Skatebird is incredibly charming. Its silly premise, creative settings, and adorable characters set the stage for it to be an abstract twist on the skateboarding video game genre — a group of games that seems to be going through a bit of a renaissance at the moment thanks to titles like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2, Skater XL, and EA’s upcoming continuation in the Skate franchise.
Regrettably, Skatebird doesn’t quite stick the landing as well as its genre peers have. Rough physics, janky controls, and unrewarding moment-to-moment gameplay are the clips in Skatebird’s wings that prevent it from ever taking flight.
What Is It?
As one could likely surmise, Skatebird stars a skateboarding bird. “Why is the bird skateboarding?” you might wonder. Well, it’s because it’s trying to rekindle its workaholic owner’s passion for skateboarding. This wholesome tale leads the bird through various “skate parks,” which are actually spaces such as a bedroom or an office space that, relative to a tiny little bird, are the size of a full-fledged skate park. These regularly ordinary locations are littered with household items like staplers, soup bowls, and desk chairs that may seem minuscule to us, but make for some pretty sick, shreddable obstacles for a small creature.
Complementing this adorable premise is gameplay that draws heavily from that of the Tony Hawk games, specifically the early Pro Skater entries. The controls, objectives, and core mechanics are all near identical to those found in the Pro Skater series, so folks familiar with the birdman’s games should feel right at home here.
Why Should I Care?
Skatebird’s biggest draw is its premise and style. As someone who likes birds quite a bit, I loved getting to design my own winged animal to catch air with. I was charmed by its cute story, and I also thought its levels were wonderfully inventive. But the more I played Skatebird, the harder it was for me to appreciate all that it does right.
Movement, a foundational pillar of most skateboarding games, is not Skatebird’s strong suit. Despite controlling a creature as tiny and light as a bird, I felt more like I was steering a boat. Once you commit to a direction, changing your trajectory is tricky, as one extra degree of tilt is all that’s needed to ruin your combo.
Adding to the frustration is Skatebird’s camera, which often violently shook as I played. It was most prevalent when attempting to navigate some of the game’s tighter spaces, or when trying to turn my character around. Its erratic nature was so annoying that it convinced me to quit out of the game on multiple occasions; it was hard to play more than 30 minutes to an hour at a time without getting fed up.
Skatebird’s rules are also annoyingly inconsistent. Bumping into a small speed-bump or lightly love tapping a wall were generally enough to knock my bird off its skateboard. But somehow, landing with my skateboard perpendicular to the ground wasn’t. My gripe here isn’t that Skatebird isn’t realistic. The premise alone makes that clear. It’s that the game can’t decide whether it wants you to think carefully about your movement or not. Sometimes it implores you to do so, other times it just doesn’t care. Unfortunately, that’s perhaps the worst sin a skateboarding game can commit.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Frankly, I don’t think Skatebird is worth the time I spent with it nor the $20 pricetag on digital storefronts. Its gameplay is rough, and on the Switch at least, it’s very visually underwhelming. Its dated graphics, flat UI elements, and choppy performance prevent it from even being an interesting game to look at.
But above all else, Skatebird’s most tragic failing is that it doesn’t live up to its title. Skateboarding games primarily feature land-roaming humans attempting to defy gravity, and Skatebird, truthfully, is no different. It stars an airborne creature, but in name only. Gameplay-wise, the only notable difference between Tony Hawk and Skatebird’s protagonist is that the latter has a double jump. That’s it. It doesn’t feel like you’re controlling a bird, despite that seemingly being the main selling point of this game.
At the end of the day, I commend Skatebird for its charm, its style, and its effort to build a skateboarding game around a unique premise; lord knows there are plenty of “normal” skateboarding games out there. But the game seems more interested in emulating its inspirations, rather than building off of them. Even worse, it’s a poor imitation. If you’re looking for a skateboarding game, I can’t particularly recommend you flock to this one.