Review: skateBIRD

  • Version Played: Xbox Series S
  • Release Date: 16th September 2021

SkateBIRD is a Tony Hawk-style skateboarding game featuring birds (including a Tiny Hawk). For a fun premise like that, a game doesn’t have to be astounding to be enjoyable, it just needs to have decent gameplay (even if it’s mostly copied from another game) and some fun levels, missions and dialogue. That’s what I was hoping for from skateBIRD, nothing mind blowing, but a cheesy, fun experience. Sadly, I ended up very disappointed.

Starting up skateBIRD, you’ll get to customise your bird, choosing from many different types of bird (all control exactly the same), hats and various other accessories. You can’t rotate the bird, so you won’t know what some of the back accessories look like until you start playing. There’s a lot of fun things to choose from, with more to find hidden in levels.

You’ll skate through five different levels: a studio apartment, the top of a building, an office, a server and a different studio apartment. The majority of the game is just grey and brown, and there’s very little in the way of background detail to look at. It’s all very drab. To make matters worse, there’s some kind of effect (depth of field perhaps) that makes things not directly next to your bird look like a blur, so most of the time the only things you can see clearly are the bird and floor. The texture of the floor itself (and other scenery) is fairly low quality, while ramps made out of magazines (and the cat photo) are extremely well detailed, creating a mitchmatch of things that just don’t fit.

The levels themselves have very little structure to them, different areas don’t flow into each other very well and you won’t find yourself chaining combos between different sections of the level, instead focusing on just getting a score in one small section. The missions also rarely use the levels well. In Tony Hawk games, sections of levels seem specifically designed for missions, while in this it seems they just came up with random ideas for missions and just worked them into somewhere in the level. Missions will involve getting a high score, doing specific tricks or collecting objects.

There’s a “arrow” in the shape of a bird at the bottom of the screen that tries to lead you towards objectives, but doesn’t take into account that thing can be on a higher section of the level, meaning you have to take a long route to try a different height. The dull colour scheme also means that items don’t stand out, and there’s no highlight or “glow” on them. There’s one in particular where you find paperclips and they’re difficult to see even looking directly at them (the image below actually contains most of the paperclips). The cutscenes are (apart from two or three instances) focused entirely on the birds, so won’t show a rough overview of where you need to go.

I haven’t even touched on the core gameplay yet. Take one of the older Tony Hawk games (before they added things like tricks while grinding) and this aims to function in the same way. Sadly, everything feels floaty – not “better air due to bird” floaty, but in a slow and delayed way. There are a lot of corners, nooks and crannies that your bird will get stuck on, grinding only works when it feels like it.

One big difference between the gameplay of Tony Hawk and skateBIRD is the “FANCY” meter. As you perform tricks, it will fill up. This isn’t a combo meter (although that also exists), but determines your speed and how high you can jump. Crashing or bumping into something will reset it completely, although sometimes the game likes to reset it on its own. Filling it up also feels very inconsistent, sometimes a small amount of tricks on the ground is enough, sometimes doing 5 kickflips and a spin off a ramp won’t add anything. As having a high FANCY metre is necessary, the issues with it, and the control issues that can cause it to empty, lead to a lot of frustrations, and will require you to reset the missions a lot. It’s a really horrible game mechanic that isn’t fun in any way.

Restarting missions a lot also comes with other annoyances. The music in skateBIRD is surprisingly good, starting off with some odd but entertaining tracks where people give bird facts in tune to music (it feels a bit Jet Set Radio), with a bunch of rock songs you can unlock throughout the game. Starting a mission, restarting a mission and ending a mission will make the game skip to another track, you’ll unfortunately mainly hear the start of each song a lot. The starting cutscene for each mission will play every time, and you’ll have to tap A repeatedly to skip. There’s also another really odd thing about the start of missions: the place you start at (and respawn if you have to reset when you get stuck) seems to be the position your bird is in for the cutscene. This means that for a lot of missions, you start off facing away from where you need to go, sometimes facing a wall or a few times just aimed right at a drop (which means if you mash A to skip the dialogue for slightly too long, you’ll jump down when it starts and have to restart again).

The dialogue is mildly amusing. I didn’t encounter anything hilarious, but it would be entertaining enough if the gameplay was fun. One really nice feature is that you can “birbify” the words with a slider. The more “birb”, the more it sounds like a kid being silly with purposefully misspelt words and bad grammar.

For skateBIRD to be an enjoyable experience, all it needed to be was a semi-decent Tony Hawk clone. Sadly, the gameplay itself is incredibly frustrating, inconsistent and, frankly, a complete mess. It’s something you would expect from an Early Access title, not the final release.

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