Version tested: Wii
You know that bit in the old black-and-white movie where the guy has the hose and he tries to squirt the other guy in the face, and no water comes out? So he holds the hose to his face to see the problem, and squirt! All over him. That's how I've spent too much of my time with Skate It.
It all sounds ideal. Skate, the reinvention of the skating game for 360 and PS3, was most notable for its controls. It took a gamepad and was really smart, mapping everything to the analogue sticks, and connecting you with the board. Given the Wii, and the variety of approaches available, there should be so much room for imaginative application. Whether the Wii just isn't capable, or whether EA didn't refine enough, it's hard to say, but Skate It is a frustration of decent ideas and controls that aren't precise enough.
If you've played Skate, you might be expecting a living, breathing metropolis to skate around. Forget all that. There's been a terrible earthquake in the hometown of San Van, and apparently it's killed everyone but you, some unseen pro-skaters, and an incredibly annoying idiot on the phone. The resulting damage is a city primed for tricks and grinds, fallen bridges and piles of rubble propping up opportunities for making lines. A skater's post-apocalyptic playground in jaggedy Wii graphics.
Things are simplified. The skater-creating tools are all but gone, replaced with picking, say, one of two body types, or from five almost identical heads. The game is still about getting good photographs and videos to impress sponsors, and making your way to being a pro-skater (seemingly helped by there being no other skaters alive, other than mysterious phone calls from unseen pros). There's no traffic in the city, no people, nothing that moves. Nor are there in Paris, Rio, and various other world destinations you zip off to. It's a barren game.
There's a nice sense of humour present. But oddly it rarely shows up after the intro. During a news report explaining the earthquake, there's diagrams in the background titled "artist's impression", drawn in crayon as if by a six-year-old. Along with the news reader's nonsense, it's a great sketch. But then all that rather fades away.
There's three ways to play. You can control it with only the Wiimote, or add in the nunchuk for analogue steering. Or, perhaps most excitingly, with the balance board as the skateboard. All three sound so ideal - either the Wiimote held as a representation of the skateboard, or the balance board literally stood upon. But sadly none quite manage it.
Let's get the balance board out of the way, because it's obviously the first thing anyone will try should they have one. Getting to stand up, lean in and out of turns, and press the board with your feet to perform flip tricks - how fantastic. But not this time. You can adjust the sensitivity of the board within the game, but if there's a sweet spot, it's damned hard to find. Steering is so challenging that the notion of then doing more is deeply off-putting. The controls are sluggish and horribly delayed, and hitting portions of the board to achieve flips is so hit-and-miss you'll have to abandon it.
That's disappointing. But the Wiimote should step in at this point. It's long and thin, and, er, skateboards are that too. The thinking is clever. Flick the front end up to ollie, flick the front end down to nollie. Tilt it at the same time to heel-flip, kick-flip, pop-shove-it, and so on. On its own, you steer by tilting it, and rotate the skater by waving it, and this is way too messy; while the steering is elegant, it makes the more complicated moves far too awkward. Stick in the nunchuk though and it lets you steer and control body movement with your left hand, so you can rotate, roll, etc. That's the ideal way to play.
The problem is the occasional delay. It's only, say, one in five times, but when it comes around you flick the Wiimote to ollie, and get nothing. Which at a crucial moment at the end of a long challenge is just about the most irritating thing imaginable. And then, when you stare into the end of the hose to find out what's wrong, you see the blasted character jump on the spot. It isn't, in any way, funny.
The bulk of the game is the challenges. You can skate around to find them, but mostly you'll pull up the menu and teleport to the next one on the list. This creates an odd disconnect with the world - it ends up feeling like small, sectioned-off areas, rather than somewhere you ever learn your way around, or find familiar. These challenges, however, are familiar - pull off a particular trick over a particular gap, win a race (against invisible players), string together a series of tricks, or get a good photograph/video. Completing these advances the story, as you gain sponsors for various bits of clothing, and perform in competitions.