When you think of skateboarding in video games, most likely a single name will pop into your head: Tony Hawk. The star’s video game series has set the standard for skateboarding titles over decades now and arguably that is largely thanks to how they control and feel. Other developers have attempted to compete with the Tony Hawk’s series, most notably EA’s Skate games, and here we have SkateBIRD. Developed by indie studio Glass Bottom Games, SkateBIRD is an adorable skateboarding game that does exactly what it says on the tin – you’re a bird riding around on a skateboard. Whilst the game oozes with charm, the poor controls unfortunately dampen the entire experience.
Before diving into the game itself, you’re treated to a chill lo-fi hip hop track that sets the mood as you create your ‘birb’. Players can choose from a huge variety of species to play as, and they’re all adorable thanks to their round designs. A surprising amount of customisation is available through items you can accessorise your birb with – from backpacks and funky hats to your skateboard and its wheels. The only issue here is that you can’t actually turn your decked out birb around to actually preview items such as the backpack and skateboard.
With your snazzy little birb ready, you’re thrown straight into the action – and more specifically into the studio apartment of your ‘Big Friend’. SkateBIRD presents a narrative that ties each of the game’s five levels together, seeing you and your birb pals attempting to help their human friend escape their new, soul-destroying job after the birbs realise they aren’t around much anymore. Each level builds towards an end goal that lets you progress to the next area – from breaking into an office to destroying a data server. The size difference between your character and the environment makes for some interesting situations as you grind on paperclip chains and jump over empty bottles.
Within each level are missions for you to complete, which are accessed by finding and talking to the colourful cast of birbs dotted around the place. Fans of skateboarding titles will be familiar with the tasks at hand: collecting letters, pulling off certain tricks and racking up high scores. The open design for each level is a great way for players to get accustomed to the area before taking on the different missions. Of course there are different collectibles to be found too, including mixtapes to expand the game’s soundtrack and clothing to freshen up your wardrobe.
The controls are simple enough, evoking the more arcade-y feel of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. You can ollie with the press of a button, and even double ollie since you have wings. Kickflips, grabs and grinds are also assigned to single button presses, making navigating the many ramps and half-pipes simple enough on paper. Riding up and down on ramps, or pulling off tricks, fills your ‘Fancy’ meter that increases your max speed to pull off even bigger tricks. Once you actually start skateboarding around, however, the cracks in the simplistic design start to show.
Put simply, the movement, collision and camera feels unrefined and in desperate need of work. Air control doesn’t seem to exist and the use of the double ollie becomes a hindrance most of the time as it can send you in unpredictable directions. When slowed down, turning your birb is painful as the camera struggles to keep up with where you’re going – even when you can only turn at a snail’s pace. The collision with edges or bars to grind on feels off, as most of the time you’ll fly right through the object. You’ll find a lot of time spent stuck against walls or stuck in corners with the camera manically spinning around.
As mentioned before, skateboarding games are reliant on tight gameplay. SkateBIRD attempts to create a relaxed vibe but the controls will only leave you frustrated. It’s a massive shame because the developers have succeeded in every other department in creating a chill, amusing experience. The different characters are genuinely hilarious, and the soundtrack is fantastic. The OST has a selection of modern lo-fi tracks that are brilliantly themed around birds, but there is also licensed music from different Ska and Punk bands that is sure to stick in your head.
It’s difficult to recommend SkateBIRD when most of the seven odd hours playing the game is spent wrestling with the controls, but the soundtrack, characters and story are truly delightful. Even with the game’s different accessibility options available, players will still struggle with landing high combo scores. With SkateBIRD, it’s best to stick to the birdwatching and ditch the skateboarding.
SkateBIRD is out now on PC, Xbox Game Pass, Nintendo Switch and Amazon Luna.