The skateboarding game, as a genre, has been under-explored. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater defined it with such finesse in 1999 that there has barely been any room for improvement – as borne out by the continuing appeal of that first game two decades later. But considering how much it has in common with a 3D platformer – open environments with an emphasis on acrobatic exploration and discovery – there is surely an opportunity for others to try some new ideas.
Enter SkateBIRD, the game that answers the question, “What if Tony Hawk was a tiny hawk?” Whoever flippantly asked that question probably wasn’t expecting an answer in the form of a video game released several years of work later, but here it is.
There’s a sense of fun in the concept of SkateBIRD and it brings some twists to an idea that is otherwise very closely modelled on the Tony Hawk’s series. The bird skaters’ wings let them double-jump with a second mid-air ollie, for example, and since they’re tiny, they can skate tiny environments made of furniture and stationery. What we have here is basically Tony Hawk’s meets Micro Machines meets New Zealand Story.
A huge amount of love and effort has clearly gone into SkateBIRD. The scenario of skating birds is framed by a story of lonely pets whose “big friend” human has started a miserable new job. The environmental storytelling in the first level paints a picture of a person losing pride in life, who has let their housekeeping slide due to overwork (but has nonetheless maintained an elaborate bird-sized skatepark in their bedroom).
The story that plays out is, of course, absurd – but SkateBIRD knows how silly it is and delivers it with charm. The bird characters themselves look wonderfully daft in their various selectable garments, from bucket hats to 3D glasses, and move with endearing twitches and bobs. The original soundtrack and licensed tunes provide a good vibe to proceedings, occasionally evoking the series that inspired the game but mostly keeping things relaxed.
A reasonable facsimile of the Pro Skater gameplay is present and correct, with the same basic moveset and controls. Your bird can find lines through its miniature environment and tie combos together with grinds and manuals, building momentum for bigger tricks. As well as racking up points, you need to explore the levels and can take on collect-the-item challenges, finding well-hidden or hard-to-reach spots as you go.
The bad news is that while the ambition soars, the concept doesn’t exactly land. The potential of wings to bring a lift to the formula is not realised, with the second ollie failing to introduce creativity to trick lines. It really only adds confusion to the visual cues for traversing obstacles when your jump height is harder to grasp. The fantastic idea of mini real-world skateparks also falls flat in practice, with inspiration running short after the first level, and a rooftop park bringing little that reads as less than human-sized anyway.
While the fundamentals of the gameplay work – you can navigate, you can do tricks – it isn’t nearly as fun as it looks and certainly can’t stack up to the Tony Hawk’s series, to which comparison is inevitable. The workings of the air ollie are somewhat inscrutable and it just feels irritating to have to execute it. Getting lodged against furniture and jammed in corners is frequent and finicky, with your bird far too ready to fall over altogether. An element of pinball chaos in such situations would have been preferable: the strictness of the skill demand is unnecessarily po-faced for such a silly game concept.
Some eminently fixable niggles also hold back the fun. The trick names and scores are not displayed prominently, making combo building feel empty and tricks indistinct, especially when a bird sticking its beak on the board is less relatable and much harder to parse than a human skater’s grab. The camera can be unpleasantly spasmodic, especially on resetting your bird, which is so repeatable a problem that it’s infuriating.
More major problems lie in the level design – both the parks and the challenges set within them. The first level features multiple elevated platforms that can be fiddly to climb to and are extremely easy to fall from, which isn’t a helpful introduction to the game. A level traversing multiple rooftops could have aided navigation with some visual cues to distinguish the roofs from one another, but instead it's samey and confusing.
None of these facts helps the completion of the story challenges. Often, these are timed runs to collect items which are hard to look for, with sluggish camera controls and graphical quality reduced to an ugly murk beyond the middle distance. Challenges are often best accomplished by falling off slowly in the right place – a technical success, rather than a cool achievement.
