How do you say no to SkateBIRD? It’s skateboarding, which is rad, but with adorable little birds. Also, they wear hats and little scarves. When the opportunity to review SkateBIRD came across my desk, I was torn between Tales of Arise and Deathloop, but I dropped both games like a bad habit when SkateBIRD was sent to me. Was that a mistake? Heck no it wasn’t.
SkateBIRD has you begin by creating your bird, with plenty of options to choose from. Just the sheer variety of breeds is mindblowing; I have never heard of most of them, but boy, are there so many colourful birds. When you have created your skate bird, you are let loose on your first course, which is the messy bedroom of your Big Friend–an unnamed human who’s probably your owner.
On what is definitely an old fingerboard, you can skate around this giant room to your heart’s content. There are grind rails made out of drinking straws, half pipes made of cardboard and old magazines aptly named Thrusher. As you skate around, you will encounter other birds who will give you missions to complete. These come in a variety of classic objectives; high scores, combos, collecting letters, and more specific goals like cleaning the room through skateboarding. There’s plenty of variety, and even in completing every side mission I never got bored. These side missions can be completed quickly and easily, but what tugged at my heartstrings more is that they mostly resulted in fun interactions with other birds.
Plenty of birbs
Look, there’s no sense beating around the bush. Naturally, this game takes some cues from the original Birdman’s games: the Pro Skater series. Rather than filling each level with arbitrary goals and enforcing a time limit, you explore each level and interact with its cast of feathered friends. These conversations really are the heart of the game, as each bird is so full of character with personalities of their own. You will meet a scientist who will teach you how to make a bed using balloons and gravity. You will befriend a bird who wants to make the best skate park they can. You’ll even chance upon Sam King(fisher), a sneaky bird motivated only by snacks. All these interactions fed into the game’s central plot, which is another plus.
SkateBIRD has more heart than you might expect. You and your bird pals are beginning to worry for your Big Friend, who’s having a rough time and burning out from work. To give them a hand, the birds sought to help Big Friend, from tidying their room to fixing their problems at work. It’s one big adventure to help their favourite human take care of themselves and get well again. This wholesome tale of friendship–in which the birds embark on a joyous journey to aid their human, as they flit from rooftops to office desks and beyond–is fitting for a skateboarding game.
But what’s a skateboarding game without decent music, right? In this aspect, SkateBIRD does not disappoint. While you might not recognise all the tracks, most are sourced from contemporary bands, including genres like punk rock, ska, hip hop, which are the classic broad skater mix of anarchic rage and chill vibes. With the music they have nailed not just the sound, but also the spirit of skating–that community, activism and friendship are paramount–better than any skateboarding game has in decades. Their subjects range from sampling scientific descriptions of birds, to calling out racists and transphobes and decrying a system that has left young people incapable of affording a home.
The actual skateboarding itself is in the wheelhouse of the Birdhouse. If you have played a Tony Hawk game, the controls will be instantly familiar to you. Yet this isn’t Skate 4; tricks and perfect landings aren’t of vital importance. SkateBIRD is more concerned with having a good time with cool birds and chill skating. While there are challenging moments, rarely do they come with targets you need to hit, or strict time limits.
There were some mildly frustrating moments, but SkateBIRD wasn’t as frequently so as some of the early Tony Hawk games that it plays so much like, which I think is a pretty incredible achievement. Frustration has always felt like such an inescapable facet of skating games, and there are always going to be moments where you’re bumping into things, missing grind rails or just stuck in an awkward spot.
SkateBIRD minimises this with a handy feature: even when your bird de-boards, you still have control. As you roll about on the floor, you can manoeuvre your bird around with your “screm” (that is, flapping wildly and screaming, which I feel is something bird owners are used to) to reposition yourself before re-boarding and getting on with skating. I can’t tell you how many times this simple but fantastic solution has gotten me out of literal tight spaces: situations I have been in many times in other skateboarding games, but without nearly as elegant a solution as this.
Yet there is one thing I really couldn’t get into. There is a pretty extreme amount of blur on anything more than a few feet away from you. I’m not sure if this is supposed to mimic bird vision, or maybe a way to enforce the scale of things from your tiny perspective, but it’s an odd inclusion. Fortunately, the levels are laid out pretty well and simply. I rarely had a massive issue because of this distance blurring, or because I couldn’t see what was ahead of me. That said, it’s distracting and quite off-putting; far away objects were so blurred that I thought I needed new glasses. Searching for the next bird to talk to for the next mission can also be a bit tricky when said bird is just a colourful smudge in the distance.
My expectations going in were relatively high. I’ve played a lot of games that are fun on paper, and in practice they are just that. But SkateBIRD turned out to be so much more. Skating around as a bird on a little fingerboard is as fun as it sounds, and the music is pitch-perfect with a message that is on point. The real magic of the game, however, comes from its feathered characters. Coming together like a patchwork blanket, their companionship feels like pieces of a comforting whole, as they help their friend through a tough time as a little avian community. SkateBIRD is a beautiful and heartwarming game, and it’s something that will stay with me for years to come.