Skate It Review (Wii)
For any Wii owners searching for something new to play this holiday season, look no further because Skate It, EA Montreal’s follow-up to Skate, may finally give some of you a reason to bust out the Wii that has been gathering dust in your closet or living room.
Just as Skate made waves for its pioneering control scheme, perhaps the most notable aspect of Skate It for the Wii is its controls. Skate It is one of the few games available at this time that makes full use of the Wii Balance Board, which was introduced with the game Wii Fit. So for those tired of heading soccer balls or ski jumping, but not a fan of snowboarding or riding around on your butt (sorry Rayman Raving Rabbids), I assure you, you will be in for a treat with Skate It.
The actual control process is intuitive and logical as you line up the Wii Balance Board in front of your TV and stand sideways on it as you would a real skateboard. The control mechanics work well as you "steer" by shifting your weight in the desired direction on the Balance Board. So, to turn left you would shift your weight to the left; to ollie or nollie, you sort of jump and put pressure on the front or back of the board; and to perform other flip tricks, you do the same toward six designated areas of the Balance Board. Also, other actions are performed with the Wii Remote, like braking and utilizing grab maneuvers.
The Balance Board controls are not entirely without their faults. First of all, the controls can be tough to handle at first because there is a moderate learning curve to tackle as you get accustomed to using your body and the Wii Remote to coordinate all your moves. For instance, when I first played the tutorial, I got frustrated doing simple tasks like turning and passing through designated gates. That may sound bad, but do not fret, that sort of helplessness does not last long since you will eventually gain a nice level of comfort with the setup. Also, a simple tweaking of your board sensitivity and other in-game board settings does go a long way toward giving you an agreeable personal base to work from.
Admittedly, it is not a perfectly accurate skateboarding process and you will experience some levels of frustration. Nevertheless, it is fun and certainly represents a great use of the Balance Board. It is as if EA Montreal took the concept behind the old Top Skater arcade game, significantly improved upon its functionality/freedom, and unleashed it upon living rooms across the world.
For those of you who own a Balance Board, you owe it to yourselves to at least rent Skate It -- if only for the euphoria you experience when you really get the Board controls nailed down.
Do not despair if you do not own a Balance Board because Skate It still offers the rest of you a few control options that work just as well -- if not better in some cases -- as the Balance Board. One control scheme utilizes the standard combination of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk, and I must say that it works really well. Compared to the learning curve of the Balance Board, the controls with this scheme are a breeze and you should be ripping up spots in no time.
To steer you use the joystick on your Nunchuk and to push off or break you push the "A" button or press down on the D-pad on the Wii Remote. Performing tricks is also simple: Your ollie, nollie and other flip tricks are executed by performing motions with the Wii Remote. For example, to ollie you snap the Wii Remote up, and to nollie you snap it down. Grab tricks are handled by pressing the "B" button, and motioning the Wii Remote during a grab allows you to tweak the grab.
If you misplaced your Nunchuk, you are in luck because there is a control scheme that makes use of just the Wii Remote. Some control is lost in this arrangement because with the lack of Nunchuk-joystick steering, you will have to do that with the Wii Remote -- along with all the other trick controls. That may sound like quite a lot of control to heap upon the simple Wii Remote, but it works out surprisingly well.
The Nunchuk and Wii Remote combo and the Wii Remote-only scheme are simple enough to utilize; however, they are also not without their faults. The biggest problem is that the Wii Remote motion-trick system does not offer the preciseness you would prefer in a game like this. Snapping the Wii Remote around is no substitute for the button-based Tony Hawk system or the analog scheme used in Skate. It can be quite a strain on your wrist, and I admit that in some cases I resorted to randomly snapping the Wii Remote around to get by some challenges.
Despite these issues, I commend EA Montreal for offering a wide-range of usable control schemes for those with the Balance Board and for those without. There are really no afterthoughts here. I was really a fan of the controls in Skate It because it is really a perfect example of the pick-up-and-play ethos that has become synonymous with the Wii. For example, my 4-year-old nephew, who has never played skateboarding games before in his life, was able to successfully play this game after only a few minutes of learning the controls.
Despite that simplicity, there is a good amount of depth in Skate It. In other words, the gameplay does not become overly simplified. Those who are willing to master the controls will find that Skate It ably matches whatever is available on more powerful consoles. And that is a mantra that rings true throughout the rest of the game.
Wii Going Global
As stated earlier, Skate It is a follow-up to Skate, and thus Skate It retains many of the same locales of Skate -- with a twist. At the beginning of the Career mode, the omniscient voice explains that the city of San Vanelona has suffered an unexplained occurrence that has destroyed the city. So with San Van in shambles, many of the locations from Skate, such as the library and elementary school, have made returns in recognizably wrecked forms.
