Skate sims really gained popularity in those early Tony Hawk flare-ups: PS1 gamers wouldnât have been without it, and thereâs been various efforts since, each with varying success. EA has developed Skate It for the Wii, and we all know what that means â a control system unlike any other. Its predecessors, on the 360 and PS3, stepped away from the button-mashing fury of earlier skating sims, utilising the machinesâ limited motion-sensitive functionality, and now Skate It truly sends those thumb-combo days of yore packing.
The game comes packaged with an elaborate character-creator, so the first thing I did was set to work building my alter-ego. I might be an uncoordinated paddle-foot when it comes to taking up the board in real life, but in game land I was going to shine! Hairstyles and colour were a bit limited, and all of a sudden my beard is pink, but itâs close enough. I did manage to find a body frame not unlike my whippet-lithe-self, but alas I was forced to pick a face with a nose that looks like itâs hiding the same olfactory network as a large great white shark. Skate It allows you to pick everything about your character (even if there are only one or two options for some attributes), right down to the trucks on the board and, bafflingly, âattitudeâ. I say bafflingly because there are only three to choose from â rock, punk and cool. Does this mean that punks arenât cool? That rockers canât be punk? Whereâs the tree-hugger option, or one for strangely optimistic?
It would be strange if your character was too upbeat â your city has just been laid to ruin. Details are sketchy, but basically youâre left with a deserted city (San Vanelona) and a bazillion twisted rails, broken staircases and acres and acres of smooth concrete. One for making hay while the sun shines, you hook up with a vocal photographer and filmmaker who offers to follow you round while you rip it up. There are obviously people getting about the place unscathed elsewhere, because your phone beeps now and again to issue you a challenge from a pro-skater friend out of town (real pro-skaters cameo).
Throughout the tutorial youâll learn a few of the staple tricks. Once youâve chosen your control method â Remote, Remote and âchuck, Wii Balance Board â youâre ready to get to grips with how the game mechanics work. Unfortunately, what makes things a bit difficult and causes such a steep learning curve, is that the controls donât work as well as they might. Steering with the âchuck is much easier than relying on the left-and-right twist of the Remote which you can use: as for the Balance Board, I must admit to not getting to try it out, but I can speculate it only makes things harder. Ollies and Nollies are upward flicks of the Remote, and downward, respectively, and Manuals can be performed by a smooth push at either end. Twist a flick, in a combo of directions, and youâll see how the tricks come together. There are plenty of them, although some are stupidly hard to get going. Grinding took me so long I passed the test by accident, and it wasnât until I moved the camera from âlowâ to âhighâ that I was able to get any sort of handle on depth perception. This, at least, meant I bailed out a lot less.
Once youâre past the tutorial you can move into skating the landscape, picking up challenges and getting your buddy to amass some footage. The challenges are simple â earn 300 points, do one grab, one grind, etc, but stack up as the game gets on. As you progress, youâll unlock new locations, boards, shoesâŚ there are more unlockables in Skate It than I have seen in any game for a while. Various real-world companies have attached their mark, so youâre playing for Adidas and Independent. Later, youâll also have the chance to get sponsored, really giving your career the kick it needs. I like that the worlds are of a size that encourages getting out there and searching for the coolest spots to do your tricks and get your photos done. After finding the perfect rail, itâs good fun to get your tail-grind and dismount right then check the film editor to save certain snapshots or a few seconds of film to your own album.
Although the game flows with a beautiful filmic quality and some great features like slow-mo wipe-outs (complete with eye-watering crunches) and the Thrasher âHall of Meatâ which catalogues your injuries (broken pelvis? Get up you girl), the graphics really let the game down. While your characterâs shadow is pretty slick, weâre talking distance shimmer and floating tree foliage. There are 2D sprites making up the backgrounds and times, and the whole thing, while looking almost-good-enough just comes off as amateurishly designed. PlayStation 2 at best â and I know the Wiiâs not known as an eye-candy powerhouseâŚ but come on. This is scrappy.
On the up side, the sound is nice. The camera-manâs voiceovers, while at times patronising, are called out in a streetwise accent and once youâre past his overuse of âSickâ and âDopeâ heâs not hard to listen to. The click and clatter of wheel on concrete and the squeak of your trucks are all nicely wrought and the music has to get an honourable mention. Under EA Trax in the menu, youâll find a list of decent songs by decent bands, which really help set the scene. Thereâs some metal in there, a bit of punk, and some hip-hop and downbeat: itâs a great mix, and certainly adds flavour.
The game is plenty big enough to satisfy even very demanding gamers, but I would be concerned about those controls. Not everyone wants to spend too long getting to know a difficult control system, these days. Often, immediacy is key and this is a step away from plug and play. Still, the range of tricks and masses of unlockables will keep you all coming back. By no means a groundbreaking skating game, Skate It holds its own in the lead up to Christmas. Older gamers could be better off dropping their dosh elsewhere, but as one for the kids, Skate It should do well. And itâs the kids who are really propping the Wii up, after all.