Skatebird is a great idea. A skateboarding game starring adorable, puffy birds! Wonderful. But sadly, while the bird part of Skatebird is perfect, the skate part is a janky and frustrating mess.
The good: The birds! They are excellent. If the main reason you want to play Skatebird is to hang out with some birds, watch them squawk and hop and do other bird things, well, you’ll be happier than most of the birds in this game. (Which is impressive because most of these birds are very happy indeed!) They are all cute too, which is not something I was prepared to admit as I’ve long said that birds aren’t cute and are, in fact, demons of the sky. But these birds are rad and adorable and I’m big enough to admit that. Best of all, Skatebird lets you create your own bird! Make the cutest or coolest bird skater you desire.
Unfortunately, after making a bird, you then have to play Skatebird, and that’s where it all sort of falls apart.
Skatebird is clearly inspired by Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. The controls are nearly identical, using the same buttons to pull off grinds, flips, stalls, and manuals. Even the combo and scoring systems are directly pulled from the popular skating series. But while the THPS games are all about precision action, fluid motion, and responsive gameplay, Skatebird is, well…a bird on a skateboard. The birds in Skatebird flap around as you skate, making it hard to actually know what you’re doing. Tricks don’t really look like tricks as a result and instead just look like a bird freaking out. Grinding and manuals feel awful because they have no friction to them. Landing a trick is essentially a roll of the dice. Sometimes I’d land and think “Wow, they let me land that!” and other times I’d crash for what seemed like no reason. It leads to a frustrating experience, especially as you struggle to put up with an annoying camera and finicky steering controls. (The number of times I tried to get up a ramp only to miss it over and over again as I tried to turn my bird around…)
But, you are still a bird! And as a bird, you can do stuff that the Birdman could never do in the THPS games. (Birdman is a Tony Hawk reference for you kids out there.) For example, you can tap the ollie button while in the air and get a second ollie, letting you do bigger combos. You can also squawk, which is considered a trick and lets you build combos quicker. These are neat bird-exclusive additions to the THPS formula, but the skating is so rough and annoying that even these abilities are rarely enjoyable to use.
There is a story in Skatebird, but the writing might make you toss your controller at the screen, assuming you haven’t already done that already over your bird missing a simple 50-50 to kickflip. The dialogue is very meme-ish and internet-ish. This is the kind of game where words like “doge” and “birb” and “spoopy” are a standard part of the lexicon. Then again, these are adorable birds so I don’t mind that too much. But if that sounds awful to you, be warned that all of the game’s uninspired missions use this style of writing.
But again — you are a cute bird riding a skateboard! That’s got to be worth something? And it is, for a very short time. After about 20 minutes I was forcing myself to play more Skatebird. Perhaps if the camera wasn’t an out-of-control pain in the tail feathers and the gameplay was more reliable and precise, I would have had a better time. Perhaps a sequel or a patch will improve things.
For now though, Skatebird offers a few moments of enjoyable absurdity, like when I crashed and my bird endlessly rolled around on the ground until I hit a button. That was fun. The rest…well, at least it’s free on Xbox Game Pass.
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