On the surface, SkateBIRD appears to capture the essence of its simple pitch: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, but you’re a bird. It’s got a fantastic pop-punk soundtrack, with grooving ska tracks and funky instrumentals overlaid with the dulcet tones of lecturers doling out avian factoids. And, wow, there are a lot of birds in this Xtreme aviary.
Before you even start the game, you’ll contend with a robust character creator, replete with tons of breeds, customisable colours, and a wide variety of accessories.
But there’s more to the bird than the sheen of the plumage, and the debut game from Glass Bottom Games is dealing with a pair of clipped wings. SkateBIRD has the worst camera that I’ve dealt with in a game in years; it’s straight out of the PS2 era. It’s constantly getting stuck on geometry, especially in the opening stage, which is set in the bedroom of your bird’s big human friend. The way the camera freaks out is almost nauseating. It runs around the screen like one of our hero’s barnyard cousins with its head cut off.
Then there’s the level design itself. The best thing I can say about it is that it will give you a new-found appreciation for the elegance of a THPS stage. Even after I felt like I had a solid handle on the mechanics, I was constantly falling over invisible bumps on the ground, or ramps that, for some reason, began an imperceptible inch above the floor. The result is that it’s much easier to fall off your board than it is to string a few tricks together. When a late game mission required me to complete four objectives in a row without bailing, I almost set the controller down at the sheer impossibility of the request.
These problems are compounded by the fact that SkateBIRD has no move list for players to reference, so if you forgot how to do a trick, good luck. There are tutorials in the menu on the basics, like how to ollie, kick flip, grab trip, etc. But if you forget how to do anything slightly more complicated, you’re out of luck. One mission required bouncing off a vent fan – something you’re taught at the beginning of the section, with no ability to reference it again – and I spent a solid hour trying to work out how to do it correctly.
From the big things, like its camera and level design, to the smaller quality of life features – like including a way to relearn moves after the solitary time they’re first introduced – SkateBIRD is hampered by consistent fumbles. This game may star winged skateboarders, but it never manages to get off the ground.
SkateBIRD’s story, which revolves around improving the life of the birds’ human pal, does a pretty good job of offering justification for missions, and the script has its share of funny moments.
SkateBIRD nails the soundtrack and offers a ton of customisation, but it’s just a frustrating mess to actually play.
Format: XBO (tested) / XB S/X / Switch / PC
Developer: Glass Bottom Games
Publisher: Glass Bottom Games
Release: Out now