The Very First Skateboarding Game Was A Rad Arcade Hit From The '80s

Illustration for article titled The Very First Skateboarding Game Was A Rad Arcade Hit From The 80s
Image: Atari / Kotaku
Very FirstVery FirstVery First delves into games history to discover how popular franchises, genres, and developers first began.

Long-running video game franchises all have to start somewhere, and it’s not always pretty. Looking back to that origin point can show us not just how the greats began, but how far they’ve come since. Today we unearth the very first skateboarding video game.

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So, What Was The First Skateboarding Game?

720° was an arcade game developed and released by Atari back in December 1986. Many people consider this to be the first skateboarding game. However, as is usually the case with older games, we can’t pinpoint the exact date of release. And another skateboarding game, SkateRock for the Commodore 64, was also released around that time. A skateboard game timeline website suggests that 720° came out first, and considering SkateRock is basically Paperboy on a skateboard and 720° is an actual extreme sports video game, it’s easy to conclude that 720° is the true predecessor of games like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Skate.

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What Kind Of Game Was It?

An isometric skateboarding video game! Moving on no- wait? You want more info. Fine. 720° is an arcade game that challenges players to score lots of points in a specific amount of time. When the time runs out a bunch of bees come after you. It’s a tough world.

HighArcadeblood89 (YouTube)

If you score enough points before the timer runs out you earn a ticket that grants admission to one of four different skate parks, where you will compete for prize money and medals in slalom, halfpipe, downhill, and jump events. Your ultimate goal is to complete all the events in all the parks while avoiding swarms of bees. Do this and you win!

How’s It Play? 

Depends on how you’re playing it. If you’re playing on an original arcade cabinet with a working joystick, it should feel good. The game uses a one-of-a-kind joystick that spins around instead of pivots, which means to turn you slide the stick toward where you want to go, which feels not unlike leaning and sliding on a skateboard. (At least that’s what folks who’ve ridden a skateboard say. I can’t ride a skateboard. I’m not cool enough.)

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If you’re trying to emulate the game in MAME, it might not play as well depending on your setup. Folks have been working on and have improved MAME emulation of the arcade controls, but it ain’t quite as good as the original’s strange arcade stick.

Let’s Hear Some Music

It might not be as catchy as some of the songs found in the Tony Hawk games, but the music in 720° is still perfect skate rock. The booming, low-quality voice samples just add to the retro appeal. 

karanba72 (YouTube)

Tell Me Something Interesting

720° was ported to a few different machines including the NES and the C64, always losing something in translation. The Game Boy Color version (longplay) hit in 1999, a full 13 years after the arcade game. What makes this port so interesting is that it’s the first time 720° appeared on a platform that also had a port of a Tony Hawk game. The Game Boy Color version of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (longplay) was released a year after 720°. Both versions are considered inferior and lesser versions of their original games, but the 720° port is really rough to play due to the poor controls. It’s hard to translate that spinning arcade stick to a small d-pad, not to mention the massive decrease in graphics resolution (512x384 to 160x144!) made everything hard to interpret.

packattack04082 (YouTube)

You can also play the original arcade game inside LEGO Dimensions if you have the Midway Arcade level pack. Thankfully it’s an accurate port of the arcade original and not one of the so-so console or PC ports.

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Were Critics Into It?

Very much so! Unlike the previous games we covered on Very First, which weren’t huge hits or extremely popular, 720° was a big deal and a lot of critics at the time liked it. In a later retrospective, Game Informer’s November 2000 issue gave it a 9.75. The January ‘88 issue of Your Sinclair gave the ZX Spectrum port a very positive review and called it “A classy game and one for the hall of fame.EGM was not as pleased and heavily criticized the 1990 NES port, with the biggest complaint being terrible and sloppy controls.

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Video Corner

A band called Metronome the City covered the arcade game’s music in 2008. Pretty good!

w1llyg (YouTube)

eBay Price Check

If you’re looking to pick up one of the console ports of 720° you won’t have to spend much. Used NES copies cost around $5 to $15 depending on the condition of the cart and the seller. However, a sealed copy of the game is much more, with some going for $300+. Someone is trying to sell a factory-sealed and perfect copy of the game for over $900. And if you want to get your hands on the arcade original… good luck. The machines are hard to find. I did find the internal parts of a 720° arcade machine on eBay for $650. Feeling crafty?

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What Else Did The Developers Do?

720° was made by Atari Games, a different company than the Atari that would go on to make consoles like the Jaguar and Lynx. This company focused on arcade games and would eventually get bought up by WMS in 1999 to become part of Midway Games, specifically Midway Games West. The studio, along with all of Midway, would stop making arcade games in 2001, and Atari Games, now Midway Games West, would develop some console games, like the odd Dr. Muto. When Midway eventually folded in 2009, the studio and all of its assets were bought up by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. Oddly, for various legal reasons, Midway Games West stuck around until 2013. A strange and anti-climatic end for a studio that produced a bunch of great ‘80s and ‘90s arcade games.

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Illustration for article titled The Very First Skateboarding Game Was A Rad Arcade Hit From The 80s
Image: Midway Games

Worth Playing Today?

Yeah, if only for an hour or so. If you are a big fan of modern skateboarding games, going back to 720° feels like visiting your grandparents. It’s old and doesn’t always work right, but can still be a lot of fun. And just like your grandparents... if you can’t find the original, some of the ports... are worth checking out too? (This metaphor isn’t working anymore.) Anyway, in a perfect world, you would play 720° via an original arcade machine. But that’s easier said than done for many folks. If you really want to go for it, though, emulation with a custom control setup could let you relive this original skateboarding game.

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The Old Game You’re Actually Nostalgic For…

Possibly Skate or Die!, which was released a year after 720° for PC in 1987. However, most folks first encountered the game when they played its NES port, which was released in 1988. Skate or Die! took inspiration from 720° and included different skateboarding events, like a downhill race and a high jump. It also starred some wild characters like Bionic Lester and his dad Rodney Recloose, who is still a popular character on the internet today.

Kotaku Weekend Editor | Zack Zwiezen is a writer living in Kansas. He has written for GameCritics, USgamer, Kill Screen & Entertainment Fuse.

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DISCUSSION

Here’s a very young Tony Hawk playing 720 in an arcade. This is from the 80s Vision skate movie PSYCHO SKATES. Should be cued up, but it starts at about 11:40.

Thanks to my big bro for the knowledge!!!