Is SkateBIRD a feathered friend? Or a flight of fancy? The Finger Guns review.
I love board games. No, I don’t mean Monopoly or Cluedo or the like. No, I mean games that make you stand on a board and travel at great pace down hills or through streets, all while asking you to pull off elaborate tricks. SSX, Skate, Tony Hawk and even 2D variants like Olli Olli have all scratched that itch for me over the years. If I’m honest though, they’ve all been missing one thing – feathers. Lo and behold, here come Glass Bottom Games with the game that could potentially fix that for me with the release of SkateBIRD, a game that puts you into the talons of a small bird on a mission to reunite with an estranged big friend via the medium of skateboarding.
You can probably tell from the trailer, but SkateBIRD‘s unique selling point is its charm, and the finished product has bundles of it. By eschewing the usual avatars you control in skate games – humans – SkateBIRD is able to step outwith some of the parameters and conventions that you would normally associate with actual people. This manifests in some pretty fun ways.
The first of those comes in the character personalisation options you are presented with upon starting the game. From being able to choose from a frankly dizzying selection of bird types to control (this only affects how your character looks) to a further seven cosmetic choices that can combine for dozens of different looks, it’s obvious SkateBIRD wants you to care about that bird. And it kinda succeeds! I’ve never cared about a starling before, but slap a Russian winter hat, ski goggles, rainbow scarf, bumbag and cape on one and I’ll protect it with my life, apparently.
That charm extends to the game itself, of course, both in the environments you’ll encounter and the characters you’ll meet along the way. The story goes that you don’t see your Big Friend (one of those aforementioned human people) as often as you used to, and you set out to tidy their frankly disgusting room by using your trusty board. Cue an initial environment that’s somewhat Micro Machines or even Katamari-esque in which humbly-sized items such as pizza boxes and magazines tower over you. Missions traditionally involve you collecting items such as sticky notes or phone chargers, but occasionally get a little more complex. For example, the first map hands you a mission that sees you tasked with collecting enough plastic forks to wedge open a window for some fresh air. It’s a unique presentation for a genre that often requires little more than “do this trick” or “collect these letters”.
Unfortunately, SkateBIRD‘s issues do begin to peek through, once you get to the actual playing of the game – although even this can be somewhat alleviated, and I’ll come to that shortly. The main issue is that the controls often feel just a little too finicky, which – when combined with a slightly too sensitive default camera setting – mean that you can occasionally lose track of what direction you’re facing and what your surroundings are. Too often, this meant that I’d build a really good flow, only for it to end as a result of the camera swinging wildly away at a key moment – exceptionally frustrating.
However, there’s a key word in that previous paragraph that explains why, in spite of these issues, I have found SkateBIRD to be an overall enjoyable experience. That word? ‘default’. Turns out that the other ace in the hole that this game possesses, beyond its outward charm, is a superb wealth of graphical and accessibility options to tinker with. Firstly, that camera – field of view (FOV) sliders have tended to be the domain of PC games and/or first-person shooters, but there’s one front-and-centre here, and increasing from the default 70° to a much more forgiving 90° gave me some much needed leeway with which to course-correct before plunging over a steep edge or crashing into a wall.
Accessibility has gotten a lot better in video games, particularly over the last few years, and SkateBIRD deserves great credit for what it offers players. Want to make it essentially a one-button game? Have at it – have the A button handle the ollie (jump) AND all the trick moves, if you prefer. Find the balance on grind really difficult to maintain? Just turn the balance mechanic off altogether. Obviously, the key to any good skateboarding game is that practice often reveals real depth underneath simple mechanics – and SkateBIRD does have that – but there’s something to be said for just being able to check all those boxes and bomb around a level without that level of frustration. Indeed, it was probably when I had the most fun with it.
Is it on the level of a Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2? Or a Skate 3? Alas, no, but SkateBIRD successfully stands out from the crowd with a unique premise, lashings of charm and solid mechanics. It’s not perfect by any means, and can often be a pretty frustrating experience, but with a plethora of menu options with which to simplify and improve that experience, it’s a game that should appeal to anyone who likes their games on four wheels and a deck.
SkateBIRD is available from 16 September on Xbox consoles (review platform is Xbox Series S), Nintendo Switch, PC, Mac and Amazon Luna.
Developer: Glass Bottom Games
Publisher: Glass Bottom Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this preview, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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