Skatebird Review: It’s not a Tony Hawk, but it does contain tiny hawks
RRP $ 19.99
“Skatebird’s rough skating mechanics are balanced by his charming humor in the Internet age.”
Killer skating soundtrack
The genre of skateboarding games has many established kings. If you’re looking for something very arcade-esque, play Tony Hawks Pro Skater, while Skate 2 or 3 offers a slightly more realistic (but still completely bombastic) experience. Regardless of how you look at it, these two franchises own the skating genre, much like Call of Duty and Battlefield own multiplayer shooters of their own. There are others out there, but they don’t stack up.
Now we have Skatebird that pops up out of nowhere and instantly shows that while it won’t take the crown from Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, it was never designed to be. Instead, Skatebird is here so people can have a fun, if sometimes frustrating, time. It’s a goofy arcade skateboarding game full of funny dialogue and goofy references that doesn’t promise anyone the skate game of their dreams. But at least it will brighten your day.
For the birds
The entire premise of Skatebird is written in its name, and if you are not used to such jokes, just leave this review right now. You are a bird that makes ice skates. Skatebird sounds like a skateboard. Understand? Great, go on.
In Skatebird you drag, fly and chirp (or as the game calls it, “screm”) as a tiny, gnarled bird through everyday areas. The game has all the trappings of a typical arcade skating game, starting with character customization, where players can choose what kind of bird they want to be and what goofy accessories to wear. Of course, I took a cowboy hat with me, which was always worn.
Thought Skatebird wasn’t making a Tony Hawk joke?
After a brief introduction, players are thrown straight into the first area of the game: a huge bedroom that belongs to their bird’s great friend. Unfortunately, Big Friend is feeling down, so the skater along with a herd of others decides to flee the room, find out why the friend is so bad, and fix the problem with the power of ice skating.
Skatebird’s story is a play on words, all with a subtle background of anti-capitalist sentiments …
In short, the bird’s owner does a shitty job at a shitty tech startup that the Birds of course sabotage by first rerouting the boss’s AC from his office and to everyone else, then destroying servers and more. Skatebird’s story is pun after pun, all with a subtle backdrop of anti-capitalist sentiments, and if the idea of capitalism-hating birds doesn’t bring a smile to your face, let me ask you for a sense of humor.
Better to fly
It’s a shame to say, but Skatebird’s goofy story and silly jokes are the stars here. The game stays in its arcade style, with each face button controlling a move. One button does an ollie, another grinds, another grabs, etc. That’s the best thing about Skatebird: It’s easy to control. You decide when your bird grabs or grinds. It is much, much more difficult to influence whether you will actually land successfully after a trick.
Skating in Skatebird has all the grace of a bird on a skateboard, which exactly isn’t. The bird is more like a fish in the air flapping around with no sense of direction. I did tricks and then tried to land on the ground only to have the board pointed at a 45 degree angle for some reason, resulting in my bird absolutely eating tar. The game seems to provide for this, however, by giving players control of their trapped bird, which can be rolled around for fun, but that feeling only lasts through a couple of failed landings.
Getting around with wheels on the ground is no better, as Skatebird’s wobbly physics engine regularly decides that a small bump against an object is enough to knock your bird down. At other times, however, you will build up speed and hit a wall without turning around because the game apparently still thinks you are accelerating which means you need to get out.
Situations like this get even more annoying when you realize that it is not that easy to build up speed in Skatebird. Birds, of course, can’t pump on a skateboard. Instead, the game has a “Fancy” meter that players fill up by going up and down ramps to go faster. Before taking a big jump or long grind, there is a need to wind your way down some ramps while making sure you don’t bump into anything or fall off the board, which can be a frustrating challenge.
Skating in Skatebird has all the grace of a bird on a skateboard, which exactly isn’t.
What Skatebird lacks in grace it makes up for in charm. While roughly half of my moment-to-moment gameplay was spent getting upset with my bird for choosing to see what the sidewalk looks like up close, the other half was spent grinning like a fool. Walking around to the game’s fantastic soundtrack, which goes perfectly with other skating game soundtracks and is likely to land on my Spotify soon, is an absolute blast. Small touches like this made everything else bearable.
I don’t think Skatebird is the best skating game ever, mainly because it’s so far from being such a hit. Instead, Skatebird is here to be a distraction – something fun and goofy, to get you off things. Admittedly, it’s hard to think of rent or other heavy issues when you’re playing a silly little game about a silly little bird on a silly little skateboard.
When you buy Skatebird, don’t expect it to reinvent the genre. It doesn’t. But this game could have been about birds diving and exploring underwater (working title: Skubird), and as long as it had the same charm and sense of humor, I would have enjoyed it anyway.
Is there a better alternative?
If you are looking for a good figure skating game for arcade games, Tony Hawks Pro Skater 1 + 2 is an easy choice.
How long it will take?
I put about five hours into Skatebird, but if I tried to collect every collectible and beat every mission it would probably take more than seven.
Should you buy it?
Yes, but with the caveat that you dampen all expectations. Skatebird is not a game about skating birds, it is a game about birds who can ice skate.