19/09/2017

MARY-KATE AND ASHLEY: CRUSH COURSE (GAME BOY COLOR)

For the past couple of weeks I’ve had a chest infection, so as you can imagine I’ve felt pretty miserable. On top of that, I’m in the middle of quitting smoking, so every minor frustration and annoyance feels as though it’s magnified a thousand-fold and if the company that keeps cold-calling and trying to sell me energy-efficient windows rings one more time I’m going to track down the person responsible and insert my telephone into them sideways. So, I thought to myself “what could provide both my body and mind with a soothing balm during these trying times? I know, I’ll write about a Game Boy Color game starring the Olsen Twins!” I am not an intelligent man. Here it is, then: the 2001 GBC debacle that is Crawfish Interactive’s Mary-Kate and Ashley: Crush Course!


Here are Mary-Kate and Ashley now. Which one is Mary-Kate and which one is Ashley? I don’t have a bloody clue. I don’t know much of anything about the Olsen twins, in fact. I have the vague impression that they’re one of those cultural things marketed towards children that people who are old enough to know better get irrationally angry about, like Barney the Dinosaur or Justin Bieber. They’re actresses, right? That’s what Wikipedia says, anyway. Or at least they were actresses, but they seem to have stopped doing that now that they’ve made vast oceans of money via their various tie-in products and the fashion ranges that they run, which sounds like a very sensible way to handle the whole “child star” situation.


The first thing I noticed when I started up this game is that it sure does include a lot of corporate logos. Some are obvious inclusions, like the developer’s logo and one from publishers Acclaim. Others are a little more interesting, like these two. Dualstar is the Olsen twins’ production company, which handled their movies, videogames and other spin-offs. The fact that its logo looks like a big blue arse will seem very appropriate once we get into the gameplay. Then there’s the mention of the Olsen’s AOL keyword, which I’m sure will set the nostalgia centres fluttering amongst a certain set of VGJunk’s readership. Personally, I feel that the keyword being mary-kateandashley rather undermines the idea of keywords being short and snappy.


There’s also this rather insulting message that implies you’re not a “real girl” if you don’t want a videogame about trying to get boys to fancy you. Screw you, M-KA:CC. Because it’s a licensed Game Boy Color game based around tween entertainers, I’m sure you’ve all already realised that it should read “godawful minigames for easily confused but well-meaning parents.”


Okay, okay, I’ll get to the actual “game.” Your first job is to pick one of these brutally digitised pictures of Mary-Kate or Ashley to serve as your avatar. I suppose these pictures aren’t too bad when you consider that, you know, they’re on the Game Boy Color. Plus, the noseless look of the one at the top-right means you can pretend it’s a character illustration from Final Fantasy Tactics. You must also choose a colour to represent you. I went with orange, because it’s only a couple of weeks until October and I’ve been thinkin’ about pumpkins.


Then you select which of these three locations you want to play in, all of them typical places where teens like to hang out. Apparently. When I was a teen I hung out in my bedroom and, erm, that’s about it, but I’m sure happenin’ young kids like the Olsen twins love hanging around the park, presumably drinking White Lightning and trying the cigarettes they filched from their parents. You might notice that the mall, that ultimate beacon of teen activity, is locked. Don’t worry, I played enough of Crush Course to unlock it. Doctors remain unable to ascertain what exactly is wrong with me.


Oh look, it’s a board game. You roll a dice, move that amount of squares and are affected by whatever symbol is on the space you land on.


Unless you land on one of the many blank spaces, in which case nothing happens except the faces of the Olsen twins appear and, one assumes, shout “safe!” at you in the manner of a baseball umpire. That’s fifty percent of the game right there, folks.


Around the board you go, with between one and three CPU opponents hot on your tail. I suppose you could play Crush Course with other human people, but that would hardly be fair on them, would it? As far as I can tell, the main aim of the game is to collect hearts, and when you’ve got enough hearts a boy will declare their undying love for you. Something along those lines, anyway – I must confess I never really figured out exactly what Crush Course wanted from me. Besides my abject misery, that is. I never even learned how to consistently gain hearts. It’s all down to the squares you land on, that much is clear. Some squares are safe, as we’ve seen, but some will cause you to miss a turn or switch the direction that you’re travelling around the board. If you’re really unlucky, you’ll land on a space containing a minigame.


