Name: Skate It
Genre: Skateboarding Simulation
Platform: Nintendo DS
Last year, Skate took the extreme sports gaming world by storm. With its innovative and challenging control scheme, superior visuals and open-world environment, EA’s thrash-fest unseated longtime champ Tony Hawk as king of the virtual skateboarding realm. While its spin-off, Skate It, may not have the open-world appeal of Skate, both the Wii and DS versions feature innovative control schemes that look to emulate the movements in real skateboarding. While the Wii version attempts to achieve this through use of either the Wii remote or the balance board, the DS utilizes the touch screen. But can the complex controls of Skate be successfully translated to a 2-inch touch screen?
All of the action in Skate It takes place on the top screen. Controlling your skater requires you to use both the D-pad, for steering, and the touch screen, for kicking, ollies, and flip-tricks. To ollie, you simply slide your stylus straight over the skateboard displayed on the bottom screen. Kickflips are performed by dragging diagonally from the bottom of the board to either side of the front of the board, while more advanced moves require more detailed scribbling. Pulling off simple moves is easy and intuitive, but advanced tricks, like inward heelflips and laser flips, take a lot of practice, and the game often fails to recognize them, no matter how accurately you input them. The right and left shoulder buttons handle your grabs, and more advanced grabs can be accomplished by using the stylus in conjunction with the shoulder buttons. Grinding in Skate It is essentially the same as in Skate; line it up and jump on it. The only difference is that the DS seems far more forgiving with grind location, offering some “magnetic” assistance that makes it far easier to successfully land grinds and boardslides. The decreased challenge of grinding is countered, however, by a manual system that is frustrating and poorly designed. To manual, you need to move your stylus from the center of the truck block (where the trucks screw into the board) to the nose or tail, depending on what kind of manual you’re trying to perform. The problem is that the game usually reads these small movements as ollies or nollies, making manuals a nearly hopeless pursuit based more on luck than skill or timing. What this means is that pulling off long chains of moves, which you’ll need to do often in the game’s later stages, is nearly impossible. This is a major design flaw, and one that makes the game frustratingly difficult to complete.
While Skate took place entirely in the wide-open, vibrant, fully-realized city of San Vanelona, Skate It DS spreads the skating action around a bit. San Van is still here, though it’s chopped up into several different sections. There are also levels set in Rio De Janeiro, San Francisco, Shanghai, Barcelona, London and Paris. The San Vanelona areas have instantly recognizable landmarks from Skate, such as the library, elementary school, spillway and Lake Sherwin, and are essentially mini-levels containing up to nine challenges each. These range from checkpoint races to timed scoring challenges to games of “S.K.A.T.E.” Each area has more than one challenge, and you can activate them from within the level, but mostly you’ll be choosing your next challenge from the map screen. This takes away a lot of the relaxed, at-your-own-pace feel that was so important to Skate, and essentially reduces the entire experience to a series of unrelated mini-games.
While the career mode may be a bit thin, there is more than enough content elsewhere to justify a purchase for fans of the sport. Multiplayer mode offers single or double-cart play and several game types. Deathrace, a basic start-to-finish race, Jams, a hybrid of racing and freestyle tricks, as well as Best Trick and Checkpoint Race, which are exactly what you’d expect them to be. Detailed online leaderboards are also available, showcasing your personal records (longest grind, biggest air, etc.) as well as the world’s best. Customizing your skater in Skate It DS is surprisingly deep. There’s a decent selection of clothing, appearance and board options from the start, and completing challenges unlocks more items. There’s even a mini-paintbrush program that allows you to personalize your shirt and deck with your own graphics; something more console games need to adopt.
A skate park editor, a staple of skating games since Tony Hawk 2, is also included. For a DS game, this feature is incredibly robust, with over a hundred rails, ramps, funboxes and stairwells to place in your park. You can even make your own challenges, like Jams, Best Trick competitions and games of S.K.A.T.E., and invite your friends to skate your park via wireless connection. EA has managed to create an impressive online presence for a DS title, and one that enhances the game’s replay value significantly.
3D is never easy on the DS, but all-in-all, Skate It does an admirable job of using the system’s graphical power to the fullest. It certainly isn’t a beautiful game; characters feature very low poly-counts and muddy, unrecognizable faces, and environments are loaded with low quality textures, but skaters animate very well and the skating areas look nice as a whole. The camera has been raised above your skater’s head, making it much easier to see your surroundings than in Skate. Unfortunately, clipping issues and disappearing textures are common, hurting the overall visual presentation and occasionally taking you out of the game. Skate It also attempts to utilize a type of ragdoll physics that is rarely seen on handheld consoles. Unfortunately, they serve as a great example of why they are rarely seen on handheld consoles. Bailing off your board always looks pretty much the same (silly), and is probably the game’s biggest visual flaw. A few simple canned bail animations would have been a far better choice here.
It’s always nice to see real, licensed music in a portable game. Well, maybe not always. Skate It features perhaps the most repetitive and annoying soundtrack in the last decade. There are only four licensed tracks, and they repeat constantly, forcing you to become less of a Clash fan than you used to be. I know there’s a lot of content packed into this game, and that the soundtrack shouldn’t be the highest priority, but if you’ve only got four licensed songs, you better pad that number with some generic tunes, or just scrap the soundtrack all together and use old-school midi sounds. Or at least give us the option to turn the damn music off. Otherwise, Skate It does a great job in the audio department, with realistic sounds for skateboard wheels traversing many types of terrain.
Once again, EA has managed to innovate in a genre that had grown stale and tedious. With its numerous graphical glitches, control issues, and overall lack of polish, it’s obvious that Skate It is a first effort. Still, pulling off big tricks (and even small ones) can be very satisfying, and there’s a real feeling that this is a series that will benefit greatly from further iteration. It’s probably the best skating experience on the DS, and an easy recommendation for hardcores. Those less enthusiastic about skating in general, however, may not have the patience to deal with the input recognition problems, and might be better off waiting for the next inevitable iteration of the series.