateBIRD you can’t seem to move slowly, instead left to blast full kilt in any direction. If you have a mission where some kind of finesse is involved, I wish you good luck. Things can be adjusted slightly in the menu system, but I don’t understand why the game should even have this setting; just slow the damn bird down. I found I was having to reset again and again as I wildly flapped my tiny wings, not able to get over a ramp or not able to reach an area as my board kept getting stuck on the terrain, for reasons beyond me.
The tricks are also pretty simple. You can perform a small variety of flip tricks such as kickflips and impossibles, you can grind, stall and also grab your board, but because you don’t have arms you grab it with your beak, sadly limiting the amount of grabs at your disposal. This minimal array of tricks gets old pretty fast and within 30 minutes I felt like all the variety had been seen. Everything from then on feels the same in SkateBIRD.
The camera is also insanely jerky and the odd angles it delivers can be incredibly frustrating. When you bring yourself to a standstill, by holding down on the left thumb stick, the camera jolts 180 degrees. Every. Time. This means it throws you off your placement where you are on the map, immediately needing to reverse itself to continue going forwards. This became increasingly tiresome and I avidly went out of my way to try and never come to a complete standstill. Obviously that makes the whole speed/finesse aspect of the game even more annoying.
The missions themselves are reminiscent of early Tony Hawk games; collect a certain number of items, find this/that, hit combos, do tricks and the like. It is definitely able to inject some great feelings of nostalgia, reminding me how many hours I’ve sunk into those iconic skateboarding games. This is however both a blessing and a curse. It made me remember how many insanely creative and fun challenges there have been in other skating games I’d played before. SkateBIRD, however, is not like those. In fact, some of the challenges forced me to genuinely rage quit, take a little breather and come back with a clear head; not because they are particularly hard, but that the terrible control system and off kilter physics make some of them so difficult to actually pull off.
These challenges are given to you by other *sigh* birbs around the map. However, as the birds are so damn small they are really hard to find! In other games of this genre there are arrows/markers pointing out objectives, but SkateBIRD fails to bring anything that clear. I was left to Google how to find some of the other birbs, and came across comments from many who had the same issue. It turns out that when you pause the game and you see a screenshot of the map you’re currently playing there is a small, very small, yellow dot on the map. That is where the birb giving you your next challenge is. This really does need to be fixed and made more obvious in an update.
Further, the visuals of SkateBIRD seem to be far from the level you’d come to expect of something releasing in 2021. Colours are vibrant but it’s a jolty and blocky experience, one that comes with an incredible amount of texture pop-in and bland surroundings. It won’t have me singing its praises.
There are some good things though, and the level designs are pretty fun. You are smol (let’s get in the spirit of things) and find yourself grinding pencils and keyboards, riding up soiled pizza boxes and folded up “Thrusher” magazines as quarter pipes. It’s things like this which are appreciated. It is one of the clear positives of SkateBIRD in fact, especially for someone familiar with old tech decks and the chance to relive those imaginary skateparks.
There are five levels to choose from in total too, so this definitely manages to keep the variety up. The music is also a pretty fun touch; a mix of chilled jazzy vibes as well as some ska, often overlaid with soundbites of old nature shows celebrating different birds.
SkateBIRD is a great gimmick. It is super fun to create a bird (I’m not calling it a birb anymore) and the level design is definitely fresh. However, with its increasingly frustrating physics, repetitive challenges and bland graphics, it’s ultimately a poor copy of other better skateboarding games.
Wing your way to the Xbox Store to pick up SkateBIRD