I’m a sucker for skateboarding games. Perhaps it’s because I can barely even stand on one, or perhaps it’s because it inexplicably looks both relaxing and exhilarating all at the same time.
Anyway, the skateboarding video-game market has been rightly dominated by the generally excellent Tony Hawk series of games, which recently shifted into a higher gear with its last release, Tony Hawk’s Project 8. Using a new dual-analog stick control, the latest Hawk title brought an interesting new way to play to the over-the-top skating genre, something that will continue with the upcoming Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground.
Electronic Arts’ Black Box studio in Vancouver has decided to get into the act this year, competing with the long-running Tony Hawk series in a way, while in another, they’re creating a sub-genre all their own.
Simply titled skate (no capitals necessary), EA’s first effort in the next-gen skateboarding world attempts to portray the sport as realistically as possible, and the result - at least if the game’s demo on Xbox Live is any indication - is anything but dull, despite the lack of huge jumps and grinds that run far less than 30 seconds.
EA, the pioneers of the dual-analog control concept in sports games, brings their experience to bear in the game’s “Flickit” controls, which keep button presses to a minimum while translating the simple-yet-challenging physicality of skateboarding to vivid life. Even though a gamepad is a poor substitute for a real deck, learning to “draw” patterns with your thumb while reaching for the triggers to grab feels remarkably intuitive and rewarding.
As opposed to timing button presses, or any other sort of contrivance to control your skater, the free-flow controls “makes you feel like you’re actually doing it,” said my wife - who ordinarily wouldn’t touch such a game with a ten-foot pole.
In this case, however, the simple control scheme is inviting, and even the novice video-game player can feel right at home with skate after a session or two of play, even if they’re not dazzling with huge combos.
EA seems to have pulled off the impossible; making simply cruising around a skate park - doing the occasional grind and kick-flip - immensely appealing. In April, Mark described the simple elegance of Guitar Hero II thusly: “At it’s simplest, what good gaming can provide is this: ‘I couldn’t do this an hour ago… now I can. Cool.’”
That’s exactly what’s happened with skate. Somehow, the Black Box team managed to capture exactly what’s appealing about skateboarding in the first place: freedom, fun, relaxation and excitement - all in whatever measure you prefer at any particular moment.
All that, with no risk of sprains, torn ligaments or broken bones. Sometimes, it really is better to play inside…