Important to note is that due to the limitations of the Wii, there is no longer a seamless transition between these levels like there was in Skate. In Skate It, the locations are now noticeably smaller and they are akin to levels from Tony Hawk games of the past. To compensate for these limitations, EA Montreal gives players -- as they progress through the career mode -- the opportunity to travel beyond the city limits of San Van to cities all over the world.
Among these locations include Shanghai, Paris, London and Rio. Although EAM has retained the look of the cities, the developers have also included some distinctive spots within these locations that fans of Skate will recognize. The revamped levels are laid out in a fashion that is at once recognizable, yet also new.
Despite maybe being on the small side, the levels are packed with places to explore and spots to find. Whether you enjoy finding that ideal line, long rail or big ramp, every level is set up with a good mix of every element. Everything is logically placed and nothing feels out of place.
EAM deserves credit for mixing things up with the levels of Skate It. By skillfully carving a path around the limitations of the Wii, the result is that Skate It stands on its own and avoids the tag of being known as a dreadful retread.
But with San Van destroyed and abandoned, what is there to do? Well...
With the city destroyed, the denizens of San Van had no choice but to leave. Everyone except you and your friend/photographer, that is. And with the entire empty city at your disposal, you will use San Van -- and locations beyond -- as a bridge to progress through the Career mode towards the rewards of sponsorship and fame.
When you begin your quest, you will immediately receive the opportunity to create and modify your skater. It is not the deepest "Create-A-_____" system available, but there is a good amount of depth. You can choose the gender, body, hair and clothes of your skater, and the trucks, wheels and deck of your skateboard, all from a variety of authentic brands. There is not much else that could be asked for.
The majority of the Career mode is spent completing a variety of challenges that take a wide number of forms. The sheer amount of variety breaks up the action and blocks out feelings of monotony. Some challenges, such as My Spot challenges, force you to use the Wii Remote to move around various objects, like benches and ramps, in a designated zone so that you can accomplish the objective. Other challenges, such as the time-trial races, have you tricking through a level on a gate-by-gate basis to gain precious seconds while racing for the fastest time required. Most challenges require you to complete a number of objectives; though, you have to figure out how to accomplish them yourself. The great level layout makes these challenges quite fun and everyone will take different routes when accomplishing them.
None of the challenges are especially difficult, but there will certainly be a few that will trip you up. At that point you will enter that screw-up-then-restart mode where you will go mad trying to complete the goal. However, I guess that is to be expected in a game of this genre. While there is some frustration, it cannot be denied that there is also a cathartic feeling of accomplishment experienced when the goal is completed. Thankfully, even though there may be a ton of restarts, there is almost zero loading and Skate It is a lag-free zone. Overall, It is quite a zippy experience.
Perhaps sensing that some gamers, especially the younger ones, may have some trouble completing some of the goals, EA Montreal has instituted a unique two-tiered system of objectives that gamers can look to complete. Essentially encompassing an easy and hard level, completing the lesser goals, such as scoring 1,000 points or completing 3 grabs and 3 flip tricks, amount to "owning" the objective.
Just "owning" the objective is enough to progress, but for those enterprising players that require more of a challenge, the higher tier is there for your needs. So instead of just 1,000 and 3/3, the higher level will call for 4,000 points, 6 grabs and 6 flips. When you complete the tougher objectives, instead of simply "owning" the challenge you will be "killing it."
The main rewards for completing the various challenges are that you obtain sponsors and unlock a wide variety of products for your skater. You earn new shoes, shirts, hats and new things for your skateboard. Other rewards you can earn include more objects for your My Spot areas and extra locations for the multiplayer modes. And if you do "kill it" instead of "owning" objectives, you will unlock all these things at a more rapid rate.
That already seems like a lot, but the fun does not end when you complete the Career mode. Every level also has a set of ridiculous milestones -- of all sorts -- that can be optionally completed. And believe me, some of them would take quite some time to complete, ensuring you some real long-term play. Or for the masochists among you, every level also offers some opportunities to inflict pain for progress. These "hall of meat" goals ask you to break a certain number of bones or break some on certain parts of your body.
I offer these explicit examples because the great part about the two-tier system, the challenges, milestones and the Career mode in general is that it allows gamers the opportunity to play at their own pace. You are really just plopped down in the middle of a level and then left to your devices. Sure, there will be some indicators that ensure you are always headed in the right direction of progress, but how and when you complete everything is all up to you.
And this is true for short-term and long-term play. You could always just skate around a level and take it slow. For those who like to go straight from challenge to challenge with the minimal amount of exploration, that option is there for you as well. You could theoretically rush through the entire game in a day or two if you wish, or you could take your time and take weeks or even months to beat it.
