Before firing up this brand new skating simulator for the first time I did some reflecting upon the skating genre. After the burning sensation in my brain faded away the evolution of skating games seemed quite simple enough. As like any other genre it was mainly technology based. We started out with a 2D take on the sport that debuted on the earliest platforms like the 8-bit Atari or the Commodore 64. It quickly switched to isometric 2D games like California Games and Skate or Die on the PC. When the first Playstation came along it didn’t take very long for the first 3D skate games to pop up. Tony Hawk quickly took the lead but after some years the formula lost its magical touch and every next game the controls got more and more complicated. I lost my interest.
Then along came Skate on the next-gen platforms. It completely changed the way skate games were controlled from a matter of learning the most difficult button combos to a matter of timing and mastering the dual analog sticks. It quickly became a huge success and got massive sales and good reviews to back up its leap to the throne. Now Skate tries to reinvent itself on the Wii as Skate It.
Why on earth would we want to have a remake of a game that was already near perfect on the more powerful consoles? Well I can tell you it surely isn’t because of the story that accompanies this version. San Vanelona, the fictional city from Skate, has been struck by mysterious disasters and is evacuated and turned into a ghost city. You are a skater that is left behind and found by some documentary crew that wants to film your wicked tricks on the destroyed buildings that somehow have turned in ideal skating grounds. As idiotic and stupid the storyline might be, the campaign behind it is actually very well constructed and quite huge. You start out on some school ground where you get a tutorial and need to complete some basic challenges. If you meet your target, you can move on to the next zone.
Most of you can already guess why a Wii skate game would be a very good idea: the controls, and more specific, the Balance Board. The controller is used for grabbing and pushing, everything else is done by balancing around on the six different zones of the board. The first thing I did, after dusting off my Wii, was kicking out the balance board and taking my freshly created skater out for a spin. Curious how it went? Well, after about 45 minutes of turning around in circles, managing a few ollies and nollies, falling off the board at two different occasions and being one desillusion richer I tossed the board aside again and tried for the ‘regular’ motion controls.
It must be said; those controls work very well, certainly with nunchuck attached for directional controls. You push the A button to gain speed and you flick the controller to perform tricks. EA calls this way of controlling “Flickit”. Timing in your movements is of the essence, especially when you try to link tricks. The setup of the controls is very intuitive and builds up quite nicely. The easy tricks are linked to the simplest motions that need little to no timing; the hardest tricks are some movements that need a steady hand and precise timing to be performed well. The learning curve is a bit on the steep side for the more difficult tricks and it takes quite some mastering but after fiddling around for quite some hours I wouldn’t want it any other way anymore. This is honestly the best way to control a skate game. Instead of trying to remember buttons or stick controls just must convince yourself you are skating with your arms and the moves get saved in your subconscious mind. I’m not kidding, after a while you start reacting automatically to opportunities that present themselves without putting a thought into it.
The entirely empty disaster area should be the opportunity to create some wicked looking worlds but actually the whole thing feels quite generic and bland except for the menus. After firing up the game you get presented with some quite slick interface design but once the real gaming world loads it’s back to mediocre PS2 quality graphics. It seems that the Wii is incapable of rendering non cartoonish graphics. Once there is realism involved and the charm factor is of no importance the platform seems to struggle to perform. I still give them an A for effort because you can see they tried but it isn’t enough. It does explain why they needed a dumb story to eliminate a crowd, they needed processing power.
The audio and soundtrack is top notch. Seriously, it’s been a while since a game had me head banging along with a song but Skate It managed it quite a few times. Rock, punk or hip-hop, whatever you fancy, it can be found in the game and it will be of a superb quality. The other audio effects and voiceovers are also quite decent.
But whatever you do, don’t mistake Skate It for a casual game. This game means business and it does quite a job. The goals are quite challenging and also pretty non-linear. You are rarely obliged to do one mission at a specific time, there is always choice. But what’s more interesting, you can complete your challenge in whatever way pleases you. You are usually asked to collect a number of points in a certain time or perform a number of tricks. The place and way you want to do it is completely up to you and I can find myself very much in this type of gameplay. All I need is a location, a mission, freedom and a bag of chips to enjoy my games. Once you found your sweetspot to try a trick you can activate the “My Spot” feature so you can reset at the very same location for each try.
Skate It is, in my eyes, about the perfect way to play a skating game. Great controls, a huge world with a lot of freedom and a soundtrack that is made out of pure awesomeness. It’s games like this that make me realize it’s a pure shame the more powerful platforms don’t have a motion controller because the flat graphics are about the only reason to put the game away and go play something truly pretty on the Xbox 360. The balance board is a nice addition but the game was clearly not designed for it, certainly in multiplayer when each player needs to re-calibrate every time he steps on. It will keep you entertained for quite some time and it’s also a nice change to have a game on the Wii that is better at its singleplayer part than gimmicky multiplayer party games.