SkateBIRD

12 November, 2021 - 12:00 pm by Reviewed on:

In the late nineties Tony Hawk set the standard with skateboarding video games, creating a series of successful, well thought out titles that encompassed everything. From how the game played, to the look of the baggy trousers and chain, and even the punk-rock soundtrack, all of it was carefully created to give a snapshot of ‘skate culture’. Nearly three decades on and developers Glass Bottom Games & Plastic Fern Studios have created their homage to the Bird Man himself in SkateBIRD. A game where you play as a skateboarding bird. Seriously.

At A Glance

Scores 
Visuals5.5 /10
Sound7 /10
Gameplay6 /10
Overall5.5 /10
  
Positives  + Easy going skater
+ Single player story
+ Wacky premise that is a delight
Negatives  – Janky camera
– Fiddly controls
– Lacklustre environments
  
Price (When Reviewed)£15.09
Our Playtime5 hours
Available OnXbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, PC & Xbox One

SkateBIRD is a cute game where your character, ‘Birb’ sets off trying to cheer up their ‘Big Friend’, who has given up skating for a 9-5 that they hate (we’ve all been there).  To help restore Big Friend’s happiness, Birb sets off on a skating challenge to bring more birds to his little skateparks, which will somehow inspire their owner to pick up the board and spend more time at home… Or something like that. The intentions are certainly in the right place but the plan leads to more mishap than it’s worth. But that’s not to say it’s not a fun journey.

Before setting off on the adventure, I had to choose what type of avian skateboarder I wanted Birb to be. Options were varied enough which obviously meant I spent far too much time procrastinating over whether to be the default canary or an owl with a scarf and a flat cap. Glass Bottom Games spent their time making sure the look of the character was as well thought out as the customisation and after settling on the owl – Barn, not Tawny, I was dropped into Big Friends’ bedroom  like  Buzz Lightyear arriving in Andy’s bedroom. 

SkateBIRD’s world is created from the view of our tiny hero; rooms that would take only a few human steps to cross are vast sprawling areas, while that magazine that’s strewn on the bed becomes a tempting ramp to get some air from. This gives Glass Bottom Games a chance to make even the mundane, everyday objects something that’s fun to skate off of. In the first area there are leftover cups, soup and pizza boxes from the night before (indicating a raging party), and for the most part, the theme remains consistent. The only exception is the game’s second level which is a plain rooftop with absolutely no character whatsoever, that is unless grey is your thing.

If you’ve ever played a Tony Hawk game, you’ll instantly feel at home with the control setup. All of the kickflips, grinds, manuals and board grabs came flooding back to me with ease; it was like riding a bike… but a skateboard. It is a little twitchy and the landing mechanic seemed to work when it wanted to, but the stunts are simple to pull off and combos can be chained together rather easily.  Inexperienced players who are new to the world of skateboarding games aren’t left out though, as the first few missions teach the basics. Cleverly, the developers have worked a couple of new tricks into the repertoire; these take the form of a double jump and bird screech, and while they don’t set the world on fire, they do add a small layer to the experience. This is especially true of  the double jump which gives you an additional chance to align your landing – it’s a real godsend as Birb tends to fall off their board…  a lot.  

It felt like I had muscle memory from previous skaters but for some reason the little bird wasn’t landing quite right. While the bail animation – the little guy going completely rigid and rolling to a stop –  was always funny, it wasn’t until I learned to take things slowly that I started to hit the combos and chain them into meaningful scores. Then again, taking things easy is what SkateBIRD is all about. It was strange being given a level of freedom typically reserved for sandbox adventure games like Mario, and unless a mission was activated, there was no timer to worry about, allowing you the chance to explore at your own pace. And even when a mission started, it came with a generous time limit that gave Birb a lot of time to complete the task at hand and without too much stress. 

Unfortunately it’s not all sunshine and rainbows for SkateBIRD, as every step our little guy takes, he is hampered severely by an utterly useless camera. The only time the camera didn’t lose control was if I was skating forwards. Any movement outside of not touching it at all results in a 45 degree rotation and if you got too close to a corner or wall, the camera couldn’t cope and ended up in a shaking fit that made the Birb look like they were tackling a halfpipe in an earthquake. Even after a healthy patch, where the camera became less trigger happy, it still remained a bone of contention during my time, and one that pours water on an otherwise fun game.

As I travelled throughout the numerous different areas, a pleasant soundtrack filled my ears to try and soothe my camera-induced aggression. It wasn’t the usual thump of punk rock, heavy metal, and hip-hop I’ve come to expect from games in the skateboarding genre, but rather a chilled ambient indie rock, mixed with documentary style tracks that provide facts about our avian friends. That’s right, there is fun and learning to be had with SkateBIRD! While this is a fun way of presenting the game’s music the novelty did wear thin during the early stages of the game as the soundtrack is initially only 3 or 4 tracks long as the rest are hidden within each level. Once they’re unlocked the soundtrack is bulked out into a varied mix of genres and the rotation is much more enjoyable.  

SkateBIRD might sound like one of those joke titles that is played for around five minutes before being forgotten about, but what is actually here is a well thought out skating game that’s full of charm and humour.  While the skate mechanics are a little rough around the edges, once I got over trying to execute each move perfectly and relaxed into the game’s casual nature, my time with it was rather fun. It is a shame that the camera was as bad as it was; even after a patch was issued the camera routinely felt twitchy and out of control. The controls need a relaxed approach otherwise you’ll be seeing a lot of those hilarious bail animations. All things considered, if you’re after a wholesome, silly skating game, SkateBIRD does fit the bill, albeit in a rough “seagull-fighting-you-for-a-chip” kind of way.

Our Rating
5.5