I’m relatively new to the skateboarding simulation genre. While I’m fully aware of the significant cultural impact the incredible Tony Hawk games have had in gaming culture, it’s never been something that’s grabbed my attention. But when I saw SkateBIRD, a game in which you play a bird in a big world grinding away on bendy straws, kickflipping over staplers and carving killer lines through mini skate parks, I was admittedly quite excited. Unfortunately, just like skateboarding games of the past, SkateBIRD failed to grip me and instead left me feeling a little deflated.
“SkateBIRD has been designed to perfectly encapsulate the feeling of being a tiny bird in a very large world.”
First and foremost, SkateBIRD’s art direction is phenomenal. It makes great use of colour to create a vibrant world that is bursting with style. Its level design contains a variety of settings such as a bedroom, a rooftop and an office building. You’ll find plastic straws and old pizza boxes being used to make up the half-pipes and ramps in SkateBIRD’s adorably cosy world. It has been designed to perfectly encapsulate the feeling of being a tiny bird in a very large world.
SkateBIRD minute-to-minute gameplay is similar to that found in your traditional skating game. You are dropped into a decently sized level and must explore and perform tricks all while taking on missions. I found that the control scheme was simple to learn but hard to master. Basic tricks are mapped to button presses, which makes it slightly easier to rack up a few points here and there.
Additionally, you also have a ton of options for customization. There is a myriad of different species of birds as well as clothing accessories to choose from. The developers also do a great job of putting fun little easter eggs and details within the game. You’ll likely encounter references to the skateboarding magazine Thrasher or discover the ability for your little bird to “screm”. The music and sound design are similarly excellent. Lofi beats play as a radio host pours out interesting bird facts and your bird chirps away on that tech deck.
“SkateBIRD also suffers from gameplay elements that are unpheasant and hawkward.”
Unfortunately, while SkateBIRD’s level and audio design are, for the most part, fantastic, the same can’t be said for some of its gameplay. As someone who is new to the genre, I believe SkateBIRD does a horrible job of introducing it. New tricks are introduced via story missions but their tutorials often provide ambiguous controls and no accompanying video animation. Fortunately, I already knew what an ollie and kickflip were. But my limited knowledge could only get me so far, and I had no idea what more advanced tricks were or what they should have looked like. With a lack of a trick list, gameplay tended to end with me mashing various buttons to see if I performed the correct trick in a particular mission.
SkateBIRD also suffers from gameplay elements that are unpheasant and hawkward – expect more bird puns here on out. The skating mechanic is janky, as you fall off your board too easily and without reason. Sometimes you’ll find yourself miraculously landing an insanely difficult trick. Other times you try to turn a corner and your little bird randomly falls off the board. Unfortunately, this jank often ends up robbing you of your hard-earned combo meter. Furthermore, these downsides are accompanied by multiple collision bugs that occur when you grind on a bar or ride up a ramp. Camera angles also working against you whenever you try to go in a certain direction. Ultimately, it all causes more frustration than fun.
“It’s not that I was expecting much from a game about a bird on a skateboard, but a little depth in the narrative would have been nice.”
One of the reasons for the delay of SkateBIRD was the developer’s choice to implement story content. This is given to you via various bird NPC’s scattered across each level. The big human in your life is depressed and it is your job as a little bird to make their life a bit better and brighter! However, the narrative never extends itself beyond some silly lighthearted dialogue between a bunch of birds.
It’s not that I was expecting much from a game about a bird on a skateboard, but a little depth would have been nice. Additionally, each mission tends to result in you completing a variation on the same combination of objectives. You’ll complete a tutorial, fetch some items, reach a certain area or gain X amount of points.
Like the Tony Hawk Pro Skater games, SkateBIRD missions must be completed within a time limit. However, I found this served more as a hindrance than motivation. Mission objectives are ambiguous and confusing, even with a directional pointer. Additional skate parks can only be unlocked after you complete the majority of the previous park’s missions. Combined with unintuitive controls for performing different tricks and some extremely hard to complete tasks, each story mission inSkateBIRD caused more irritation than enjoyment as they prevented me from unlocking more maps.
“SkateBIRD is an owlsome attempt at creating a lighthearted skateboarding simulation game. But it ultimately falls short of its big brother Anthony Hawk.”
Unlike other skating games, SkateBIRD offers no sense of progression or achievement. The customization for your bird is made completely available to you from the start. You can unlock new boards by finding collectables, but the customization menu won’t even let you see the bottom design of your board. It begs the question: what’s even the point? By completing missions you can unlock additional soundtracks to listen to. However, ultimately that’s it.
There is also an absence of stats to increase or allocate points to, such as airtime, hangtime, ollie, speed, spin, switch, flip speed, rail balance, lip balance, and manual balance. No additional birds with varying strengths and weaknesses, just a simple game. Skating games benefit greatly from co-op and support for sandboxing, but SkateBIRD lacks both. As such, maps are static and get stale fast.
SkateBIRD is an owlsome attempt at creating a lighthearted skateboarding simulation game. But it ultimately falls short of its big brother Anthony Hawk. Anyone looking for a skating game with a strong narrative should probably look elsewhere. SkateBIRD is best enjoyed as a casual game for players who are looking to do some fancy tricks on a skateboard as a bird and nothing more. The unpolished gameplay mechanics combined with its meagre campaign content prevents SkateBIRD from being an im-peck-able game. I’d also argue that the price is also a bit of ostrich. However, you can pick up SkateBIRD for $19.99 on PC via Steam should you so desire.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PC, code was provided by the Publisher.