The most common minigame is the “crush minigame,” something that’s incredibly poorly named because “mini” doesn’t adequately describe how small it is and “game” is a flat-out lie. As you can see, you have to guess which of the boys has a crush on you. Get it right and you’ll earn a heart or two. Please note the use of the word “cuties” here. I’m glad I’m writing this down and not saying it loud, because if I were saying it loud I would have shattered my fingers trying to perform sufficiently large finger quotes around the word “cuties.”


Well, here they are. The cuties. I can’t decide which one is my favourite. Is it Dan, who looks like he’s trying to hide a bathroom sink in his mouth? Or perhaps it’s James, the ghastly result of a teleporter accident involving Hugh Grant and a bootleg Ghostface Halloween mask? Actually, I think Corey’s the best. Influenced by The Simpsons’ take on teen heartthrobs called Corey? Possibly, but mostly it’s his dimples and his bizarrely-proportioned jawline. That’s not a head, it’s a carrier bag stuffed with live weasels.
All the “cuties” are rather unpleasant to look at, having veered too far into the realms of the cartoonish, and I think part of the problem is the contrast between the real pictures of the real Olsen twins and the way the hunks are illustrated – specifically, they’re illustrated like a cheap colouring book you’d get in a £1 mystery bag. However they look, you can put this whole unpleasant charade to bed by quickly selecting one of the boys. It doesn’t matter which one, because the whole thing runs on guesswork and there’s no way to deduce which of the boys has a crush on you. In fact, a bit of fiddling with save states revealed that sometimes all of the boys will give you hearts if you pick them, proving that Mary-Kate and Ashley have captivated the entire school like a pair of pre-adult sirens.


Unfortunately, there are other minigames. These ones actually force you into some kind of gameplay. There are either quite a few minigames or about four of them, depending on how you want to look at it, and for most of the rest of this article I’ll be covering the various activities that you’re forced to endure.
This first one is called Locker Treasure, and the description makes Mary-Kate / Ashley sound like a raging kleptomaniac as they steal “treasures” from other people’s lockers.


It’s a platformer, I suppose. You jump around the candy-coloured lockers, collecting the items that range from small piles of coins to a surprisingly large amount of Stars of David. Grab as many as you can during the time limit and, erm, that’s about it.
I’m going to come right out and say it: this minigame is bloody awful. It’s incredibly shallow, the controls are spongy and your character drifts around the screen in a manner that’d be more appropriate for a game set on the moon rather than in a high school locker room. There’s a real problem with vertical surfaces, too: if you jump into a wall or the side of a platform, rather than falling straight down as you’d expect your character gets “stuck” inside the object, slowly sliding down the surface while a grating sound effect plays repeatedly. That’s not even the worst sound effect here, either: whenever you jump, there’s a strange, digital bonging sound, which is far too deep and ominous for a colourful Game Boy platformer about the Olsen twins. Imagine a videogame character has died, and as they wait at the River Styx they hear this sound, the macabre pealing of the ferryman’s bell.


Funnily enough, I think my personal Room 101 might actually contain a copy of Mary-Kate and Ashley: Crush Course.


This is Science Mess, which takes the item-grabbing concept of the previous minigame but transplants it to a top-down perspective. And removes the jumping. You walk around and collect the items that are scattered on the floor. Prepare to be thrilled as your chosen Olsen slowly walks around a high school science lab! Gird yourself for the pulse-pounding excitement of light chores! All the boys in school are gathered at the windows, peering inside and thinking “wow, look at the way she picked up that beach ball that someone brought to science class: she really is the girl of my dreams!”
Obviously, this minigame is incredibly tedious and contains absolutely zero fun. The only slight distraction I got from it was trying to figure out why there’s an open manhole in the middle of this classroom. Then I realised it’s supposed to be a top-down view of a chair. That flight of fancy was semi-interesting for the four seconds it lasted, at least.


