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Skatebirds: A Surprisingly Fun Game

Themed games are incredibly hard to pull off well. Making a full video game off the back of one big idea is challenging at best, and it’s still quite tough to find interesting theme games that are done successfully.

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Developed and published by Glass Bottom Games, Skatebirds is exactly the kind of game we’re talking about. It’s a skateboarding game where you play as a bird. If that’s not enough to catch your attention, Skatebirds plays out on a tiny scale. If you think birds on skateboards aren’t cute enough, wait until you see baby birds on miniature skateboards

Image by janrye on Pixabay

Development

Announced in mid-2018, Skatebirds had an alpha build as early as June of 2019. A Kickstarter campaign was launched at the same time the alpha was released. The initial funding goal of $20,000 was met in a single day, and the campaign went on to raise over $67,000 in total.

Skatebirds’ initial release date was set for 2020, but that was delayed to June of 2021. Glass Bottom Games released a statement to say that the game simply wasn’t ready yet, and the implementation of a new story mode was taking longer than expected. Following two additional delays, Skatebirds was eventually released in September 2021.

Story

You are a pet bird. Your owner used to love skateboarding. He hasn’t got time for it anymore though, and his stressful job has clearly made him unhappy. The demands of his job take all his time and energy, and you’re left feeling sad and neglected.

You decide to remind your owner of what makes him happy. To do this you learn how to skateboard, but you have to get good enough for him to notice. If you want to get your beloved owner out of his funk of depression, it’s gonna take a lot of flips, ollies & nollies to make your plan work.

Look, we know the story sounds weird, but a bird on a skateboard is already enough to catch our attention. We’re going with it ‘cos this is all cute as heck. It’s a heartwarming premise that somehow manages to fit right in with Micro Machine skateboards & bijou birds.

Photo by Sneha Cecil on Unsplash

Gameplay

Remember Micro Machines? Those awesome little toys that were so prominent in the 90’s? They hold a special place in many 90’s kids’ hearts. Skatebirds is pretty much the same scale as Micro Machines, and it turns out the miniature-style visuals are perfect for showing off some avian acrobatic skills.

The actual gameplay isn’t too bad at all. Despite some mediocre reviews, the skating controls are well-implemented, and you can see that each level was meticulously designed. Compared to other skating games like Skate City, Skatebirds is a lot more fleshed out; with full 3D rendering & fluid animation. The majority of the game is spent doing tricks, but there are also items to collect, as well as secret environments to explore.

Players are free to explore each environment at their own pace. Challenges are timed but these countdowns are usually quite forgiving, and they allow enough time for a few mistakes to be made. The camera can be a bit stiff sometimes, but it doesn’t affect the gameplay too often. Controls are easy to learn & master, though it would be nice if there were a greater variety to the tricks you can perform. One drawback is that there aren’t many trick variations, at least not as many as you would normally expect to find in a skateboarding game.

By offering incredibly imaginative environments, Skatebirds makes up for its shortcomings in the tricks department . Each level takes place in various areas around the house. There are pencils to grind, pizza boxes to shred, and plenty of other examples of ingenious level design.

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The best aspect of Skatebirds is its soundtrack. A bespoke mix of cheerful tunes and actual bird noises, the track list for this game is full of catchy songs. Before too long you’ll be humming along with the background music, and the birds sway to the music as well, which is a lovely touch.

Did we mention that you can customise your character? That’s right, you can dress up your bird buddy any way you like. Grab a tie and collar to emulate your owner at his soul-sucking day job, or don a pair of shades and cruise the living room in style. You can even drop a crown on your head and toss a chain around your neck. If blinged-out birds smashing sick tricks sounds appealing, this is definitely the game for you.

Verdict

Skateboarding games have been around for a long time, and it’s always a good thing to throw a little innovation into an old genre. Skatebirds’ gameplay might not be as polished as Pro Skater games, but it definitely offers a new spin on an old style. Glass Bottom Games should be commended for their successful execution of a novel premise.

Game development is tough. Many companies stick to tried-and-tested formulas for their products.While they may well provide stable profit margins, these formulae represent the ‘bland’ side of gaming; the cut-and-paste templates of profit-driven enterprise. Innovation is what led to the success of the video game market, and it will always be more important than profits.

Though the novelty of tiny birds skateboarding does inevitably wear off after a while, Skatebirds managed to keep us entertained for a lot longer than we expected. The game is a surprising mix of well-executed elements, and the positive atmosphere it portrays is downright infectious. Those adorable avians will get into your head, and they can certainly make a lasting impression.