Game Reviews

Vans SK8: Pool Service

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Vans SK8: Pool Service

If I look down at my feet while typing this review, I see a pair of scraggy, concrete-scuffed Vans staring back at me. Although they don’t surf the pavement anywhere near as much as they used to, those Vans do still itch to get back on my warhorse of a skateboard leaning up against the wall, just over there.

So a skating game has a well-practised and devoutly critical street surfer to impress when it comes to riding the virtual swimming pools. It’s an undeniably good sign that Vans has put its name on a skating game, though, so it’s with an enthusiastic ollie that I jump into Pool Service.

You’re placed in the stylish shoes of two professional skaters - Omar Hassan and Bucky Lasek - who find their way into a disused rec centre and its empty swimming pool. The game implies a significant difference between the two skaters, though it’s not particularly noticeable.

What is noteworthy, however, is the accelerometer-based control system. The game is played from an offset bird’s eye view, so the tricks are visible when the skater’s up in the air. It takes a bit of getting used to, but movements are taken from the camera’s perspective, rather than the skater’s.

Tilting left, for example, moves your skater to the left hand side of the screen - even if that means he’s technically veering to his right. It’s a bit of a mind bender to begin with, but can be made to work effectively.

You can’t help but wonder if simply rotating the skater, rather than moving him up, down, left and right in accordance with the iPhone’s accelerometer would be a nice option to have in the controls menu, though.

Tricks are handled by swiping a finger across the touchscreen while using the tilt controls to spin around. This includes various multi-touch gestures, so there’s an impressive roster of tricks to perform when grabbing that elusive air.

Most objectives involve shoring up a certain amount of points, so you’re going to spend a lot of time fingering the screen and power-jumping out of the pool. Other tasks include collecting bags of rubbish littering the pool, accumulating grinding points, staying on your board for a pre-set time and beating your own high scores.

They aren’t massively different from each other, but they do give you something else to do other than circling the pool’s drain. Which unfortunately you do a lot of, as one of the biggest drawbacks of Pool Service is the size of your skating arena.

The pool is quite small. While this isn’t a skating game about slaloms or cruising down the highway, a more expansive skate park would give the game the bigger scope it needs. There are worthy rewards at least, in the shape of new and customisable decks that you can take into the pool with you.

But for a seemingly limited game, it’s a pretty sizeable download loaded down by bonus videos and a dreadful soundtrack.

Pool Service won’t lose any points because of the music - which is CD quality and features a fair few tracks - but it’s just that kind of bloody awful, teenage earache guitar and microphone abuse that non-skaters assume all skaters are into. If you’re tone deaf and miss Top of the Pops, you’ll probably be very impressed, however.

Vans SK8: Pool Service is best described as enthusiastic, yet a tad clumsy - just like a good skater should be. It gratefully avoids the increasingly prevalent iPhone cliché of touch control mimicry, steering away from novelty value and towards a sincere effort to digitise pool skating.

Vans SK8: Pool Service

Great looking and with carefully thought out controls, Vans SK8: Pool Service is a bit restricted in size, but makes up for it in enthusiasm
Spanner Spencer
Spanner Spencer
Yes. Spanner's his real name, and he's already heard that joke you just thought of. Although Spanner's not very good, he's quite fast, and that seems to be enough to keep him in a regular supply of free games and away from the depressing world of real work.