Don't get excited for games. They'll break your heart.
I don’t know why it’s so hard to make a Tony Hawk-like. You’d think after 20 years of studying the formula, as a society we’d have reached a point where you could recreate the elegance and vibe of the Pro Skater series with at least some degree of accuracy. But yet, every few months or so it feels like I’m presented with a game that aims to emulate some of that magic, and while they hit a fraction of the required ingredients, the overall package feels like a picture of Tony Hawk as drawn by someone who’s only heard him described from memory.
The latest game to attempt to make me feel like I’m a Superman is Skatebird, an extremely cute skating game about an unhappy bird that wants to re energize their owner’s love of dislocating their knee trying to ollie. I’ve been looking forward to Skatebird for a long time, each time a new trailer was released I’d get more excited for a game that seemed to totally get the vibe of the Pro Skater series it is so clearly trying to emulate.
Sadly, within about 10 minutes of playing the game, I was bitterly bitterly disappointed. The game controls how you’d expect, you use the face buttons to ollie, to grab and flip tricks and grind. This on the surface of it is fine, but there’s such a horrible feeling of input latency that at no point did I feel remotely comfortable handling the bird. The key to the Tony Hawk games is that they controlled incredibly, you had almost a fighting game like control over you movements and if you could see a line that you wanted to put together, it was only your execution that stood between you and the goal. In Skatebird I felt like I was constantly battling the bird, not only to execute the tricks i’d requested, but to even aim it in the right direction.
This was a disaster. These games live and die by their controls and when they’re as categorically unenjoyable as they are in Skatebird, I could barely play it. I was incredibly, incredibly disappointed. The world of Skatebird is a series of tiny skateparks set on things like table tops and bookshelves. It reminded me of the old Toy Story games, climbing up paper cups or kickflipping off microwaves. The areas themselves are extremely barren however, and it felt like there were large sections of level with nothing to do, and that’s thanks to the mission system.
In Tony Hawk Pro Skater, you had 2 minutes to complete a series of missions that were all available from the start of your run. Whether that be score challenges, knocking something over or collecting SKATE. Incomprehensibly, in Skatebird you need to start a mission by talking to another bird. I couldn’t believe it. The worst part of the later half of the Tony Hawk series, if you ignore the plastic skateboards, was this feeling of constantly having to stop your line to go and start a timed challenge, instead of the challenge itself being to incorporate all your goals into your run.
I genuinely felt like I was playing a game made by people who played the Pro Skater games and took all the wrong lessons. I half expected bird Bam Margera to show up and punch his Dad in the bird balls. It’s just baffling, because other elements like the parody Thrasher magazines and brilliant soundtrack set me up for what I thought was going to be a game I would keep on my Xbox for years, not one I was desperate to be over. The core issue is that I just hate the way it controls. I could forgive the weird mission system, the strangely empty levels and the grungey graphics if it just felt good. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 looks like melted LEGO and I still play that because it feels so good to play.
The writing is great, the soundtrack is a lovely blend of chill beats and pop-punk tunes that you could tell me where on the original THPS soundtrack and I’d believe you. Everything around the edges is bang on, I just hate that I have to play the muddy, dull game part of Skatebird to get to it. I can’t remember the last time I was quite so dissapointed in a game. I really thought this would be a game that I got every achievement for, but now I doubt I’ll ever play it again.