At an even higher level, the overall structure of the game is laborious. Parks need to be unlocked through the story mode by completing challenges, and apart from the gruelling work of completing them, the available challenges are not easily managed or located. There are plenty of modern ideas of task management that would have been better – Mario Odyssey’s prompts, maps, lists and hints for its power moons; Breath of the Wild’s discreet but atmospheric quest log – but we only get the most basic achievements checklist, tasks obscured until the right bird characters appear to dole them out.
SkateBIRD is a creative addition to a genre lacking in variety, and its fun concept has clearly been realised with a lot of love. However, despite its potential, the best parts of the concept are underused, with neither the miniature skaters nor the addition of wings bringing much to excite. While the core gameplay is functional, the play feel is not fluid and the level design and laborious structure are always working against the fun. To top it off, the rudimentary graphics are needlessly hazy. More of a turkey than a pretty boy, then, unfortunately.
ahhhhhhh i was kinda stoked on this one. well, the real thps is on switch now anyway
Shame I was expecting greatness, especially after I read the twitter bio: https://mobile.twitter.com/glassbottommeg
Oh well, maybe next time! 😔
Ah, come on! I played the demo a while back, and even though I didn't spend too much time on it, the time I did spend on it - I had fun. I was looking forward to playing this... but I might get it anyway, just the PC version instead.
That's a shame, this looked pretty promising. Maybe I'll still pick it up one day though.
I'll be looking forward to other reviews on this, maybe some gameplay on twitch too. Because Skatebird just looks FUN.
Pity, I was looking forward to that game.
Dang, I guess I can take that one off the wish list now.
They really missed a good punny name and should of just called it Tiny Hawk and made the main skater a small hawk
@Williamfuchs420 ...the game's title is a pun.
This always came off as some joke meme game. It's a good thing we finally got THPS 1+2 so I got a real skateboarding game on the go.
@CharlieGirl more a description really not really a pun.
Called it. I love birds, I love THPS, and the physics of this looked cheap (no pun intended). I could tell lots of people were excited, but I seemed to feel it would not pan out great.
I was looking forward to it, now its a hard pass.
From the first video I could tell this was a dud. The physics looks terrible and the character model looked half-a*sed. It just looked cheep! Pun intended.
so with all the delays they still couldn't get this game right?
@CharlieGirl It's quite awkard you having to spell that out for folk hehe.
I'm still grabbing this. It never had to be a Tony Hawk beater for me, I just wanted a bird on a skateboard.
That's a real shame to hear. When I played it at PAX 2 years ago, I thought it needed some work and was hoping after all this time it would be turned into something more solid beyond a really great idea. Apparently not.
The first demo they did was pretty bad. I was hoping they improved it a lot... such a shame.
I was hoping this would be as easy as a skate in the park. I am a little intimidated by THPS, so i thought this may be an easy ride. But finicky controls ruffle my feathers. Maybe i should get on deck with THPS?
A real shame. This game didn't seem like it would be so tedious when looking at the footage. Cheers for the review.
You could always try actual skateboarding. Was still more enjoyable growing up than Tony Hawk. Skate was by far superior though.
@CharlieGirl well it's not, it's frustrating. The birds controls glitch out all the time and it plays slow, also a fair amount of getting stuck in the environment. Too many control issues to actually have fun. It feels beta.
***** it, I'm still gonna give it a shot and support it, this seems novel. Anyone crazy enough to do a skateboarding game with ***** birds has to have a few more interesting ones in em.
@doctorhino Still gonna wait for a handful of reviews. And even if the consensus says "it's just okay," I'll still buy it at a sale price.
@CharlieGirl yeah it's free on gamepass or I would not be happy. I wanted to like it and honestly I'm probably still going to try to open a few more levels up but sometimes the bird just does random stuff I don't tell it to and I can tell it's because the geometry collision is messing up. Maybe they can fix it still.
@Bogbupog Maybe consider a sale purchase before giving up on it... but yeah, sounds a bit disappointing huh?
Removed - foreign languages; user is banned
I'm on level 3 now, you sort of get used to it. It's not thrilling but I'm at least having more fun than on the first level.
Feels like the same game I played when it was only a game jam.
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