Skateboarding games have been around since the late 80’s, arguably coming to the height of their popularity with the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series in the early 2000’s. Even if you weren’t that interested in skateboarding, chances are you would have played at least one of the many games featuring the Birdman on its cover.
Since then, interest in this particular genre of games may have waned but we have seen a resurgence in their popularity with games like Skater XL and the upcoming Kickstarter funded Session. We’ve even had a remake of the original smash hits in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2. Somewhere in between came the announcement of a truly novel and unique indie title – SkateBIRD.
Developed and published by Glass Bottom Games, SkateBIRD is a novel and unique title about tiny birds with a love for skating that is available on Steam, Switch and Xbox, including GamePass, for your regional pricing.
Story – Cheep And Cheerful
What we have here is a fairly simple setup. The tiny bird skater is the pet of a human known only as “Big Friend”, who no longer skates very much after getting a job that he hates.
The gist of the story is essentially that these tiny birds are trying to help their human friend get his life together, starting with cleaning up his room for him. The first few missions include making a bed and collecting take away cups.
You find these missions by skating around and talking to various birds scattered around the map. For the most part, they tend to move on or disappear once you have completed their mission; however, I did find that sometimes they did not.
The result of this, without a quest log or markers, meant I would have to skate up and down looking for the next mission to progress in the story which is at times an exercise in frustration.
In the end, SkateBIRD was never meant to be a massively story oriented game. For this reason, one cannot fault the game much at all for having a mostly simple and forgettable story.
Gameplay – Worth A Gander
Like many games, you start out with character customization. There is a pleasing variety of options here, from different species of birds, accessories and especially hats. There are some interesting options, like a leaf or bell hat to make your bird truly unique and special.
After creating your character, you can dive right into the game. There are a few tutorial quests to do that give you the basic controls, as well as some others like creating your own reset point, which is a useful feature.
If you’ve played any of the THPS games, SkateBIRD will immediately feel familiar to you. The control scheme is almost entirely pulled from those games – you have a dedicated ollie button with the rest of the face buttons assigned to flip, grab and lip/grind tricks.
As you do tricks, your FANCY gauge will fill. This will allow you to go faster, get bigger airs and do even more tricks. This functions more or less like the SPECIAL meter in Tony Hawk’s.
A Sparrow’s Part
Unlike Tony Hawk’s, however, you can use one of the shoulder buttons to squawk, or “screm” if you would prefer the in-game meme speak. Not only is this adorable, but it also counts as a trick which can help you rack up points in your combos.
At times, the controls aren’t quite as precise or responsive as one might like them to be, but on the other hand they do seem to be more forgiving in that you may or may not instantly bail when you miss a trick or grind.
To elaborate on this, the controls feel somewhat floaty. You could chalk this down to the fact that you are a diminutive featherball perched on what amounts to a Tech Deck, but your mileage may vary depending on how much you are willing to suspend your disbelief.
The camera can be downright janky. Skating past and through obstacles can cause it to stutter uncontrollably, although thankfully this usually only lasts for a few seconds. Other than that, it’s serviceable enough and doesn’t get in the way too much, behaving for the most part as you would expect.
Between the occasionally finicky camera and the floaty controls, it was sometimes frustrating trying to do some of the missions that involved collecting a bunch of items. Everything would be going well, and I would be on that very last item but either the camera or a bad collision would betray me, resulting in my poor little bird tumbling off a ledge.
The devs have committed to reworking the camera from the ground up; however, this may take a while. A better camera will be a vast improvement to the game, but it must be said that while there is room for improvement, SkateBIRD is hardly unplayable. In fact, if you can look past the few fixable trifles, for what it is we have a solid and enjoyable title.
Beyond that, skating around and doing tricks, grinds and transfers were as pleasing as it could be. In terms of the gameplay, SkateBIRD has achieved what it set out to do – be a cute and accessible skating game unlike any other.
When it comes to the level design, some of the levels are more interesting than others. There is a lot of room for creativity here in creating miniscule skateparks, and while some levels feel inspired, others seem to fall a bit flat.
Graphics and Audio – You’re In For A Tweet
The animation deserves special mention. As you pop, grind and carve your way through levels, your birb will flutter and move smoothly as you go. It’s especially cute how your character and the NPCs bop to the music.
The environments and obstacles are similarly quite pleasing to the eye; however, there is a blur filter of sorts that can give the visuals a slightly muddy feel. This can be annoying and may even give you a slight headache when looking at objects in the distance, but fortunately the developer has their finger on the pulse and has plans to provide an option to disable this.
When it comes to the audio, SkateBIRD features a pleasing collection of lo-fi beats featuring samples from a variety of bird-related documentaries. The soundtrack compliments the gameplay, encouraging a chilled skating session.
There are some more upbeat numbers, too, but they all have a happy vibe to them which may or may not help you keep your cool when you run into some camera or collision-related frustrations.
Overall, SkateBIRD looks good and sounds even better.
SkateBIRD was reviewed on Nintendo Switch. The review key was provided by Stride PR.