Where did I put my Nintendo?
I think it's safe to say that video skateboarding has had a less than glorious history. This becomes obvious when you realize that 720, released in the 1980s, is still one of the best skating games around. With every game company vying to gain foothold in the 'extreme' sports market, it's amazing how long it took for 3D skating games to finally arrive. Two (or three?) years ago Sega's Top Skater tore up the arcade charts, and that was the slap in the face all the game companies needed to realize what focus group they'd neglected.
And who else but Electronic Arts would come out with the first 'real' skating game for the Playstation? We'll try to forget about those other pathetic attempts (see 2xtreme). Actually, Street Sk8er was developed by Micro Cabin and is only being distributed by Electronic Arts. Regardless, now all you skating fans have something to do indoors when it's raining outside.
Anyone who's played Top Skater should immediately recognize the similarities in game design. The game is 3D and the view is from behind the skater. Each stage is passed only after amassing a certain amount of points, which are obtained by performing tricks and by finishing with time left over. There are also bonus stages found in between the standard levels, which include a half pipe, bowl, and a big-air half pipe. Of course, the obligatory option of choosing different skaters is present, and Street Sk8er has six to offer (two of them are secret).
There are supposedly over 200 different moves to be performed, but I think that's counting tricks performed goofy footed and regular stance as different. There are a decent number of tricks in the game, and your character learns more as he or she progresses. After completing a level you can allocate points to build up your character's statistics, such as jump power, acceleration, cornering, and maximum speed. You'll need to improve your character because the harder tricks can only be performed by going faster and jumping higher. Performing tricks off a ramp is accomplished by ollying and pressing a direction. You can also grind objects by ollying onto their edges, and you can perform ramp stalls by hitting the brakes at the peak of the ramp.
Another selling point of the game is the large collection of punk rock bands that feature music in the game. Here they are in no specific order: Less Than Jake, Plastilina Mosh, Weston, H2O, All, Straight Faced, The Pietasters, I Against I, and Gas Huffer. Each character you choose plays a different song on every stage. Some of the songs are pretty good and can be tolerated after repeating a stage a couple of times, but others just make you want to take a skateboard to your speakers.
All of this sounds fine and dandy, but the end product has serious flaws that keep it from knocking 720 off of its throne. For one, performing moves is far too simplistic and mindless. How hard is it to aim your skater in the direction of a ramp, press X, and press a direction? The developers should've at least copied the system in Cool Boarders 3, where each move is performed using a specific button and direction combination. You don't really have a choice of what move you perform in Street Sk8er. It's determined by how fast you're going, your character, your character's level, and what direction you press (up, down, left, or right).
Another weakness is the poor graphics. Street Sk8er looks like a first generation Playstation game instead of a fourth or fifth. The graphics are terribly grainy, the characters are very jagged, and there are tons of boundary problems (i.e. the camera shows you a big blue world underneath the bleachers). Your character also has a tendency to travel half way through fences. There is much to be desired in the graphics department.
On to the numerous less important complaints...
Six levels doesn't nearly make a long enough game, especially when three of them are bonus stages. After passing the game, new gates are opened on the stages that were previously closed, but this doesn't add much (there are supposedly some bonus areas, but going through the regular game takes you about 15 minutes).
The two player action is lame. You basically take turns playing the game instead of having a split-screen competition. Further, the physics of grinding rails is jacked. Once you jump on a rail it sucks you on like a roller coaster even though you started from a virtual standstill.
Just because Street Sk8er is the only real skating game available for the Playstation, don't go shelling out the forty bucks right away. If you're dying for a skating game, rent this one and see if you like the simplistic arcade-style gameplay - this is what Street Sk8er achieves. Otherwise, there are supposed to be a few other skating games coming out soon for the Playstation that will hopefully capitalize on Street Sk8er's weaknesses. This game is entertaining for a while, but isn't something you'll be going back to for weeks on end. Frankly, I'd rather dust off my old Nintendo and Skate or Die...