There is one frustrating thing about skateboarding games, there aren’t enough of them. So when my beady little eye spotted Skatebird was coming not only to Xbox but also Xbox Game Pass I knew I had to check it out. We haven’t exactly been spoilt for choice in the genre with the most recent Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 & 2 Remake making its appearance in 2020. We have also had Session and Skater XL in recent times but they didn’t seem to fare too well. Skatebird does exactly what it says on the tin. It places a bird on the board of your choice and sets you on your merry way.
The Skatebird story is quite a charming one. An idea blossomed from solo developer Megan Fox (no not the actress from the Transformers films) was put into fruition after she wondered what game she could make on her own. The final product is three years of hard work. With Nathan Madson drafted in to help with the music side of operations and Alexander Price helping with bird art. After the game was announced in late 2018 there was a surge of excitement surrounding birdlife on wheels. After a small Kickstarter exploded, Xalavier Nelson Jr was hired to help with the narrative elements of the game. Skatebird was in full gear and flaps its wings onto Xbox+Xbox Game Pass, PC, Nintendo Switch and Amazon Luna.
What’s on offer here?
The main premise here is diving straight into the five areas on offer. Starting with the first and unlocking the others one by one. Each has its own casual story with an array of interesting and witty dialogue. Humble Bedginnings, Scared of Heists, Big Business, The Forgotten Gibson and Bringing It Home make up the five levels. Each has approximately twenty missions to work through along with secrets to discover. Hidden items consist of mixtapes, clothing, wheelsets and decks. Some are really well tucked away and difficult to reach and provide a real challenge.
I do recommend having a little skate around to start off with as you have some super challenging times ahead. The first couple of quests will introduce some of the moves, ollies, grinds and grab tricks along with how to perform transfers and more. By pressing the menu button you’ll see a picture of the map which will indicate where you need to reach to find quests. Gold dots show the main story portions whilst blue represents side missions. Typically these are well explained and feature inspiration from other skating titles. For example, collect the letters S-K-A-T-E, grind rails, find objects, reach areas and more. If you get lost, there is a symbol above your bird’s head that will point you in the direction you need to go.
How are the controls?
Whilst the concept, level design, dialogue and story are wonderfully created, the controls absolutely hinder the experience. It just doesn’t feel as fluid and reactive as other skating titles. Performing tricks is fairly simple with the press of the A button to ollie, for instance, B to perform a grab trick and Y to grind. Manuals are triggered by flicking the right stick up and down. If you have dipped into skateboarding games before you’ll be instantly familiar with the control scheme.
Unfortunately, I found the general skating around to be a real bugbear. For instance, on the first level, there is a big ramp to traverse upwards onto a higher platform. I lost count of how many times I careered off the edge because turning into the board felt too stiff and heavy. It just appeared as if I never had true control over what I wanted to do. Camera angles really spoilt the enjoyment frequently and became really frustrating especially when attempting to reach objectives. Often I would become stuck in areas and have to reset my bird. It made me have to keep attempting certain quests countless times due to losing too much time. That said, when the game functioned well it was fun to run through the storyline. I like a challenge and don’t expect everything to be achieved with ease, but I felt some of these factors made it infuriating at times.
Graphics and Sound
I admire the amount of detail that’s gone into the creation of birdlife and level design from Megan and Alexander. My three-year-old was besotted with skating around and laughing his little head off every time the bird bailed and rolled off the board. Each level is well laid out and despite some nooks and crannies where you can get stuck, they all seem different in terms of appearance.
Creating your bird is actually more in depth than I thought with all manner of props, hats and items. With the collectables throughout the levels, it gives a reason to go back and change things up once in a while.
The sound effects and music are spot on. With all original music composed by Nathan Madsen. A nice blend of SoundCloud rap, jazz and funk, I enjoyed the chilled relaxed vibes of the music. All other audio elements were well blended from the tweets of the birds to the wheels gliding along the ground.
If you can see past some clunky controls and occasional awkward camera angles, there is a great little indie here. Most casual players will see everything on offer in approximately 8-12 hours. There is enough variance and content on offer between the five main areas to keep players engaged and interested. It’s a fantastic achievement for a solo developer with some hands-on deck to help Megan with the audio, bird design and porting procedures. Players on Xbox have no excuse not to try it out since it’s a day one launch on Game Pass. On the whole, though for a reasonable price, it’s a unique take on the skateboarding genre that fans should try.