Game On: SkateBIRD proves video games don’t have to be serious to be fun
After a slew of delays, indie studio Glass Bottom Games saw fit to honor the world with the ridiculously silly SkateBIRD on September 16. The game is exactly what it sounds like – you play as a bird, named “Birb”, who takes to skateboarding to try and gain the attention of its absent human owner. If you think the premise alone sounds weird, the game gets even dumber, and it’s even better for it.
The gameplay is heavily inspired by classic Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games. The genre exploded in popularity in the 2000s before Skate 3 perfected the formula in 2010, and no one seemed to want to touch it for about a decade. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 released in 2020 which was primarily a visual overhaul of the first two games that sprinkled with a few extra features.
My biggest problem with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 was physics. It remained almost identical to that of the original games – huge air, ridiculous acceleration, and the occasional case of cuts through walls and other objects. What was acceptable in 2000 was less charming in 2020, especially after getting used to the hyperrealism of Skate 3.
SkateBIRD has an equally ridiculous physique, but considering you’re playing a little bird, it doesn’t feel out of place. Granted, it kinda seems like indie developers just don’t have the resources to create a masterful physics engine, but that doesn’t really matter as the game embraces its own stupidity. You can flap your wings in the air for an efficient double jump and string together combos by constantly squealing between tricks.
You can approach the rails with little momentum but grind them at absurd speeds anyway. Once I got to love the craziness of it all, I found chaining cheats and maxing out the “fantasy” counter to be a satisfying loop of play. The player does all of this by befriending other birds who give Birb missions that usually involve doing tricks, exploring, and collecting items.
While heavily inspired by Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, the game forges its own identity with silly missions and an exceptionally excellent soundtrack. At one point in my game, Birb was instructed to tie balloons to the corners of a human-sized sheet in order to make the bed. In another, a soapy sponge was stuck in Birb’s spout as she did textbooks on floor stains and grabbed tips on wall smears to clean the spot – SkateBIRD puts you in the house first. from your landlord, but from there you go outside to the rooftop and beyond.
Back to music, Glass Bottom Games acquired the rights to dozens of songs from low and middle bands like Grave Danger, Illicit Nature, Holy Wow, and We Are the Union. The resulting pop-punk and metal soundtrack is exhilarating and a fun juxtaposition to the cute sounds of chirping and bird calls that permeate the game. The developers knew that too – my favorite cute moment is when I leave the game. , the message appears that “all progress will be saved and the birds will be lying in bed for a nap until you come back”. Awww.
Surprisingly, my favorite aspect of SkateBIRD is the dialogue. I really found myself laughing at most of the interactions between the colorful cast of original characters. Despite the somewhat boring plot, there is a lot of quirky humor and self-deprecation throughout the game to nudge you forward. He doesn’t take himself seriously and shouldn’t.
SkateBIRD’s controls are a bit arbitrary and take some getting used to, but they’re not terrible. Additionally, the developers got the inspired idea of placing the relevant controller inputs in the lower left corner of the screen. Only the controls relating to the moment appear. I was able to take control surprisingly quickly thanks to this ingenious system – a lot of games could emulate it.
My biggest gripe with the title is its camera. There’s no way to control it manually, and the automatic system implemented by Glass Bottom Games has a mind of its own – I’ve rarely seen a more spazzy camera in a video game. Every time you get close to a wall, there’s a good chance the camera will briefly rotate 180 degrees in front of your bird before returning to its place in a fraction of a second.
At the start of the 3D era, this problem was not uncommon, but 25 years later, most games do not suffer from this problem. This is a surprisingly fundamental problem for an otherwise well-established game whose release has been postponed three times. It’s not a snap for me – the Sonic Adventure series is known for its goofy camera, and I love it anyway – but it could be for some gamers.
Ultimately, SkateBIRD is a pleasantly exhilarating and silly adventure that I would recommend to fans of the genre. It’s both nostalgic and new, and available for $ 20 on Xbox One and Nintendo Switch, as well as Windows PC, MacOS, and Linux through Steam. Surprisingly, there is no PlayStation 4 version, while Xbox Game Pass subscribers can play SkateBIRD for free.
Riordan Zentler can be contacted at [email protected]