Skateboarding is one of those sports where the artistry and culture have always fascinated me, but I’ve never had the opportunity to really explore that. My accident-prone self isn’t about to hit the skate park and try it out in real life, and I completely missed the boat on games like the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater franchise when they first came out. This made the very idea of Skatebird incredibly delightful to me, as it blends the mechanics of skate culture with adorable, neon-hued animal graphics — and, thankfully, the game itself has proven to be just as great. While rough around the edges in a few places, SkateBIRD is an endlessly adorable and surprisingly complex addition to the world of skateboarding games, one that will charm gamers of any age and skill level.
SkateBIRD, referred to hereafter as simply Skatebird, lets players into the world of small birds, who are the pets of an unnamed and absent human owner who is busy at their new job. After players customize their own avian avatars, they take up skateboarding to try to improve the human’s life, either by completing menial tasks or just reigniting their love for skateboarding. The game takes players to an array of settings, beginning with a giant skate park made out of household objects in the human’s room.
While that narrative adds a necessary and endearing driving force behind the game’s activities, something that developers Glass Bottom Games seemed to recognize, as the story mode was only first teased in May of last year when announcing the overall game would be delayed. The quests are accompanied by cut scenes involving various other birds in ridiculous accessories, with adorably written dialogue that is sure to be memed once the game is widely released. At the same time, players have the ability to navigate Skatebird at their own pace, and ignore or abandon a quest without any sort of penalty.
That flexibility proves to be helpful the more you dive into the game, as certain quests require knowledge or tricks that might not reveal themselves until you complete a quest on the opposite side of a course. At one point, I spent a solid 30 minutes trying to gain a collectible that I physically couldn’t access without learning a certain skating move, but that never fully felt like a frustrating or wasted amount of time, as I was getting better at other moves in the process. Players have the ability to aimlessly skate around a course and further develop their skating abilities for as long as they want — but at a certain point, the narrative will become too adorable and fun to completely ignore.
The actual mechanics of Skatebird definitely have a bit of a learning curve, but it’s one that ends up being satisfying to overcome. New moves are laid out to players without ever being overwhelming, and the novelty of attaching them to certain tasks in the bird-sized world (like washing a stain off the floor or cleaning up stray to-go cups) never quite gets old. However, as the game marches along, the limited mechanics can unintentionally create room for frustration — one quest resulted in me repeatedly falling in a tiny crevice between the human’s toaster and microwave, and not being able to get out of it unless I restarted the entire challenge. Traveling around from one point on the course to another can also occasionally get tedious, especially if you have a specific goal in mind or the clock or a particular quest is ticking down. There’s a version of Skatebird that could hypothetically benefit from having some sort of course map or list of potential tasks on the HUD — but, again, the experience of exploring the game outweighs that frustration. The only real frustrating aspect of the game, at least in its default setting, is the erratic switches in the camera’s POV, but that ended up being fixable with a few changes in the settings.
One of the strongest elements of Skatebird is its colorful, cartoony aesthetic, something that is rendered in a way that feels immersive without ever becoming pretentious or overdone. There’s a thrill in discovering and exploring the bird-sized worlds of each course, and the imaginative ways that office supplies and fast-food containers can work in the game’s context. The character creator selection is surprisingly robust and endearing to match, offering both an array of real birds and of silly hats and accessories. Another highlight of Skatebird‘s world is its lo-fi soundtrack, which makes some oddly inspired choices, and even works in audio from vintage newsreels about birds.
Skatebird is the kind of game that the world can never have enough of — complex but accessible gameplay, unique gimmicks, and a clear sense of style. While there are a few kinks that need to be ironed out or settings that can be modified, they’re largely outweighed by the unabashedly silly and enjoyable experience of playing the game. Skatebird is the perfect low-stakes, high-reward game to dive into right now, and hopefully other players will soon agree.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Skatebird is set to be released by Glass Bottom Games on September 16th for Mac, PC, Linux, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. A game code was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review and it was reviewed on Xbox One.