My love for skateboarding videogames is well documented and has very few limits. If it’s a game where you can be on a board going fast and doing tricks, I’ll probably have fun with it for at least a while. I’m also a fan of goofy, weird indie games.
When I first saw that SkateBIRD was going to bring those two loves together, it was exciting enough to pull me past my ornithophobia and right on board the hype train.
Now that I’ve had a chance to play a bit of the Nintendo Switch version of SkateBIRD, I’m still hyped for how fun and cute it is, but my view of the skating side of it is very different.
The very first thing you do when you start up SkateBIRD is create your bird. That’s right, you get to create a tiny skating bird all of your very own. There’s a whole load of different species of birds to choose from, each with its own color palettes. On top of that, your bird can wear hats, glasses, scarves, capes, and belts. You can also choose a custom deck and wheel color, to really complete the whole look.
Or, you can just hit the “Randomize Bird” button over and over again and giggle at all the stupidly cute birds in their stupidly cute hats.
Once you drop into a level, the cuteness goes into overdrive. You see, the tiny birds that you play as in SkateBIRD are, in fact, tiny, so the levels are tiny, too! The first level takes place in a bedroom, where another bird has built ramps all over the place. Some look pretty traditional, but there are also ramps made of magazines and pizza boxes. It’s adorable.
You explore each level in a Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 fashion, which is to say that each one is a sort of contained open world. As you skate around you’ll find NPCs (all birds, so NPBs?) who give you missions. Sometimes they are simple “collect S-K-A-T-E” type objectives, but often time there’s actually a narrative reason for doing the cool stunts that you do.
There are also collectibles to find throughout the level. Exploring rewards players with new customize options for your board, new clothing for your bird, and new music to jam out to.
The soundtrack in SkateBIRD is really fantastic. There are some licensed tracks from a variety of genres, and a lot of “lo-fi bird-hop to skateboard to.” I’ve actually got my Switch hooked up to speakers as I write this. I can confirm that it also works as “lo-fi bird-hop to write to.”
Remember that You are a Skating Bird
You can probably tell from what you’ve read so far that I really, really dig SkateBIRD…but I really didn’t when I first got my hands on it. I’d been looking forward to this as an “indie Tony Hawk” for a long time, and the skating doesn’t live up to that comparison. You’re doing a lot of similar things, but this game has a slight janky-ness to it that really pushed me away at first.
Right away, I noticed that I wasn’t hitting my ollies when I expected to. There seemed to be a weird delay between the button and the jump. Then I started hitting ramps and it all just felt kind of loose and sloppy. Add on top of that the fact that the camera jerks around like an overcaffeinated parakeet, and I was actually really turned off when I first played SkateBIRD.
Thankfully, I gave the game another session and started to lean into how silly the game was. I mean, even in Tony Hawk there’s very little penalty for bailing, so I decided not to stress out when my bird crashed. When I got in that mindset, I started to giggle when I crashed and saw my silly bird flop across the floor.
Go with the Bird Flow
After I spent a bit of time with it, I think I’ve got the hang of SkateBIRD, and I’m now enjoying just cruising around. I’ve even found two gameplay additions that I absolutely love. First of all, there’s a “FANCY” meter in the corner of your screen that builds up as you knock out cool tricks. The higher that meter is, the more air you can get. Having a visual representation of what is basically just your momentum in the Tony Hawk games is super convenient.
Secondly, being a bird, you can flap your tiny little wings in the air to do a double jump. It’s great.
Final Thoughts on SkateBIRD
I went into SkateBIRD already loving it, then bounced almost completely off of it when I actually got to play it. Fortunately, it doesn’t take long to realize what the game is actually doing, and now I’m back to all-out loving it again. SkateBIRD is a silly, charming indie game with adorable birds, silly writing, and great music that happens to be structured like a skateboarding game. If you go in with that perspective, you’ll love it.
I actually dig SkateBIRD in a very similar way to how I dig Spartan Fist, from the same developer. Both are ridiculous, over-the-top, and easy games to lose track of time in.
Just don’t go buy SkateBIRD expecting to find Tony Hawk but with cute birds when what you get is cute birds with a bit of Tony Hawk.
Geek to Geek Rating: 4 out of 5 tiny stars
Oh and hey, SkateBIRD is on GamePass, so if you’ve got that you should 100% try it out!