Skate It First Look
The game best known for its dual-joystick controls is heading to a pair of systems with entirely different inputs. We take a look at how it will work.
When Skate was released late last year, it earned praise for a variety of features, perhaps none more than its innovative control scheme. Rather than follow the same path taken by the countless Tony Hawk imitators trying to latch onto the Birdman's success, Skate sharply veered away from this formula by offering a challenging dual-joystick control scheme that felt much more like riding an actual board. Now the newly minted franchise is being brought to the Wii and the DS with Skate It, prompting many to wonder if these two systems can come close to approaching the flipping, grinding, and grabbing that worked so well in the first game. Perhaps now, we can shed some light on that question after having the chance to play both versions at last night's EA Spring Break press event.
On both the Wii and the DS, Black Box is sticking to the same formula of trying to make the player feel like he is controlling an actual board with movements meant to replicate a skater's feet. For the Wii version, it has focused on the Wii Remote, making the Nunchuk entirely optional. In essence, the player holds the remote forward and steers by twisting left or right. You can press the A button to kick-push for speed and tilt forward or backward for either a standard or nose manual. Once you're ready to get airborne, ollies are executed with a swift upward motion. The foundation for performing flip-tricks lies in shuv-its and kickflips. You do a shuv-it by performing a quick semicircle; a kickflip by twisting the remote to the side and swiping upward like an ollie. Fancier tricks are just variations on these basic moves, while grabs are done simply by pressing B in midair.
The Wii version will also support the balance board bundled alongside Nintendo's Wii Fit. This peripheral merely takes the place of using the remote to steer and do manuals. You place the balance board on the ground lengthwise just like a real skateboard. Then you lean side to side to steer while adjusting your balance forward and backward to do manuals. You've also got the option to use the Nunchuk's analog stick for these same maneuvers.
As you might imagine, things work a little differently on DS. For this version, you've got an image of a skateboard deck on the touch screen, which works as the basis for all your moves. You trace a line from tail to nose to ollie, do the opposite to nollie, trace a half-circe to shuv-it, and draw a diagonal line from the tail off the board to do a kickflip. And as on the Wii, the more elaborate tricks--varials, hardflips, 360 flips, and so on--are just variations of these bedrock maneuvers. But regardless of the version, doing grinds works just the same as it did in the original Skate--that is to say, it's entirely context-sensitive. There's no grind button, you just land on a rail or ledge then let the positioning of your body and board determine which type of move you'll do.
Though the controls in the original Skate were great, they weren't exactly easy. Many had a tough time getting a feel for the timing and the right level of "pop" to give the joystick when pulling off a flip-trick. One of the goals Black Box is aiming for with Skate It is to provide a slightly more accessible version of Skate. In our hands-on experience, we were able to get the controls down quickly. It wasn't long before we were using the Wii Remote or stylus to grind benches and handrails. The Wii Remote felt a bit better, but both versions seem to have achieved the level of accessibility for which is Black Box aiming. However, we noticed that as easy as the controls were, they didn't feel as precise as the first Skate--at least not in this early build. That may not be a problem for those who are new to the franchise, but it may become an issue for grizzled veterans who often know which tricks they want to perform well ahead of time.
In addition to new controls, Skate It also features a new storyline to go alongside a slightly modified version of San Vanelona. A series of disasters have struck your hometown, leaving what was once a bustling metropolis a shell of its former self. Luckily, everyone made it out in time and no one was hurt. Even more lucky is the fact that these disasters have produced all sorts of new lines to skate, with chunks of rubble and demolished buildings essentially creating a variety of makeshift skateparks. Executive producer Scott Blackwood hinted at the idea of customizing the environments during the initial presentation, but we weren't able to get pry away more details on that potential feature.
In terms of the story, you'll find yourself traversing all over the abandoned city (right alongside the wise-cracking cameraman from the first game) to find the best spots to record footage and boost your exposure. But unlike in the last game, earning fame in Skate It will take you on trips to a handful of overseas skating meccas. These additional levels provide the opportunity to compete in contests and find footage you can't get in San Vanelona. In the end, your ultimate goal is still to make the cover of Thrasher magazine.
Finally, Blackwood also mentioned that the Wii would support four players at a time in game modes where skaters can both help and harm each other. Whether you wind up playing nice with your friends or not, you can expect to see Skate It released for the Wii and the DS later this year.
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