Skatebird review: little hawks win the day in this wobbly skating game
Skatebird is both a tribute to the old Tony Hawk games and a celebration of the stupidity of birds. It’s kind of arcade kickflipper, handling more like a THUG than a skate game. But don’t expect the smooth flow of the Hawkster’s exits. There’s a lot of wobbly physics here, much of it intentional and wacky (as you’d expect from a game that seems to be entirely the result of one pun). But some of them maybe not. Still, it’s hard to hate these feathers when they scream so pure and when their taste for music is beyond reproach.
Did you not like this joke about birds? Well, maybe this game is not for you. There are a bunch of canaries, eagles, gulls, and parakeets that give you missions and tasks to complete, and they aren’t serious birds. So sulk. We have Session and Skater XL for our kickflip realism. Instead, it’s about being a pigeon on a piece of plywood, collecting letters with the word MONEY because an investment banker cockatoo said it’s important. Same a trailer announcing the game’s delayed release date couldn’t help it.
With this established tone, you get to do ollies and flip tricks in a somewhat recognizable way. On an Xbox controller (you should be using one), you hold down A and release to perform an ollie, then press other buttons and the left controller to perform a turn. Are there flips, grabs, plants, grinds, ollies in the air … wait, ollies in the air?
It’s basically a double jump, a little flap after you’ve already jumped. It gives you a little extra air, nothing too outrageous, but it’s handy if you have to jump over a thrown sock. You’re short after all, and skating among pizza boxes or crushing your invisible human companion’s cereal bowls can lead to a nasty fall. Its good. Just press a button to get up, or you can hit a “reset” point anywhere and then jump back with the press of a button. He is a forgiving feller.
Your fellows are scattered at each level. They’ll ask you to stick your nose in quarter pipes to clean the soda cups, or to roll around by tying balloons to a blanket to open up a new area. Other quests may require you to collect the letters of the word LEGS, or “screm at the floor ten times”. Please understand that this is not a spelling error. You can press any button for “screm”. It makes your bird squeak and flap its wings. It works even when you’ve fallen off your board, turning the game into something of a bird tantrum simulator.
“This game has birbs that are bad at worbs. I know this style of writing will irritate some, but I still can’t get enough of the rare animals that are adorable buffoons.”
More importantly, a screm counts as a turn, so the game actually encourages you to scream like crazy between the ramps and rails to keep your combo going. This combo system includes a small counter in the corner, forcing you to keep pace. Do enough neat tricks and you’ll fill up a bar that says “FANCY”, giving you more speed. You will need it to reach certain heights more easily or to skate on taller greens. How to animate chubby birds on a skateboard? The answer is, you animate the board and just let the birds panic.
Overall, there is nothing too complicated about any of this. There are 5 levels (which I can see so far) and you have to complete all the quests in each level to unlock new skate parks. It all ties into a story of helping your human, known to everyone as “Great Friend”, and there is a fun dialogue to push you around, encompassing the classic memory of “the animal as a dumb friend.” but faithful “of the Internet age, with grammatical silliness. This game has birbs which are bad at worbs. I know this style of writing will appeal to some, but I still can’t get enough of the rare animals which are adorable buffoons.
The novelty of actually performing each quest quickly dilutes, however, once you realize that most of them are variations on “collect 6 tips” or “hit those points”. The funniest quests I found were the ones that gave you a list of tips to perform in certain locations, or even the simplest ones that required you to score high in a certain area, prompting you to give it a try. crazy combos using a set of ramps. The more insane quests, on the other hand, include “find that hidden object”, which simply involves rolling around in search of a spinning object. An aggravating exercise when the camera has a depth of field effect that blurs everything more than a few human meters away.
I haven’t found a way to turn this effect off, which is odd, as the options are otherwise quite good. The controls are customizable to a surprising degree and you can turn off the balancing mini-game that appears when you perform a manual or start a grind, for example. There is an option to increase the “bird level”, which makes the dialogue even more absurd, going up to 11, where it becomes incomprehensible birbese. There is a checkbox next to this setting that changes the dialogue to skater boi flavor. If Skatebird is to be commended for anything, it’s unstoppable dedication to the bit. It’s bird life.
You can personalize your bird by giving it a beanie, wizard hat, or a bunch of other things. A pair of sunglasses, a belt, a camera. There are 38 species of birds to choose from, which is impressive considering the games tendency to have two body types and three skin tones. All birds are more or less the same height, but their shapes, colors, beaks and feathers change. I like the simplicity of the pigeon but the pink-breasted grosbeak and the bespectacled owl are trendy dudes. The dress-up screen is awesome. It’s like a Met Gala for Magpies.
But it’s not as great as the music. Slim. Just coming from the intelligent dynamic jazz of Deathloop, I didn’t expect to like another game’s soundtrack so quickly. Especially the one who is so obsessed with poultry. These beats are funky, lo-fi hip-hop with sample bird facts from old-world commentators, spliced between icy notes and the eerie scuff of a record. I nodded all the time. There are also a few appearances from bands that fill the demands for ska and punk rock from people still listening to Goldfinger’s Superman in their 30s (that’s me). In short, even if you don’t like the game, I recommend the soundtrack in a hummingbird heartbeat.
As for the game as a whole, I hesitate to recommend it categorically to avid skateboarders. Even Tony Hawk fans will find the skating here a bit floaty, a bit cranky. Intentional physics makes this a skateboarding game that feels purposely designed to be a little crazy to deal with. I can respect that, but I’m also a follower of the OlliOlli games, which have tighter controls than a big rivet. So even I find myself struggling with Skatebird’s awkwardness. And I particularly don’t like the Vaseline camera lens (I thought hawks had excellent eyesight?)
Despite these reservations, I am won over by the birds themselves. I haven’t unlocked all the levels yet, but I’m going to give in to helping Big Friend. My hands may never adjust to the precise gravity of these merry idiots. But scooping like a sparrow is relatively painless. Over time, I will become unfazed.
Disclaimer: Xalavier Nelson Jr, occasional contributor to RPS, wrote for Skatebird. Which explains a lot of things.