The resurgence of skating games brings me a lot of joy. When I first encountered Glass Bottom Games’ SkateBIRD at PAX East 2019, I was enamored by the jolly and goofy take on the skating game as someone who played skating games and skated when I was younger. It brought me back to playing way too much Tony Hawk’s Project 8 as a kid.
The more arcadey nature of SkateBIRD is refreshing as more simulation styles of skating crowd the scene. Due to the foul nature of the player character, you are able to quickly get in the air, gain speed, and do tricks with ease. While you are able to get around the stages rather quickly, it did take me a while to get used to the timing of the ollies and grinding. When you pop a trick to get some air it feels oddly floaty. The grinding requires a surprising amount of precision for an arcade skating game. However, once you get adjusted to these two things, the game gets more fun.
The controls in SkateBIRD very much are inspired from the Tony Hawk games. The bottom face button is your ollie and grind button, the left face button allows you to do the flip tricks, and the right face button allows you to do basic grab tricks. The direction of the left analog stick during these maneuvers determines which trick you ultimately pop. This familiar scheme feels just as intuitive as it did in the bigger games that invented them.
I have put around 90 minutes into SkateBIRD, and was surprised to see how fun the narrative and the environment is. In the first area, you are cleaning up the room of your owner, “The Big Friend.” Your bird peers, one of which was shocked that I could even skate, give you tasks like opening up the window with plastic forks through and cleaning up the trash, each completed through various different expressions of skating. You simply navigate under their bed and pop ollies with extra air by flapping your wings to collect the floating plastic forks in the air, and then the window opens in a cutscene. Tasks like this get stranger and more silly as you follow the narrative seeds to catch up with your owner. Overall, it’s a lighthearted and still compelling reason to keep the skating going.
Some of the best fun in SkateBIRD is finding the cassette tapes with incredible music. Finding my first We Are The Union cassette and hearing their music play throughout my sessions was a really cool feeling. It is a great way to introduce people to music by artists which are not gonna be on the charts, following the footsteps of many skating game soundtracks from days past. Music I love to this day I found in skating games of my youth.
SkateBIRD is charming in its full feathered embrace of its goofy and fun nature. It is quite simply a game about a bird who skateboards, and who tries to make their owner’s life better in the process. It often tells you that being a bird who skateboards is illogical and strange but that doesn’t deter you from doing it. It embraces the best nature of skateboarding, doing it because it feels good and doing it until you get it right because the failures just make the success even more powerful.