Name: Skate It
Genre: Sports – Skateboarding
Platforms: Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS (Reviewed on Wii)
The original Skate was the best thing to happen to skateboarding video games since Tony Hawk's Pro Skater first blazed onto consoles across the world. Making great use of the analog sticks to replicate actual skating as best they could, EA basically reinvigorated a genre that had grown stale. When I first heard that Skate would be getting a Wii version compatible with the balance board, my mind immediately started recalling countless quarters being dropped into the Top Skater machine at the arcade at my mall. Even if the controls weren’t as deep as they were on the 360 or PS3, it had to be pretty fun to actually play a skating game with a simulated board, right?
After playing Skate It with the balance board for twenty minutes, it became clear that this particular control scheme was less than ideal. Controls in this kind of game are everything, and maybe expecting a glorified scale/aerobic step pad to replicate the feel of actual skateboarding was too much. The board is primarily used for pulling tricks and turning, while players hold a Wii-mote in their hand for kicking/pushing, grabs, and changing the styles of tricks you can perform. Broken into six sections, the board is supposed to respond to your movements, but you’ll quickly find the responsiveness and sensitivity aren’t exactly up to snuff. Even turning becomes an impossible task thanks to unforgiving sensitivity issues. Not to mention the fact the balance board will constantly need to recalibrate itself if you’re too active. There is nothing as frustrating as having a string of tricks broken up by the game pausing for board calibration, causing you to lose any momentum you may have had. Once I gave up trying to make the balance board work, the game did become a bit more interesting. Barely.
Problems with the balance board aside, I could finally get into what Skate It has to offer. Taking place sometime after the end of the first game, the San Vanelona in Skate It has been destroyed by a natural disaster. The world is completely devoid of people, but full of trick opportunities. I actually had no problem with my character being the only one hanging out in the main locale of the game. One of my pet peeves of the 360/PS3 version was the necessary evil of constantly running into people and falling off my board. That’s not an issue here, and it certainly helps when I’m putting a difficult line of tricks together. However, the game opens up other cities as you progress, where there are still no people. That is slightly weak. I know the Wii can’t fill streets with as many people as the more powerful consoles out there, but nary a soul will be found on the screen at the same time as your character, with the exception of cut scenes. This took me out of the game a few times. It couldn’t possibly hurt to have thrown in one person there, say a camera guy, just so the game doesn’t feel so empty.
Fans of the original Skate who happen to also own a Wii will get an early look at some of the improvements to be implemented in the sequel. “My Spot” enables players to position certain elements, like ramps or benches, in selected locations to create their own personal trick zone. It’s a nice feature, but when I still can’t get off the board to find a better start point, nor walk up steps instead of finding a ramp to get back to a raised area, I still feel cheated. If they took out the extra people, surely there must’ve been a way to add walking/running without taxing the system too much. It’s not like they’re spending much power on the graphics here. Textures are sometimes sloppy, and trying to mold the realistic looking character models from the 360/PS3 versions into the Wii version doesn’t work out in the less powerful system’s favor. While I don’t think they should’ve gone so far as to incorporate Miis into the mix, perhaps having more cartoonish or stylized characters would’ve had a better visual impact.
Opting to use the nunchuck/Wii-mote combo controls seemed the best route to go after ditching the balance board. While you could also just use the Wii-mote, I found it almost as difficult to maneuver with as I did the board; at least you have a good measure of controlling turns and powerslides with the nunchuck. It’s incredibly easy to pull of tricks using this control scheme. Actually, it’s almost too easy. I was able to string a solid amount of tricks together just by shaking the controller in various directions, with no clear goal in mind. Gone is the finesse of Skate’s analog “Flick It” controls, and in place are random jerky motions that are supposed to feel like manipulating the virtual board with your hand, but come off as spastic gestures akin to button mashing. I understand developers wanting to show off how their game uses the interactive controls of the Wii, but this effort in particular misses the mark. It’s not so bad as to feel tacked on, but it doesn’t feel natural, and natural is how controls are supposed to feel.
Skate It had no real competition in the skating game market this winter, and it should’ve been the game that Wii owners flocked to fill the extreme sport void in their library. Sadly, it ends up being a bit of a disappointment, with iffy controls and less than impressive graphics. Skate It is a title that’s almost there, but doesn’t do enough to separate itself from third-party mediocrity the Wii is so known for. Hopefully by the time Skate It 2 arrives I’ll be singing a different tune.