Let's meet and greet, folks, surf punk Lester, a man born to ride the sidewalks on his customised dayglo board. His world view is simple: Skate, or Die. Middle ground is not a phrase in his vocabulary.
Decked in luminous jams, baggy T-shirt and mohawk haircut, the guy lives the part. The question is, dare you join him on his crazy downhill charges, jousting in an empty pool and performing ridiculous tricks on a ramp?
Skate Or Die offers boarders five ways of living on the knife-edge between wild fun and serious physical damage. Show out on the ramp, doing freestyle or hi-jumps, race through back streets fighting with Les, or sort out who's the boss in a face to face showdown in the joust. You can even, if you're really sick, opt for a downhill race with jumps, hurdles and tunnels. A novel way to cripple yourself permanently.
The freestyle arena, with the high jump and tricks option, is the most exhilarating on offer. You build up momentum and start to fly. All manner of stunts can be introduced to the routine to gain points. Hurtle off of the screen - hey... Why not? - into the sky spinning like a top, arms casually flung above your head. Grab the lip of the ramp as you shoot past and pivot, doing a 360, or simply balance on the edge using exquisite balance to defy gravity for a couple of seconds.
These manoeuvres have their perils though, as your kneecaps all too soon discover when a trick backfires. Try to use the wrong part of the ramp, cut too sharply or forget to line your board up with the landing strip and you sprawl to the centre, your deck smashing into your knees. No permanent injury is ever sustained, this being software an' all, so you're soon back on four wheels.
You use joystick/keys to tell your guy what to do. But only in the loosest fashion, as he invariably does what he wants anyway. Having only a certain repertoire of moves means your skater is never going to pull off any great mould-breaking jumps. The same applies to the high jumps set in the same arena but lacks the fun of throwing yourself upside down. All that's involved here is repeated rolling and then launching for the stars.
Get bored of air sickness and progress to other stages and the schizo nature of the game soon reveals itself. Continuity? Forget it! The switch to racing against Lester is accompanied with a change to monochrome! Downhill requires a great degree of luck (to get obstacles lined up) as well good judgment to avoid the many dangers. Jax fighting on skateboards while rolling through a deserted alleyway - is much the same with different backgrounds. But you do at least get a better class of crash, such as the wire fence which neatly slices you into bite-size chunks.
The final stage - though stages can be played in any old order - is The Joust, in which you face Our Boy Les and a couple of friends, guy (know whaddamean?), in a head-to-head. Ultra violence on wheels is what it should be, but it ends up (or down) as a rather confused game of pass the baton/follow the leader.
On some levels, there's a "goofy foot" feature, which - hey, get this - inverts the direction/control relationship! Quite what this is supposed to represent is unclear: it's no fun at all to be completely out of control on and off your board, and the only result is the inevitable crash. It's frustrating and by no means a challenging modification.Skate Or Die is chockful with good ideas, but obstinately fails to deliver on all but one of them, namely the freestyle. Ultimately what it lacks is a coherent personality to bring out the humour that's so obviously there. It could have captured (and on the tricks section does capture) skateboarding's going-for-broke spirit. Bitty structure erodes this fast, and while the game is bound to sell in droves because EA have cashed in on the current skate craze, the conceptual effort could have been more fruitfully implemented.
Oh, for what might have been! At times Skate Or Die really does get off the ground and become airborne, only to be brought down hard by mono graphics, poor sound or the bizarre lack of consistency in appearance and gameplay. And what's with this 'Goofy Foot' stuff anyway?
I've long been one of EA's biggest fans, but this one never gets above the mediocre. It looks like a troubled project, and plays like one.
10,000 points on tricks.
You're not missing out on colour!
P. A pick 'n mix of graphic styles.
Grab Factor 64%
P. Great idea, and fun for a while
Staying Power 27%
N. No depth for repeated play.
N. Many stages, but little variety.
N. Unlikely to be a favourite.
If this is skating, I'd *rather* die!