Skate It Updated Hands-On

We get our first glimpse at how well the Wii Balance Board works in a skating game.

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We recently took our first look at Skate It, EA Black Box's upcoming spin-off of last year's critically acclaimed skateboarding game, Skate. Instead of using Skate's dual-joystick "flick it" controls, Skate It is strictly about the Wii's motion controls. Well, at least it was. In our previous look, we were only able to get our hands on the Wii Remote, but this time around Black Box decided to give us a look at how it's aiming to implement the Wii Fit Balance Board as a way of mimicking what it's like to stand on the maple deck of a real-life board. On top of this, we were able to check out a new level displaying even more of the post-disaster San Vanelona setting.

First and foremost, the balance board isn't intended to replace the Wii Remote as a control option; the two are meant to work in conjunction with each other. You'll be steering, balancing manuals, and executing flip tricks with your feet while using the remote to push, do grabs, and spin while airborne. And just like in the original Skate, there's no grind button--how you land on a rail or ledge determines what sort of grind you do.

This version of San Van isn't exactly a warzone, but there's plenty of rubble to skate.
This version of San Van isn't exactly a warzone, but there's plenty of rubble to skate.

When you first step on the balance board, it will automatically detect your center of balance and set that as the neutral point in terms of steering and doing manuals. If you find it's not working out for you, resetting is a simple matter of stepping off and getting right back on. When you've found a foot position that suits your needs, you can steer by leaning left or right. It's not complicated, but at this stage, it's a bit tough to balance between sharp and gradual turns. We're told that Black Box is hard at work tuning this aspect of the controls and is attempting to find that ideal point of compromise such that the board delivers responsive turns but doesn't react to every incidental shift in movement you might make whenever your legs get a little sore.

The other aspects of the balance board seem to be working quite well. The surface of the board has been divided into six sectors, with all the dividing lines intersecting in the middle of the board. To do an ollie, you stomp on the tail of the board, and to perform a nollie, you do precisely the opposite. You stomp on the bottom-right sector to do a kickflip and the bottom-left to do a heelflip. The rest of your skating repertoire--shuv-its, hardflips, 360 flips, and so on--are mapped to other areas of the board. As a way of broadening your range of tricks, the developers have implemented a feature that lets you switch between move sets on the go. Simply hit the D pad, and you'll swap between your trick slots, instantly expanding the number of tricks you'll be able to do with certain parts of the board.

We enjoyed taking a spin on the balance board. Steering was definitely the trickiest part, but the rest of it felt natural after only a minute or two. We were catching air in bowls, doing 360 grabs, and grinding benches in no time. If Black Box can manage to get the steering down, the balance board controls should be fun enough to warrant a serious look at this peripheral, at least for anyone interested in Skate It who doesn't already own Wii Fit.

While the main focus of our hands-on time was on the new control options, Black Box also unveiled a new level. This new area of town is the same downtown library area featured in the original Skate, but this time around it has been ravaged by numerous disasters. Chunks of buildings, random signage, and other post-earthquake detritus dot the once-pristine urban sidewalks and plazas. What this creates for you is brand-new skating opportunities, ones you wouldn't find in the man-made architecture of the first game. But the interesting part is that a lot of the random materials strewn about are taken from the original game's version of San Vanelona. As one example, a member of Black Box pointed out that the curved library sign lying on the ground (the one begging to be ollied over) is actually the same 3D model once attached to the library building in Skate.

At this early stage, Skate It is already looking like a game that should capture the interest of Wii owners who never had the chance to play the original, as well as those who've played the original game but who are looking for an appetizer for the proper sequel. Either way, you can expect more on Skate It in the coming weeks and months.

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