Overall, as the main crux of the game, the entire Career mode in Skate It is a good-sized journey, and if you consider the variety of the challenges and the wide variety of locations, this is one career mode that will not leave you bored anytime soon.
That being said, not everything is perfect in Skate It land.
The graphics and atmosphere are decent enough for the Wii, but it really pales in comparison when you match it up with its predecessor on the 360/PS3 and other current-generation console titles. True, that may be an unfair comparison to make, but the problem is that at times I felt like I was playing a Tony Hawk game from years ago, and at times even those games felt more alive than this game.
I say that because, although the realistic city thing worked really well in Skate, it worked because San Van was alive and filled with cars, pedestrians and well, life. In Skate It you are truly alone in this world. Sure, you often hear the disembodied voice from your friend that talks to you and offers you advice/tips, or you will sometimes receive messages from other skaters talking to you, but even in the foreign locations you travel to, you are alone. I mean a stylish and quirky game such as this should not remind me of the desolation I felt while playing Fallout 3 -- even that game had super mutants and ghouls to keep me company.
Besides that, I enjoyed the quirky menus, cut-scenes, and other presentational elements. Other neat touches like the scaled down replay/screenshot functions, and "hall of meat" and bail functions are other nice touches that I welcome from Skate.
Overall, however, I would not say that you could pin all of the graphical shortcomings on the Wii’s supposed limitations. Other games on the Wii offer up some sort of brightness and spark, but the atmosphere in Skate It just comes off as largely drab. In what is mostly a good game, the graphics and atmosphere represent a low point. And that is really a shame because the architectural layout of the levels is actually quite good.
I have not said much about the other game modes because there really is not much to discuss. The other single-player mode, Free Skate, is bare bones. You can explore the locations that you have unlocked at your leisure, listen to some EA Trax exclusive to Free Skate and, well, that is about it. The less said about Free Skate, the better.
Thankfully, there is a bit more meat to the multiplayer. There are basically four main modes to play with here. Each mode is packed with a variety of locations picked from amongst the various locations in the game. The actual modes are pretty basic. One mode pits opponents against each other fighting for the biggest score at a single spot, another is for the biggest line, and another is a race for the fastest time.
Not really all that great, right? Well, the last mode is pretty unique and it could have been really great with some small refinements. This mode, similar to the Crash mode from past Burnout games, has competitors battling to see who can hurt themselves the most and rack up the largest medical tab. It is actually pretty fun, but I just wish that the process of ringing up the cost of your "injuries" was made more readily transparent like in Burnout. As it is, it is all a bit of a mystery.
Nevertheless, the multiplayer is basically fine. I do not have any real problems with it, but I would have liked to see even more innovation in this area.
I also have not mentioned anything about the music because I do not really have any problems with it. Skate It contains your standard mix of pure instrumental, rock, punk and rap, and nothing really sticks out as especially awful. Besides the music, the sound effects are pretty good. They are appropriate and convincing and I don’t really have any reason to complain about them.
Skate was such a large and ambitious game that it almost seems impossible to believe that EA Montreal could take so many of those elements and translate them to a "less-powerful" console while keeping most great things intact. But where other "port" attempts have failed (see: most EA Sports games on the Wii) that is exactly where EA Montreal has succeeded with Skate It.
Everything from the world/board physics, to the controls, to the fun levels, all of it has returned. And amazingly, EA Montreal has not just brought over the exact same experience as Skate; EAM has created Skate It as a really fun game unto itself. I know that I have knocked this game for its graphical failings, but quite frankly, you will be hard-pressed to find any Wii games, especially in the sports genre, that has the same amount of gameplay depth that Skate It offers.
Simply put, playing Skate it, especially with the Balance Board, showcases the sort of unique gameplay experience you could only find on the Wii. So I reiterate, for any Wii owners looking for something fun to play this holiday season or for any Skate fans looking to tide themselves over until Skate 2, I heartily recommend Skate It. So dust that Wii off, and Skate It over to the nearest store and pick this up (I admit that was corny). At worst, rent it and see if it is for you.
Gameplay: Rewarding, if frustrating at times. Possesses a surprising amount of depth for a Wii game.
Graphics: Does not look all that good, especially to those used to the HD thrills of the 360/PS3, but certainly not a game-killer by any means.
Sound: Sounds effects are solid but the music does not really excite nor deflate. It is really up to individual opinion in the end.
Entertainment Value: Career mode is good fun with a solid length, while multiplayer is passable. The entire experience is doubly great for those with a Balance Board.
Learning Curve: The Wii Remote and Nunchuk controls are fun and really easy to learn, but it will take a while to learn how to utilize the Balance Board controls.
Score: 8.0 (Great)