When I was first deciding to go back and review an NES favourite of my youth, I knew many of the titles were going to have a hard time living up. The first Turtles game is a massive example of this and one that has been since torn apart by many in the realms of the interwebs. But there was another glaring personal favourite I just couldn’t keep away from firing up at least one more time and this review is the result of it…
Retrobates, it’s time to SKATE OR DIE!
Skate Or Die! was initially a multiplatform hit on various home computer systems in 1988 as developed/published by the emerging Electronic Arts. The Commodore 64 version in particular gaining somewhat of a reputation. The idea was very simple, that being: adapt the Summer Games formula to skateboarding ‘fad’ that just so happened to be gaining ground at the time. Oh, it worked. At least in the form of catching on with players.
Y’see, the late 80’s skate scene was mostly reported as punks with nothing better to do, or in more TV-friendly lingo: bad dudes with bodacious boards pulling off killer tricks. Or something.
This review is for the Nintendo Entertainment System port of the game, also released back in ’88. Unlike the computer version, this particular console iteration was developed by Konami and published by Ultra Games (yeah, so…Konami). I did not get hold of my NES until the mid-90’s and Skate or Die! was one of the first titles I obtained for my meagre collection back then. Seeing as I couldn’t ride a bike, a 20p skateboard bought from a boot sale one Sunday served as my childhood mode of transportation – so a video game on skateboarding just seemed all the more awesome. That said, I was well unaware back then of any sort of aforementioned ‘scene’ that related to skating. Alas, dear retrobates!
As much as I enjoyed it as a kid, I will state this outright with utmost honesty: this is not a great video game. Heck, it barely classifies as anywhere near good. But, read on anyway, with or without those spoilers in mind…
When the game fires up you get a brilliant rendition of Rob Hubbard’s sublime C64 intro music, which should immediately get you going. If that fails to get you going, the flashing text will at least give you some sort of seizure. Your (presumed) character takes centre stage on the start screen, arms in the air, smile on face, deck and trucks in the forefront. This is SKATE…or Die! after all. Then you do as commanded and hit the “start key”. That’s when it gets immediately quirky, as you’re greeted by a UK82-lookin’ Rodney Dangerfield-modelled character named…Rodney. Genius! This, folks, is that epic menu screen we all remember. First you ‘sign in’ (like you’re actually at a skate comp zomg!) and enter your preferred name/title. Then, as you float your little cursor around and have Rodney quip back at you in the speech bubble box. There’s options, too. Limited as they are. You can Go Practice, or Go Compete. No option to die, though. Practicing’s for pansies so obviously you may as well try your luck hitting competition mode.
Then you get…A SECOND MENU! YEAH!! This menu is more of an over world, with you messin’ around outside the Skate Shop, as you literally choose the path you fancy taking. Joust, Race, Jam (not Jamalais), High Jump and Freestyle. Alongside these is Compete All. Personally, I dig the over world menu thing, as it’s a nice touch and a sly way to get used to the controls. Which you’re really going to need. Trust me. Compete All does the events in order reverse of how I stated them and is easily the most fun way to play, unless there’s a particular event you excel at and simply want to show-off to your mates. Like the High Jump. Just sayin’.
Having only five events in total means you can speed run the game on literally any run. In fact, I dread to see a true speed run of this, as I guess it’d last seconds. Plus, make me feel bad in the process. Curses. But therein lies both strength and weakness with Skate or Die! With only three (well, pretty much four due to the park/street settings of Downhill) locations and the five events, it feels all a tad baron. This is an immediate weakness, as you know there isn’t going to be a lot of gameplay on offer here, nor extreme variation. However, this also works in the games favour simply for it not overstaying its welcome. Weird how that works, huh? But the events themselves will have you hitting buttons and throwing controllers in the way the NES is most known for, so if you love or hate that will be a true indicator as to whether or not you’re going to get any sort of enjoyment out of this.
