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.
So, despite the Wiimote's intermittent frustrations, this all works well enough. I've spent many hours ploughing through the very many challenges in the various sections of San Van, or other nations, and if you take into account the lack of immediacy you can perform some impressive feats. While slightly more generous compensation would have been nice when clipping edges, or getting stuck in a corner, the skating feels realistic. It's less arcadey than the Tony Hawk's games, even in this version. This is most obvious when skating quarter-pipes, where getting air is a tricky challenge, unlike Tony's jet-propelled motion. But what could have been some decent Wii fun is more frequently spoiled by stupid, nagging nonsense than by the controls messing up.
Take, for instance, trying to win a race. These often require you to consistently perform tricks as you skate in order to add bonus seconds to your time. But you're not just clocking up enough time to reach checkpoints - you're racing against the invisible others too. So you need to move quickly, do tricks impressive enough to add on significant time, and whatever you do, not bail. While these are events that allow bailing, once you're down you're going to lose, so you have to start over. Now, the game has a teleporting start-over facility. In many areas you can even set your own restart point, and it instantly zaps you there. But not for races, or other timed challenges. Here to restart you have to bring up the main menu (weird three-second delay), choose it, and reload the beginning. Except it's not that simple.
Bailing - falling off your skateboard - is apparently of so much interest to the developers that they have the game enter an unskippable slow-motion sequence. Oh joy. So you helplessly watch as you tumble into the ground as slowly as possible, hammering the A button in increased frustration. Finally it lets you move on - but oh no! This tumble was one brutal enough (as about half of them are) to go into the Hall of Meat! Here it loads up another screen on which you're told how much of your body you've sprained, bruised and broken, for no damned reason at all. Another screen to break your A button on. Then finally it bloody well goes back into the game and lets you open the options screen to restart the race. And there's not a single reason for any of it. This, by the way, is accompanied by your constant narrating dickhead companion's voice, which mocks you throughout, leading to some of the most inventive swearing I've ever performed. It's like they wanted you to loathe their game as much as possible.
Talking of unskippable, finishing any of the game's challenges forces you to watch a slow-motion replay of it, or sections of it, as photographs are taken, or video footage is shown. After I've grinded the nine-hundredth rail, I really don't want to watch the shoddy camerawork insanely repeating the bit where I skated in a circle between tricks, in slow motion. Good grief, let me skip this unutterable crap!
I ended up feeling furious hate toward an average game. I'd love to give it 2/10 just to kick it in the nuts. I want revenge on the f***wit 'buddy', whose incessant banter made me wish boils upon his imaginary family - and never more than in a challenge that gave me five seconds to trick a gap, thus triggering his "time is running out!" nags from the moment I started. Shut up! Shut up shut up shut up!
There's another oddity. I chose to play as a girl, because girls are prettier to stare at on a screen all day long. The game, however, has only recorded the dialogue for a male player. So competition commentators and people phoning you alike will refer to you as a boy. Classy.
If Skate It had removed its pointless irritations, it would still have fallen short of being great thanks to the clunky controls and lack of atmosphere. While Skate gave Activision a necessary scare, challenging the Tony Hawk's license for supremacy, Skate It won't be causing anyone much worry. It would have been hard to give it more than a 6. But the maddening lengths to which it goes to be annoying has to cost it something. What could ever have possessed them not to have options to turn off the banal, omnipresent crap-fountain of snarky comments, or a button to skip the slow-motion tedium, is unfathomable. And to build in a really fantastic feature that lets you instantly skip back to the start of a section, and then to not let you use it when you need it most... Just bewildering.
There will surely be a great skateboarding game for the Wii, perhaps with the next iteration of the balance board, but this isn't it.
5 / 10