I must admit that I've not been on a skateboard (for any length of time, anyway) for a good ten years, but I left my mark on the pavements during a misspent youth. Mostly blood and teeth, but that's what skateboarding's all about.
At least, that's what skateboarding was all about. These days it seems to have become a brand-endorsed sport with huge sponsorships and ultra-fabulous catwalk models on wheels.
So where does Gameloft's Skater Nation fit into the realm of street surfing?
Trucks and bucks
It's a shame to see that Lofty has opted for the big money professional skater scene, rather than the street cred transport system, but it plasters over the cracks of commercialism quite nicely.
Your skaters are indeed victims of high-flying fashion, with lots of tats, accessories, entirely unsuitable skating attire and 'handles' instead of names (I suppose I'm a fine one to talk). Choose your stereotype, pick a nicely painted board, pimp it out, and it's onto the ramps.
Your goal is to make it into the ranks of professional skating, which is achieved by meeting challenges issued by other pro skaters dotted around the city. The challenges range from the usual trick combos to racing through checkpoints and shoring up points within a time limit.
Skater Nation throws in some more adventurous challenges, too, like finding your way around the ramps and into the first floor window of a building or grinding along water pipes to turn vales on and off. Suffice to say there's lots to do, and the difficulty level - while starting off pretty steep - trains your thumbs carefully so you're not just going through one point scoring exercise after another.
Extreme to the max, yo
If there's one thing about contemporary skater culture that grinds on my nerves, it's the tacky efforts of grown-up game designers attempting to make the characters sounds like they're 'down with the kids.' Skater Nation falls into this trap head first, with cringe-worthy dialogue that attempts to combine PG-rated smack talk with upbeat sportsmanship.
This is further compounded by the notion that all skaters listen to guitar-thrashing teeny-bop earache, which sounds worse that listening to the deck's trucks grinding across rusty metal and a lot more repetitive.
Fortunately, Skater Nation has some super-slick 3D visuals. Aside from the rare slowdown, Skater Nation throws the bright, detailed polygons around with ease, which is doubly impressive when you consider the size of the environments.
Jumping between parts of the city is quick and easy (after an initially long loading time, the switch between venues is almost instant) and there's a lot of variety, from urban sprawls to labyrinthine factories.
Which ultimately brings us to the single most important aspect of the game: the controls. Rather astutely, the developer has decided not to steer using the accelerometer. The motion controls work great for driving, but skating is a very different matter.
An analogue stick is used instead and has been calibrated just right, so you're neither over-steering or unable to turn sharply. Forward and backward are pretty much just used for getting you moving, and can even be locked out without much consequence if you find they get in the way.
Two buttons provide jump and grind functions (sounds like a porn game) and double up - in combination with the analogue stick - for performing tricks while in mid-air, on a ramp, or sliding down a rail, bench or any other
edge (oops, sorry Mr. Langdell) corner.
Staying on the board and navigating it around the inventive environments is impressively easy, as is pulling off a good array of basic tricks. Yet there's still a skill level involved in achieving the heights of professional skating, and ultimately that's where Skater Nation's longevity will be found.
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