The coherence of the school setting is stretched to breaking point with the Scooter Race, which is exactly what it sounds like. Someone’s built a race course from old tyres in the school gym, and you must drive your moped to the finish line as quickly as possible. This is proof that the Olsen’s hypnotic, bewitching powers have extended from the student body to the faculty. My teachers wouldn’t even let us wear dark-soled shoes in the sports hall, never mind racing motor vehicles in there. They also never let us use the indoor football nets that were in there, either. I’m still bitter about that.
Anyway, scooter racing. It’s a frustrating battle against momentum, and your vehicle takes your controller inputs as mere suggestions rather than firm directives. You slide, and slide, and slide around, bumping into the tyres in a mode that suffers because it’s almost not terrible. If they dialled back the momentum a little and let you move faster, it’d be the best minigame of the bunch. Not that that’s saying much, and it’d still be the piece of sweetcorn sticking out of the turd even if it was improved. On top of the control issues, you can also drive straight though the tyres at certain points (something that I’m convinced wasn’t intentional) and yet again the sound effects plumb new depths of hideousness. Your scooter emits a constant shrieking wail that I’m struggling to describe, but I will say this: if you’re making a low-budget YouTube horror movie and you need a sound effect for when the monster appears and cause the camera to glitch out, I would recommend checking out Crush Course.


Onward to the park, which you would think would make a better setting for scooter races but what the hell do I know, it’s not like I ever go outside. The board game portion of Crush Course works the same in the park, but the minigames look different. Notice that I said look different.


Here’s one we haven’t seen yet, as the Olsen twins go fishing. It’s a simple matter of moving the cursor over each fish as they appear… or it would be simple if it also wasn’t burdened by the cursor having an extreme amount of momentum. You’ll spend most of your time here trying to drag the reticle out of the corners of the play area, but that’s okay because it’s not like you have to do anything to catch the fish, so you’ll still be collecting them even if you’re moving the target around at random.
As with all the other minigames, the problem here is that it’s just so boring. Every challenge you face seems to have been created by the developers working through the first three chapters of a “How to Design Flash Games for the Web” book, and none of them extend beyond moving a character or cursor from one place to another. Would the fishing game be bearable if it had any sort of complexity to it at all? Maybe certain fish that you had to avoid, or the requirement to perform a well-timed button press to reel the fish in? Erm, probably not. It would still be crap, but it would be slightly more interesting crap.


The crushing sense of dullness reaches its absolute nadir with the hedge maze. Walk to the centre of the hedge maze, don’t touch the hedges, contemplate running away to a convent and taking a vow of chastity if this is what it takes to form a romantic relationship.


There’s also Park Treasure, which is identical to Locker Treasure except with park instead of lockers. And by park, I mean floating lumps of turf. At least the Olsens are doing all this healthy jumping exercise out in the fresh air now.


The park also plays host to a boat race, which controls suspiciously similarly to the scooter race. You see what I mean about there being a limited supply of minigames, despite what Crush Course wants you to believe? You’ve got jump-and-collect, walk-and-collect, races, move the cursor over the thing and The Unending Labyrinths of Infinite Tedium. At least the boat races offers a few different routes for you to take, with some being quicker than others. However, the biggest difference between the boat and scooter races is that the boat race is the only minigame where I managed to crash into a large, erect nipple.


By the way, each location has its own different set of “cuties.” They’re still mostly terrifying, although I appreciate the inclusion of Wez as the token “smart guy who wears glasses.” However, Richie is clearly in his forties, and if he’s hanging around the park looking at teenage girls he should be getting arrested, not taking part in the cutie parade.


Lastly, there’s the mall. That unhappy emoticon is adequately capturing how I feel about having to play through the same set of minigames for a third time, but I’m here now so I might as well get on with it.


We’ve got Clothing Treasure, which recreates all the excitement of being a Primark employee by having you wander around a clothing store, picking up items that people have rudely thrown on the floor. Yes, it works in precisely the same way as the other top-down collecting games.


The mall version of the fishing game is this sale-em-up event, where you must use the cursor to pillage the shelves. There are bargains to be had on all the things teen girls love, like CDs and chunks of mouldy green cheese. No, I don’t have a clue either.