By the time I owned the NES, I was very much used to the graphical styling’s and top-notch presentation of top-tier Amiga and MD titles, in very much the era of 16-bit. Yet, much like then as now, I always found that more limited 8-bit form to have a unique charm of its own. That’s not to say that Skate or DIE! is a perfect example of excellent presentation for the Nintendo console. Far from it. But it’s hardly the worst you can find (no, seriously). The crude graphics of the game had a certain appeal to me, I liked spending time there; it felt comfortable yet jagged. It’s hard to explain. With the nostalgia goggles firmly in place, it still feel right. The animation of your character on the halfpipe and the reactions of your shadow is still a tiny part of the game I find very cool and most certainly give props to. It adds that Cali-dreamin’ ideal to the game, skating under the glow of the sun like in days of summer long since gone. Sigh.
Right! Enough of this nonsense! Let’s get critical!
The controls. The controls of this game in all reality are absolutely awful. Borderline diabolical. As much as players may well have lapped it up, myself included; it’s beyond harsh to beginners. An utterly unresponsive mess matched with dodgy physics will have you constantly falling flat on your behind. They can be mastered, but it’s so far past the typical trial and error it could be argued they are in fact broken. However, on a more positive note, this can lead to total hilarity when playing with a buddy and watching them squirm after you’ve put in countless hours you’re unwilling to admit. But was tight controls on an already extremely short game too much to ask, Konami!? WAS IT!?
The controls being the major source of concern with Skate or DIE! is also the lead-in for the difficulty. As that really is the difficulty. Granted, come Joust time you have a choice of players to go against (Poseur Pete, Aggro’ Eddie and Lester (Rodney’s son)), it’s all irrelevant as it’s down to the controls. After becoming entirely used to the bizarre scheme, you’ll have no problem wiping out the hardest player anyway. Yet if you struggled all the way through the ‘competition’, even Pete’s gonna kick your butt. True facts. One could argue, all this is rather inexcusable. I wont make a counter-argument.
I’ve already mentioned the graphics, but it’s worth additionally noting for notes sake, that the halfpipe is dauntingly big due to the size of your sprite. It looks decent enough, but EESH! Downhill also looks relatively flat mainly due to angle, but this is more a result of just how many a game looked back then anyway, limitation and whatnot. The pool is also a gigantic beast, which makes you wonder which rich home you’d actually broken into to warrant such a large outdoor pool.
One thing I will stick up for until the end of time is the music, though. The games soundtrack is brilliant. Nothing more needs to be said. There’s variation in the composition, but always fitting. The arrangement Konami whacked in place for the NES plays to the consoles advantage and fills your ears with those beautiful 8-bit chiptune sounds we all love and remember so fondly. The music from day one was something that had me revisit the game so often when I had my NES set-up back when I was a young Olly023 and its one I recommend you all check out if you haven’t heard it.
The lastability of Skate or Die! is entirely dependent on you and whether you enjoy it enough to return on a regular basis. If you’re a play once kinda player, you’ll easily be done in the length of a music video. That’s it, that’s all. Beating personal scores or simply dropping by to have some fun with Rodney and the like is all you’re gonna get. That’s your lot here, folks!
So would I recommend it? This is a difficult one, as it’s a mixed review in itself. There is still something that pulls me in personally, but I have a feeling that it’s the strength of nostalgia alone on a personal level that does that. Ashamed as I am to admit. So, all the while me liking the game is no sort of confirmation you will. This is when opinions really do become a certain orifice. Five or so minutes of gameplay with broken controls, however; really makes this an impossibility to project a review of a truly must play title.
If you’re intrigued? Nab it, there’s nowt to lose. If you’re put off? Eh, it is a product of its time and remains a capsule for future generations.
Better or worse.
Verdict:- I'm still suckered in by this rather cruddy little extreme sports cash-in, but at least historically it help give birth to a genre of video games that would eventually give us the likes of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2. So, that's something at least. Right?
The controls are a complete joke, the graphics are mostly crude but acceptable and the music is stunning. But the complete lack of lasting gameplay is what stabs this titles legacy in the foot.
It's a shame, as Skate or Die! really was one of my most played NES titles and I just wish I could recommend it to the modern retrogamer with the undying passion of some of the other NES titles I intend (or have already) reviewed. Sadface.
Second Opinion:- NO...Just NO! This game blows massive monkey winkie.
Transbot does not rate this at all people, it's just all stlye over substance and for some strange reason it has a cult following that baffles Transbot so much it makes his sexy head hurt.
720 Degrees is the only Skate based cool game you will ever need and makes this effort look like the piece of crap it is..... Avoid!
Transbot Scores:- 3 out of 10