When I first saw Skate It during a press event in San Francisco earlier this year I was enamored.
The idea of creating a fun, pick-up-and-play skater that uses the Wii Balance Board as a controller was sublime, I thought at the time. What game, besides maybe snowboarding, is a better fit for a balance board controller than a skating one? Then I got a chance to check it out at another event in Los Angeles. The controls were a bit tricky, but after playing around with them for a bit, I seemed to be getting the hang of it. Skate It quickly became one of my most anticipated Wii games for the holiday season. I needed something to do with that balance board tucked under the sofa and this seemed like the perfect fit.
But did the final product live up to my expectations, delivering a pick-up-and-play skating game that uses body motion to let you really drop into the experience? Lets see.
Flick It: One of the things I love about Skate It's controls are their use of the remote to pull off tricks. Using just the remote to play the game may not work, but when you combine the remote and the game's clever flick it controls with the nunchuk for precision, Skate It is quite fun.
Level Design: Skate It's level design is fairly eclectic, featuring an around-the-world selection of skate parks, city streets and disaster areas to skate around in. You can even clutter up marked off areas with your own bits and pieces, essentially creating mini skate parks.
Balance Board Controls: I had high, perhaps head-in-the-clouds high expectations for the balance board controls when I first tested them out in Skate It. They seemed pretty responsive, and I figured they would add a lot of depth to the game. But what the hell happened? What tested as deft and responsive, shipped as unwieldy and painfully awkward. Not only could I not pull off the tricks the game's campaign mode insists you finish to continue, but half the time the game throught I had jumped on the board or stepped off of it. To make matters worse it would stop the game to scold me and then pause to recalibrate.
Remote-Only Controls: After giving up on the fit board as controller part of the way through the tutorial, I moved on to remote-only controls. They're kinda neat. You hold the remote like it's a skateboard and tool around a park, flicking out to perform different tricks. The problem is, the controls for turning aren't responsive enough for a bulk of what you have to, or want to do in the game. And at times the same motions performed different tricks.
Radical Commentator: As soon as the game kicks off you're saddled with a buddy, a cameraman buddy. And man is he annoying. The fact that you're using unresponsive controls to pull off intricate tricks is frustrating enough, do I really need some asshat shouting out the same tired phrases at me every time I manage to break half of the bones in my body?
Wasteland Setting: There is no one in Skate It besides you. No pedestrians, no cops, no competitors. Even when there are people there ( you can hear their voices), they're not there. Even your wordy cameraman buddy who just won't shut up throughout the game is never anywhere to be seen. Skate It doesn't take place in a wasteland, apparently it takes place in the head of a schizophrenic. He's always hearing voices, but no one's ever there.
Horrible Camera Man: Not only is your cameraman annoying, talkative and invisible, he's also a really, really, really bad photographer and videographer. Would a close-up of my jeans-covered ass really make the cover of a skate magazine? Does the back of my head zipping down the line of a fence really make for good video? No, not even in a video game.
Pass The Remote Multiplayer: Not only are there no people in the single player campaign, the multiplayer campaign, an experience that by definition includes more than one person, is also bereft of other characters. Instead of going head-to-head in any of the challenges or modes with two remotes, you play pass the remote. It's almost like this was designed to be played on a single DS.
****ing Respawn Points: The only thing more frustrating than having to make a run over and over and over again because of sloppy controls, is respawning each time about two-feet from the curb, the drop, the stairs, the whatever you're supposed to jump or grind, making it impossible to get up enough speed to actually do it.
Cutting Corners: Why can't my skateboarder step off his board? Why instead does he have to spend time pushing straight into a wall or a corner until, eventually, the board slips out of the area it's stuck and he can continue moving?
To say I was deeply disappointed by this game would be an understatement. But, I'll be the first to admit that I had unreasonably high expectations both for what Skate It would do with the board, and (I'm starting to think) what the board itself is capable of delivering. Perhaps four digital scales coated in plastic just aren't meant to be able to measure precise shifts in weight. Maybe the balance board is something better suited to the sorts of games that it shipped with, titles that only need binary responses. Left, right. On, off. Forward, backward. It's probably too early to tell, but maybe after I check out the Shaun White sitting on my coffee table I'll know.
Taken on its own, Skate It isn't as bad a game as my hateds might lead you to believe. Two of the three control methods are flawed. But the remaining one can be quite fun. When you look at the game with just that control method in mind you're left with something that has it's moments mixed in with a healthy dose of shortcomings. But hey, at least it does have its moments.
Skate It was developed by EA Montreal and published by Electronic Arts, released in North America on Nov. 19 for the Wii. Retails for $49.99. Played through several countries in both campaign and free skate modes using all three control methods. Played all multiplayer modes with my son.
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