The mall also has its own maze game, as you make your way to your seat in a very poorly laid-out cinema. Do I need to tell you it’s exactly the same as the other mazes? No, I didn’t think so. I will say that at least this minigame has some attention to detail, because that floor looks just as disgusting as you’d expect from a mall cinema. I can almost feel what it would be like to walk on that carpet. Squish, crunch, squish, crunch.


And finally – there are other minigames, but I can’t bring myself to cover them – there’s the mall’s racing game, which is all about cars and skidding around in the car park. “Avoid crashing into other people’s cars,” the instructions say. That’s all well can good, but if you didn’t want me crashing into the other cars then why did you make my car handle like wet soap with olive oil for blood?


Good lord, what an absolute cavalcade of crap that was. Every minigame is utterly devoid of fun, complete non-events with the charm and personality of a damp sock. The only thing that stopped me from instantly falling into a coma the second I started playing them was the sound effects, which are some of the very worst I’ve ever heard in a videogame. Horrific, strangled-sounding electronic wails permeate every moment of the experience, as though the cartridge is haunted by a robot ghost with its genitals caught in a mousetrap.


I haven’t even mentioned how bad the board game portion of Crush Course is, either, so I’ll do that now: it’s garbage. It’s tedious, too random and I never really figured out exactly how it works. Sometimes when you finish a round, you’re shown a picture of one of the boys. Does… does that mean he’s mine now? The complex psychological brainwashing procedure of walking around a cinema looking for a specific seat has worked, and now he is mine to command? I haven’t got a clue. However, the very worst thing about the board game segments is how the minigame scoring works. If you land on a minigame, you have to play it, and if you score less points than the previous high score, you lose a heart. That makes a kind of sense. However, you can land on the same minigame multiple times during a round, and you have to beat your own high score or you lose a heart. Because the games are all so incredibly basic, it’s very difficult to not set a very high score and thus potentially dick yourself over later in the round, unless you purposefully play badly in order to make things easier for you later on. I don’t know about you, but any game that encourages you to do badly has gone terribly wrong in my book.


It seems that Crush Course wants you to keep playing and harvesting boys, if this password system is anything to go by. It gives you a code so you can save your character and continue your progress, although it does commit the cardinal sin of videogame passwords by including separate letters that almost identical to each other – the C and the G in this case. Having a part of the game made worse by such an easily-avoided issue sums up Crush Course rather neatly.


Perhaps there’s a true ending to Mary-Kate and Ashley: Crush Course, a finale that’s revealed to you if you manage to add all the boys to your harem, but I’m sure you’ll forgive me for not reaching that point. I’ve had more than enough of this game, thank you very much. Everything about it is lazy, cynical and worst of all stultifyingly dull, topped off with sound effects wrenched from the very bowels of electronic hell. The usual back-and-forth “it was made for kids, but apparently by people who hate children” argument could be made, but I suppose there’s no point. Crush Course is a cash-grab, and an awful one at that. It’s certainly bad enough to be way down near the bottom of the list of “worst games I’ve ever played,” although it’s not bad enough to wrest that particular crown from Rugrats: Totally Angelica. I thought quite hard about why (to me, at least) Rugrats is the worse game when Crush Course is clearly just as wretched, and eventually I figured it out. Rugrats: Totally Angelica is more painful to play because it forces you to play it. Like, there are goals and objectives and to accomplish them you have to struggle with the game’s tsunami of bullshit. In Crush Course, everything is so pointless, so easy and so boring that you don’t have to interact with the game nearly as much. It’s awful, but its awfulness washes over you whereas Rugrats’ awfulness clings to your face and tries to gnaw your eyeballs out of your skull. I’ll leave you with that mental image as I bid farewell for today, and one final word of warning: don’t play Mary-Kate and Ashley: Crush Course. It’s not big and it’s not clever.

15/09/2017

STREET SK8ER (PLAYSTATION)

This article’s all about a Playstation skateboarding game. Not that Playstation skateboarding game, though. However, please don’t take the fact that I’m writing about a much less well-known PS1 skate-em-up as proof that I’m purposefully choosing more obscure games to cover here at VGJunk. It’s just that if I tried to cover the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games I’d end up playing them for ages and getting nothing else done. Instead, I’m going to get my extreme sports thrills with Atelier Double and Micro Cabin’s 1998 big-air-em-up Street Sk8er!


