05/01/2022

๐Ÿ›น๐Ÿฆ Skatebird | Nintendo Switch | Review | 4/10 | "Tony Squawks" ๐Ÿฆ๐Ÿ›น@glassbottommeg #GameDev #IndieGames

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I'm a curmudgeonly old sod. I remember seasons living up to their descriptions, and turning up when they should. I remember having to memorise phone numbers if I wanted to call someone. I remember penny sweets being a penny. And I remember the original Tony Hawk's Pro Skater coming out. 

And there lies the rub. In reviewing Skatebird, I find myself constantly wondering whether Tony ruined me for other men. Birds. Games. OK, it isn't a great analogy but, we are where we are.

Any new game in a genre is always going to be compared to the reigning champion - and to really ruffle some feathers (sorry) it either needs to do things better or significantly different. Unfortunately, Skatebird falls a little short on both. 


As you might expect from the title, you play a skateboarding bird, or "birb" as the game insists on using (yes, my toes instantly curled back up into my shins when I heard it, too), riding around levels trying to find out why your owner "Big Friend" has apparently deserted you. 


So far, so good. 

Graphically, the game employs a bit of blurring for level elements in the distance, presumably as the Switch has a little less grunt in the GPU department than say, an Xbox or PC. I haven't played on those platforms, so it's hard to say. Either way, it doesn't look awful, but when you need to go and find something on a level that might be a little way off, it can be a little irritating as often you can't really see what you're looking for. 


There's a lot of customisation options here, too. You can choose from a variety of birds, and then tweak them with various cosmetic items like hats, glasses and the like. There's plenty to play with, and if you've always wanted to be a wizard with wings, then look no further. 


The levels themselves are a bit reminiscent of the old Micro Machines game (I told you I was old) - in that it uses giant versions of day to day objects to push the idea of scale home and to give you a skatepark to grind and trick your way around. 


But it's when it comes to the gameplay that Skatebird starts to suffer a bit. OK, a lot. 

Birds are light little beggars, and in that regard, the physics make sense, with ollies feeling very floaty, and the ability to do a kind of double ollie by flapping your wings for some extra height/distance. But if you've ever played any non-avian skateboarding games, that lack of weight just doesn't feel right and throws your timing out completely. Or at least it did for me. 


The problems don't stop with The Unbearable Lightness Of Being (A Bird). Movement at lower speeds causes all manner of issues with the camera. Try to come to a stop to look around the level and plan a line, and all of a sudden the camera is spinning and flipping in a way that I wish I could apply to my character on its board. Pulling off tricks seems to involve some sort of random chance. 


At each level, you'll need to find a "birb" to have a little chat with, and they'll give you your objectives for that level. But with no objective marker that I could see, coupled with the blurring effect for objects at a distance mentioned earlier, it quickly becomes a chore to find them. And any game that makes it difficult to even get started on your objectives doesn't sit well with me. 

The control scheme is familiar enough, and fairly intuitive if you've played any other games in the genre. But that only goes as far as the actual button layout. I get a horrible feeling of latency in this game, like each button press has been written down on a scrap of paper, rolled up, and attached to a carrier pigeon that gets shot on the way to its destination. 


Skatebird isn't ALL bad. There are some genuinely great little comedic nods, and the soundtrack is really very good. But that's not enough to save a game that quickly becomes more than irritating to play because the core mechanics miss the mark so spectacularly.

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