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Skate It

(Electronic Arts; US: 17 Nov 2008)

Learning to play Skate It is a lot like learning to skateboard: There’s almost no way you’re going to enjoy it. As a product of the Tony Hawk/X Games phenomenon, I can attest to the difficulty of balancing your physical skills and mental composure to try and do the most basic tricks. Skate It takes similar coordination and thought—albeit little or no physical skills—to learn even the basics of the game. In this respect, Skate It stands as one of most realistic skateboarding games ever made while maintaining the playability and casual attitude of its predecessors.


The premise of Skate It is pretty basic and totally realistic. The city of San Vanelona, a metropolis presumably in California where there’s never inclement weather, was recently destroyed by “The Disaster Too Gnarly to be Named”. My guess? Earthnado. Or possibly monsoonclone. Something like that. In any case, the terrain of the city has been drastically changed, with fallen buildings, overturned cars, and random metal structures lying around. You are an unnamed amateur skater in the deserted ruins who thinks it’s intelligent to grind rusted metal and structurally unsound monuments, and are fortunate enough to be encountered by the only other person left in the city, who happens to be a skateboarding videographer with extensive contacts with professional skaters. What luck!


The most critical function to succeeding in Skate It‘s various tasks is timing. Kicking is a fairly mundane affair (hold the A button for constant kicks or hit it intermittently for more accurate speed control. But ollieing, which is a simple flick of the wrist, is an infuriating game of guess and check in the beginning, and something that is largely dependent on your speed and setup. Sooner or later though, the timing begins to make sense, and rather than jumping short and breaking your ankles on a picnic table—a rather prominent part of the game as you make it into Thrasher magazine’s “Hall of Meat” with excessively violent falls—you’re grinding across its benches.


Once you have these basic controls down, the rest of the game is based around exploring the vast and, somewhat impressively, varied environments. I suppose ingenuity comes with the terrain of inventing an imaginary city that’s been destroyed by an imaginary disaster, but the trend toward monotony has been one of the plagues of recent skateboarding mods. Where recent Tony Hawk incarnations have tended toward mindless gags and appealing to the culture behind skating, Skate It cares about nothing more than the sport itself. The various objectives you’re given in each level are all designed to enable your unnamed skater to get sponsored: skate through the level as fast as possible, do the biggest trick, win skating events, and get footage for Thrasher articles. While all of these are fairly easy to complete generally by combining a few flip tricks and grinds, the focus on actually skating is an enjoyable return to the genre’s roots.


Graphically, Skate It is playfully realistic. The game doesn’t take itself too seriously but looks realistic enough to stand as one of the smoother and more graphically impressive games on the Wii. Unfortunately, there are often times when, in the shadows of large buildings, rails and benches are difficult to discern, frequently causing those disastrous crashes the game enjoys so much.


Besides that small flaw, the only real problem that can be levied against the game is the fact that, instead of a massive interconnected city, San Vanelona is broken up into separate sections (library, schoolyard, matrix, etc.). If the environments were more fluidly constructed, the realism of the game would be greatly improved. As it stands, you just warp from one section of the city to another—as well as a few foreign environments—which is jarring during a game that is primarily based on exploring intricate environments.


Skate It isn’t perfect, but it perfectly utilizes the Wii’s motion controls while getting back to the focus that skateboarding games have long since forgotten. It will fly under the radar because the cultural effect of Tony Hawk’s 900 has worn off, meaning less of a fervent troupe of video-game-playing youngsters looking to do all of the tricks in the game that they wish they could do on an actual skateboard. Seriously, skateboarding is really hard.

Rating:

Chris Gaerig is a user experience designer with a Bachelor of Arts in English and American Culture as well as a Master of Science in Information specializing in human computer interaction from the University of Michigan.


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