Skatebird Review

Xbox One

One-part tiny Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and one-part Micro Machines, Skatebird is a little bit like a Photoshop Friday pun parody brought to life; it’s extremely small birds riding Tech Decks on small-scale stunt ramps scattered around a messy bedroom, plus various locations around an office. Beneath the joke is an ambitious attempt at a 3D arcade skateboarding game, and it’s heavily inspired by the early Neversoft Tony Hawk games. The result is cute, earnest, and undeniably eye-catching, but it’s also pretty unrefined, light on content, and regularly irritating to play.

The general vibe is as though someone brought up the legendary aforementioned Birdman and someone else sprang up from their empty pint glass and exclaimed, “Birds, man!” – only instead of cobbling together a crude JPEG of a pigeon doing a 900 they spent several years building a bona fide video game based on a loose gag. Developer Glass Bottom Games has obviously injected a boatload of bird-themed touches throughout, but the studio sticks largely to the Tony template: big air, wild tricks, and an assortment of maps sprinkled with tasks to complete and letters and tapes to collect.

Developer Glass Bottom Games has obviously injected a boatload of bird-themed touches throughout, but the studio sticks largely to the Tony template.

The key influence appears to be Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4, where Neversoft dropped the iconic two-minute timer in favour of allowing players to cruise the maps searching for individual mini-missions. Like THPS4, Skatebird doesn’t supply an overt list of challenges before each level and time every run; you need to skate around the environment and find NPCs – or NPBs in this case, I guess – scattered around the map to discover the challenges you need to complete. While challenges themselves are timed, the lack of a countdown clock on general exploring suits Skatebird’s relaxed nature – an atmosphere that’s served very well by its catchy set list of original, bird-themed tunes.

The soundtrack itself is easily the most polished part of Skatebird, and it’s stacked with relaxing, skate-friendly earworms full of bird calls and samples of overzealous nature filmmakers from public domain documentaries. It’s very well done; even the birds enjoy it, bopping along as they skate.

Do a Chickflip

Unlike THPS4, however, Skatebird doesn’t highlight fellow birds with missions to assign you in any particular way, so skating around searching for the next mission can sometimes be a punishment. They’re not hidden, but you do just have to coast about until you happen upon them. Also, sometimes the birds disappear after you’ve completed their mission, and sometimes they don’t – but there’s no distinction between the birds who remain on the map after you’ve done their mission and have nothing further for you to do, and the ones that do have a new task for you. This meant I often found myself skating up to (and directly through) birds with no objectives for me while combing the map for the one that did.

The tasks are generally very easy, and the time limits Skatebird provides to collect stuff and build scores are mostly very generous. Items and letters required for individual objectives are often placed quite close together in a single area of the map, but even if they’re more spread out an onscreen marker will lead you directly to them. Unfortunately, this tends to make a lot of Skatebird’s challenges surprisingly boring, with collection closer to a formality than a challenge (except whenever some dodgy hit detection decides you didn’t grab an object despite literally banging it with your beak, or skating through it several times).

There were a few challenges I did get hung up on for a few extra attempts, but the headache in these instances was mostly related to the jankiness of the camera and the controls. The camera often struggles to smoothly track the avian action onscreen, and there were plenty of occasions when I got temporarily trapped in 90-degree corners or other random parts of the level, sending the camera into a tailspin. It’s also a bit taxing to get out of a tight squeeze; having the birds flutter to turn on the spot may look authentic but in practice it just makes it cumbersome and sluggish.

Tiny Hawks Know Skating

There’s a huge amount of imagination on show in Skatebird, from the greasy pizza box ramps, to the fake issues of Thrasher rip-off ‘Thrusher’ magazine bent into quarter pipes, to the plastic straws acting as coping, even if the overall art style is a bit basic and angular. It’s cute, too, and there’s certainly something to be said about a game that lets you be a galah wearing a piece of bok choy for a hat, or a cockatoo cosplaying as the first guy to always get arrested at a music festival.

That, or every Test cricket player from the 1990s.

That, or every Test cricket player from the 1990s.

Glass Bottom Games has leaned hard into the feathered framing of Skatebird, and I certainly can’t accuse it of lacking originality, even if I’m way too old for heckin’ satirical zoomer misspellings of words like “birb” and “screm.” Once the novelty of birds on toy skateboards wears off, however, the skating itself is revealed to be quite rough. It’s easy enough to bash out a few flips and grabs, but the tricks seem quite limited and they’re neither very exciting to watch or easy to distinguish from one another. Grabs in particular are boring, and the way birds instantly snap into stalls makes these feel noticeably unfinished.

Once the novelty of birds on toy skateboards wears off, however, the skating itself is revealed to be quite rough.

What’s more, there are also only five levels available, including a small, barren, and boring rooftop level that’s disappointingly plain and really a poor showcase of Skatebird’s shtick. With no multiplayer and minimal maps there really isn’t a ton of game here.

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