Skateboarding is cool. But what if it was also incredibly cute? SkateBIRD is here to bring this brilliant idea to life. Truthfully, I came to this game with a single hope in mind: to be a bird on a board, at peace with the world. For the most part, it delivers. This is still a skateboarding game, however. Some frustration, some elation, and a lot of practice are baked into the DNA, so to speak. My fluttering hopes aside, SkateBIRD easily achieves its core goals. I’m less certain that it goes beyond them, nor do I know if it even needs to.
Your owner, ‘Big Friend,’ is feeling pretty miserable at their job. It’s up to you and all the other birds to do something about it. And that’s the whole story! It’s simple but effective. The dialogue is cute, clever, and fun. Every corner of this game is packed with bird jokes both great and small. From the ‘Thrusher’ magazine covers to the cameos from familiar birds, SkateBIRD truly commits to the bit. But while I loved the writing, I wrestled a bit with the gameplay.
Just A Super Weird Jump Arc
To be clear, I was absolutely expecting this. My love for skateboarding games is almost inverse to my skill at them. Every entry in the genre is a slog for me, but it doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm even slightly. That said, this is still a solid departure from your usual skate sim. Your bird has a built-in double jump, but it comes with a long, weird arc. Doing tricks is simple enough, but they also truly do not matter. Every major mission is centered around getting this tiny, clumsy creature into impossible places at breakneck speeds. It’s never impossible, but it always feels that way for a while.
Here’s where the mission structure shines, in spite of my grievances. You’re given free access to the whole level. Each mission is just hanging around, waiting to be fired up. This means you can always practice a tough part of any mission without the clock nipping at your heels. I used this feature constantly, slowly turning mountains into molehills with patient repetition. It’s an essential feature, especially while you’re learning to steer these birds around.
Steering is somehow both the simplest and the most frustrating part of the overall mechanics. You build up speed gradually, through quick dips onto half-pipes and ramps. Your turn radius is crazy wide, which means narrow passages are a nightmare to navigate. Plus, the crash animation feels just a little too long. When combined, all these tiny problems make certain mistakes feel quite costly. A shocking amount of my time was spent zipping off of ledges after botching a hairpin turn. Again, I’m fully prepared to chalk some of this up to my habitual ineptitude. It’s possible that no one else will have this problem with SkateBIRD. For now, I have to assume that very small birds are just bad at steering with their feet and wings.
Skate For Your Soundtrack
Another perk to these wide open stages is the ability to patiently explore every part of a level, finding things like soundtrack expansions and new outfit pieces. The soundtracks should be your number one priority. It turns out the song list is pretty short at the start. I loved every song I heard, the first dozen times I heard them. On the other hand, you start out with an aggressive amount of bird customization available. From feather patterns to tiny hats to jaunty scarves, you’ve got a ton of options. I’d love to see a wider variety of bird sizes, but I understand why they’re not available. If nothing else, tiny birds are cute as heck.
Admittedly, my expectations for this game were somewhat low. So long as there were birds on boards, what else could I ask for? And yet, SkateBIRD manages to capture a little of that pure boarding mana, scuffs and all. The controls may skew wide and weird at times, but isn’t it only appropriate? How else would it feel to make a tiny bird steer a skateboard around its owner’s room? I don’t love the initially limited music selection, but I do appreciate going on the hunt for more tracks. Beyond the controls, the customization, and the music, there’s a solid core of skating here. You can easily fall into a calming loop of practice and progress. While it’s not perfect, SkateBIRD’s cute premise and its reliable mechanics make for a pretty fun ride.
***A Nintendo Switch code was provided by the publisher***
- Tons of customization
- Commits to the premise
- Simple. approachable controls
- Turns are crazy wide
- Music selection starts slim
- Tricks feel like an afterthought