It’s not often that EA is associated with innovation these days, but once in a while they come up with the proverbial needle in a haystack of rehashed gaming. Skate for the Xbox 360 and PS3 was one such find, and gave the skateboard video game genre a much needed revolution of sorts with its fresh controls and unhurried sandbox-style gameplay. Skate It is the Wii version of the game, and needless to say, the visuals and audio have been downgraded. But do the added motion controls and support for the Wii Balance Board make up for this by providing a more authentic Skate experience?
Skate It takes place in the same city as Skate, San Vanelona, but some mysterious disasters have left the place destroyed and desolate. The good news is that the disruption to terra firma lends to excellent skating environments. The bad news is that you cannot skate as freely in the city, but instead will be limited to “stages” which are warped between from a menu screen. Later stages will have you travelling to other parts of the world as you roam around finding and completing a growing series of challenges to ultimately win sponsorship and the title of “Skater of the Year”.
It is perhaps understandable why Skate It does not offer players more freedom to just roam around the city, but it makes it no less disappointing. Another understandable disappointment is the blurry game graphics and low quality audio. It is far from awful though, and most Wii owners are now resigned to the fact that while nice visuals are achievable, most games are just not going to make a great effort to produce them.
Career challenges will have you trying to achieve a set of goals such as “perform 5 flip tricks” or “perform 3 grinds”, and there are three available control schemes: Wii-mote, Wii-mote and nunchuck, or Wii Balance Board. Given that most people will not (yet) have a Balance Board, I started playing the game using the Wii-mote only, before stepping onto the Balance Board.
Obviously the controls for Skate It required change due to the lack of a second analogue stick. Using the Wii-mote alone, pressing the A button pushes your skater forward, and turning is performed by tilting/rotating the Wii-mote from a horizontal plane to the left or right. Tricks are performed via various “waggles”, which are covered in a comprehensive tutorial. The trouble is that many of these waggles are either too similar for the hardware to distinguish reliably, or the motion detection fails to recognise gestures reliably. My money is on the latter, as there seems to be no end in sight to the number of Wii games that have inconsistent registering of motion controls.
These criticisms aside, the game still played well, and tasks were still able to be accomplished after working out some of the nuances of the controls. Adding a nunchuck allows the steering to be mapped to the analogue stick, but tricks are still mapped to motion of the Wii-mote. Personal preference will largely dictate the choice between these schemes – I found it more intuitive to just use the Wii-mote and imagine it as being a recreation of my in-game skateboard, which some will prefer the increased accuracy of an analogue stick when it comes to steering.
Skate It is one of the first third party games to support use of Wii Fit’s Balance Board, and many Wii Fit owners will be keenly awaiting the verdict on the integration. Once the Balance Board is turned on, you will have to wait for it to initialise, and then stand still on it to calibrate. As you would expect, the Balance Board is placed so that it is perpendicular to the TV so that you stand side on like you’ve been doing to play the snowboarding mini-game in Wii Fit.
The Wii-mote (less nunchuck) is still required, and is used to push off and to grab the board, but the rest of it relies on shifting your centre of gravity. Even if, like me, you have never stepped onto a skateboard, you will intuitively know how to control the game. Leaning forward and back turns the skateboard left and right, and leaning to your sides tilts the board onto its nose or tail. To perform tricks, shift your centre of gravity sharply into one of the six zones on the Balance Board, which together look like Trivial Pursuit wedges. The trick needs to be performed with a somewhat thrusting action, as slower movements are simply interpreted as leaning to steer your board. Feet need to be kept firmly on the Balance Board at all times, in keeping with Nintendo’s safety instructions, and the game pauses if it detects that you’ve jumped off the board in trying to perform a trick.
It actually works remarkably well, but it is a far more difficult control scheme for a number of reasons. Firstly, you have to be pretty co-ordinated. If you have a Wii Fit age that defies your physical one, then expect to do well here. After thrusting my body to perform a trick, I found it extremely difficult to return my weight to the centre of the board, meaning that upon landing I would inevitably steer uncontrollably left or right, and lose my line. This made it hard to connect the next trick to the first, especially if the second trick needed to be performed on a landmark such as a kerb. I improved after a lot of practice, and after turning down the sensitivity of the Balance Board controls, but I still needed to concentrate very hard in order to complete tasks.
Overall the Balance Board controls are an excellent option for the game, but less co-ordinated gamers may end up putting their board back into storage. If you are prepared to put in time and effort, the game is challenging but rewarding.
Aside from the career mode, there is a freeplay option that allows you to roam in any stage you’ve unlocked. Multiplayer is a bit hit-and-miss, as it is turn-based and you cannot use more than one Wii-mote even if you have them available. Players take turns at trying to set the high score based on a given task, and then the control gets handed over to the next player. If you are using the Balance Board, the calibration process described above needs to be performed for each player as it comes to their turn, further breaking up the gameplay. You can also customise your game character and kit him or her up in label fashions, but options are limited and the results are less than flattering. There are no online gaming options, or leaderboards.
Skate It is the best skateboarding game on the Wii without doubt, but there isn’t exactly a lot of competition. What it loses in the quality of the graphics, it definitely makes up for in the interesting and varied control setups available. While none of the schemes are perfect, the Balance Board integration does the job and offers a deep gameplay experience to those prepared to ride the difficulty curve. Imprecise motion controls can be frustrating, but sadly the problem is not limited to this game alone so it may be wrong to blame the developers.
There is plenty to work on for Skate It 2 – the inclusion of a free-roaming world would be top of the wishlist. Until then, anyone looking for a semi-authentic skating experience with the Wii Balance Board should definitely give this game a try. If you don’t have a Balance Board and also have an Xbox 360 or a PS3, you might find a better gameplay experience in Skate or Skate 2 instead.
Balance Board integration is rewarding if you have the patience. Can be fun irrespective of control system.
Motion controls lack the tightness gamers expect. Steep learning curve for Balance Board. Blurry environments and lack of free-roam.
A good skateboarding game for the Wii, especially if you have a Balance Board, but consider Skate or Skate 2 if you also have another console.