When Nelly Furtado released her iconic song “I’m Like a Bird” she foolishly thought she was accurately using metaphor to describe freedom and individuality. Instead, she played into nature’s most boring cliché: why must a bird simply fly? As always video games have decided to present a more exciting alternative, hence Skatebird. This title asks the daring question: what if Tony Hawk lived up to his surname?
A daring question but sadly one with a disappointingly negative answer. Despite loft promises of high octane sk8tr-boi action, Skatebird is a mess. Plunged instantly into a bedroom themed skatepark it becomes instantly clear that you’ll be wrestling with the controls and camera more than any specifically designed in-game challenges. It’s unclear whether this game is meant to be a retro skating game throwback or a Goat Simulator style physics “comedy game”. Regardless, the supposed joke never seems to manifest itself.
The intro tutorials even frustrate as seemingly simple button inputs don’t seem to do as they say. This leaves your bird constantly rolling on the floor in aviary agony rather than soaring with grace. Redirecting the camera is about as intuitive as battling an ostrich, only the latter is less painful.
This is all rather tragic as in most other regards Skatebird is cool. This is not a word to be used lightly, but the casual skate aesthetics combined with the “lo-fi hip hop beats to skate to” soundtrack forms a truly pleasing stylistic experience. The menus are more enjoyable than the actual game in letting you indulge in this pleasant feeling. Indeed it’s hard to think of many comparable sports games with such a clear style. However, this doesn’t extend to the actual rough graphics.
Simply put, Skatebird is an ugly duckling. Getting to customise your skater is a lovely touch, adding a personal touch to your frustrations. Seeing your carefully designed bird faceplant makes every failure feel that much more bitter. The open skate environments are creative and broadly fun to explore, you’ll just wish traversal was more intuitive.
It’s the classic Monkey’s paw: a great concept for the return of a classic sub-genre ruined by technical troubles and design flaws. For those truly starving for skating games, they may be satisfied that at least the genre hasn’t gone the way of the dodo. The less forgiving should go cold turkey. Either way, Skatebird is truly guilty of fowl play.