It feels like there was a stint in which skateboarding games were completely and utterly dead. It was a sad time where the Skate franchise was MIA and the last Tony Hawk we got was the abysmal THPS 5. In that famine of skateboarding games, Glass Bottom Games announced SkateBIRD, which has always had a humble premise. It’s birds on little skateboards doing cool tricks as they chirp their way through big skating worlds made for them. The birds of SkateBIRD are good. You can customize them in all sorts of ways and they have a cute little story to go with them. The skating? That’s where SkateBIRD has trouble sticking the landing.
Birbs on a mission
The whole premise of SkateBIRD is pretty adorable, with a scenario designed and written by Strange Scaffold’s Xalavier Nelson Jr., who created An Airport for Aliens Currently Run by Dogs. The premise is a bunch of domesticated birds are concerned for their owner, who goes to work and always comes home sad. To figure out how to save him from his sad life, they learn to skateboard and do all sorts of things with this talent, including cleaning up his trashy apartment and helping him lose his job. The story is minimal, but silly and zany and mostly a vehicle to get you to the game’s various levels and objectives, which include large bedrooms, rooftops, offices, and more strewn with miniaturized props for little birds to skate.
You also get to customize your bird and there’s a great deal of ways to do it. You can choose between a multitude of bird species fit for a Tech Deck skateboard and even give them accessories like tiny hats, scarves, glasses, fanny packs, capes, and more. You can even find more stuff to dress them up with hidden in levels, which is fun because there’s already a lot to work with there.
You can also find music packs strewn throughout levels. I will say, SkateBIRD has a better soundtrack than I ever could have expected. It doesn’t just have its own original music (which is also good and catchy), but there’s also quite a few licensed bands in there as well. We Are the Union, Grave Danger, Illicit Nature, and HolyWOW contributed tracks to this game that you can add to the soundtrack by collecting mixtapes and I could spend all of my time in this game just listening to them. You can even go into a Your Mixtape option to enable and disable songs and keep the ones you want to hear.
This is also unfortunately where the game starts to get shaky on the rails. You’d probably like to hear a song all the way through, but that’s easier said than done if you’re going after missions and story progression in this game. Talking to a bird to start a mission skips the track you’re on and starts a new one. So does completing a mission. The missions aren’t very long either, so that means a lot of stopping and starting new music throughout the story gameplay, which feels like a disservice to a soundtrack this fun.
Skating, or something like it
Let’s talk about the other part of this game… half the reason we’re here: the skating. Functionally, SkateBIRD is supposed to operate very similar to Tony Hawk’s Pro-Skater. One button ollies, one controls flip tricks, one does grab tricks, and the last does grind and lip tricks. You can also manual to keep trick multipliers going on open terrain. There’s even a button just to chirp (appropriately named the “Screm” function) and because you’re a bird, if you want to catch extra air, you can hit the ollie button again in air to flap, which I think are smart additions to the formula.
The problem is that skating in SkateBIRD does not have the technical fundamentals down. The functions are there. They’re just not very… functional. Notably, the game seems to have a lot of issue with figuring out what angle you should be gravitating towards when you’re coming out of the air. Ollieing out of vert ramps and coming down on the same ramp worked fine, but I had a lot of issues with everything else. Trying to jump to get a grind and then jump to hit another grind felt unnecessarily complicated. Sometimes I’d try to transfer between verts only for it to make me kind of squirm around in the air and land wrong. Heck, sometimes I’d jump too far out of a vert onto flat ground and land upright, perfectly safe.
The technical frustrations don’t end there either. There were all sorts of little things that bugged me throughout my play. Sometimes, going up inclines just had me slowing down and skating back down. Sometimes it didn’t. I couldn’t really ever discern what determined whether I had enough momentum or not. The fancy meter is said to have an effect on your speed, but sometimes I could climb an incline with or without it. Maybe the most egregious was that sometimes while skating on the flat ground, I’d turn far to the left or right to head towards a specific ramp only to crash and bail seemingly because I tried to turn too much. All of these little technical difficulties and issues just compile to make skating in SkateBIRD feel very underwhelming.
Big heart, questionable execution
There a lot of elements of SkateBIRD that are great. The birds are fun, as is customizing them and finding more things with which to dress them up. Their little adventure is also fun, the soundtrack is excellent, and the levels are fun miniaturized takes on the normal skatepark fare. It’s just that there is so much dragging these charming elements down, the most noticeable of which is the actual skating and the physics involved with it. SkateBIRD might be fun to experience for its premise and cuteness, but those looking for a good technical skate game experience will likely find their expectations crashing and burning frequently, much like most of my sessions with it.
This review is based on a PC digital copy supplied by the publisher. SkateBIRD is available as of September 16, 2021 on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC via Steam.
- Narrative is light, quirky, and fun
- Bird customization has plenty to offer
- Original and licensed soundtrack is excellent
- Levels are interesting adaptations to bird-size skate parks
- Skating physics are finnicky and all over the place
- You can crash just turning too hard
- Music is frequently interrupted by story and missions
TJ Denzer posted a new article, SkateBIRD review: Crash and bird
Was hoping it would have been better.