Saturday, 23 August 2014

GROW: Skate or Die!

Skate or Die!

Developer(s) Electronic Arts
Konami (NES)
Publisher(s) Electronic Arts
Ultra Games (NES)
Composer(s) Rob Hubbard
Kouji Murata (NES)
Platform(s) Apple IIGS, Sinclair ZX Spectrum, C64, NES, MS-DOS, Atari ST, Amstrad CPC, Virtual Console (EU and AUS only)
Release date(s) Computers
Virtual Console
  • PAL December 21, 2007
Genre(s) Skateboarding
Mode(s) 1 - 8 players

Ah, the 80's! Reaganomics, exercise crazes, TV-cartoon-toy-tie-ins, garishly colored clothes and the death of disco... it was a halcyon time.

Into this cultural renaissance came a new phenomenon that redefined youth transportation forever: Skateboarding!  That's right, it was like rollerskating for one legged giants with no concerns for strapping themselves to their wheels.

Skateboarding was everywhere and the then youthful company Electronic Arts decided to make a computer game harnessing all the raw energy that the sport had to offer, together with a totally cool look and feel.  And an amazing title tune by the master himself Rob Hubbard!

Yes, those are actual guitar samples on an 8 bit computer...

Skate or Die! was released on the Commodore 64 in 1988.

Designed by Stephen Landrum, a former Epyx employee and designer on the original Summer Games and Pit Stop II, and David Bunch, who would later go on to do  games such as NHL 95 and Freestyle, with graphics by Michael Kosaka, another Epyx veteran who had worked on the Temple of Apshai Trilogy, GI Joe, World Games and Street Sports Basketball, Skate or Die! was a multiple event sports game, the pitted players against one another as well as computer controlled opponents in five different events.

The first of the two Ramp events, freestyle is a competition where with a limited number of passes back and forth on a skate ramp, the player must perform as many "cool" moves as possible, to rack up points from the judges.  Repetition leads to the same move getting less points with each iteration, and some moves are only possible after speed as been gained, making planning and preparation a very important part of the design.  Given that you only have one button on the joystick, trusty old direction-button combos are necessary and pulling off moves takes a lot of practise but is by no means impossible and in fact finally pulling them off is very rewarding.

High Jump:
Using the same backdrop as the Freestyle event, High Jump becomes a mix of violent joystick back and forth mashing and timing as you try to get as high as possible without crashing head first into the ground.

A one man downhill "race" with obstacles, shortcuts and hazards.  A fun solo event where time is everything.  The player sprite can jump, duck, roll forward, backward and there are even two control set ups, regular and goofy foot.

A two man downhill  race, where you can battle against a human player or the computer.  The race itself is more of a battle between the racers, with added "bad ass" features like knocking down bottles, avoiding hazards through shortcuts and general punk rock destructiveness.

Probably the most epic of the many events and the one most people have the fondest memories off.  Joust has you and an opponent human or one of three computer opponenets: Poseur Pete, Aggro' Eddie and Lester, Rodney's son.
 Taking turns "at bat" with a wooden boat paddle, the two skaters must now battle it out in an empty swimming pool, one dodging until his turn with the paddle, while the other is desperately trying to knock the crap out of his prey.
Truly epic carnage!

The game was later ported to the Apple II, Amstrad, Spectrum and NES.  While the other computer ports were more or less successful, the NES port did gain a bit of a cult following and even lead to an NES only sequel Skate or Die! 2.

In Conclusion:
Multi-event sporting games were the bread and butter of 80s computer games (especially in the USA).  Skate or Die! added a nice layer of flair and fun to an often dry genre and opened the door for other experiments like Caveman Ugh-Lympics and Bar Games.

Today, Skate or Die! is still fun with a group, although some events like High Jump and Freestyle have lost a bit of their joy due to the limited flexibility of the controls.  But there's still nothing more fun than kicking someones butt in Joust!

1 comment:

  1. Great review Karl. I really liked Skate or Die on the C64, but there is another C64 skateboarding game that I played even more: 720

    And you're right, the eighties were full of multi event sports games, and those were some of my favourites on the C64 back then. Summer Games, Winter Games, California Games, World Games - all those great Epyx titles.