Street Sk8er has a few names, actually. It was first released in Japan as Street Boarders, before coming to the US and being renamed to the much more “hip” and “urban” Street Sk8er. This was far too x-treme for the staid, reserved palate of European consumers, and so in PAL regions the name was changed again to Street Skater. Then the game was re-released as part of the Japanese “Simple 1500” budget range - the name once more changed to the rather severe-sounding The Skateboard. That’s a lot of different names for one game about rolling down hills on a plank of wood, so let’s hope the game itself contains just as much variety.


On that front, the early signs are not good. There are only two gameplay modes, Tour and Free Skate, and three courses, plus a couple of minigame modes. That doesn’t necessarily make for a bad game, though. How many tracks did Ridge Racer have? Exactly, and that turned out pretty well.


There are also four characters to choose from, each with different ratings in a variety of skateboard-related stats. All the statistics are important for effective skateboarding, but given how likely it is that I’m going to spend my first few attempts at the game constantly slamming into walls I think that I’ll get the most use out of TJ here thanks to his high acceleration stat. Hopefully it’ll allow me to get back into the action that bit more quickly.
The character designs are about what you’d expect for a group of young skate punks, and you get the obvious mix of stat allocations (some slower but easier to handle, others faster but more slippery than a greased eel) with a design philosophy of typical late-nineties skateboarder gear.


That said, Jerry’s shirt is so violently unpleasant that having to look at it means I’ve got a decent case to prosecute him for assault. Also, I know “goofy” in this context means that he rides with his left foot at the back of his board, but that doesn’t mean I can’t chuckle at a character being labelled with “style: goofy” because I'm assuming they shout "oh, gawrsh!" when they fall off their board.


Okay, here we go with the skateboarding. I decided to give Free Skate mode a go so I could get used to the action, and immediate impressions are that it handles just as I was expecting. Left and right to steer, X to jump, hold circle to crouch and build up speed. All very straightforward, with your character having a good sense of momentum when they’re moving: enough that you can’t turn on a sixpence unless you come to a complete stop, but responsive enough to get you where you want to go, especially with a little forward planning. All in all, I think I’m getting the hang of this skateboarding lark and I’ll soon be impressing everyone with my sick moves.


Or perhaps not. Here’s the first ramp I saw, and rather than soaring majestically into the air and doing some kind of flip, I skated right into the side of it. If the commentator’s anguished cry of “medic!” is anything to go by, TJ’s bones now have the consistency of cat litter, but skaters are made of sturdy stuff and he’s soon back on his board, albeit with a -300 point penalty. I think that’s what they mean when they say “adding insult to injury.” Well, the joke’s on them – I didn’t even have any points to lose.


Okay, here we go – I’ve managed to pull off my first trick, a simple grind along the edge of brick planter. Simple is the operative word here, because all you have to do to grind is jump onto the grindable rail at a reasonable angle – that is, not perpendicular – and you’ll be “locked” on to the rail, scoring some points in the process.


Ramps took a bit more figuring out. Obviously you can do tricks off the various ramps and half-pipes that make up the course, but my early issue with the mechanics of doing so were twofold. The first was that it took me a while to realise that simply shooting off the ramp isn’t enough, and you have to manually jump at the ramp’s edge. Then the problem was that I kept holding down the jump button, something ingrained into my muscle memory through years of playing, you guessed it, the Tony Hawk’s games.


Once I’d got it into my thick head that tapping the jump button is the way to go, Street Sk8er’s gameplay clicked into place, and it turns out that pulling off tricks is extremely simple. When you go off a ramp or the top of a pipe, press jump and hold one of the directional buttons to do a move. That’s all there is to it. Up, down, left and right each perform a different trick. Like I say, it’s very simple and doubly so when you realise that unless you really mess up, for example by falling off the edge of a half-pipe and slamming face-first into the unforgiving concrete or jumping straight into a wall, you’ll always land your trick. There are no extra points awarded for a good landing and almost no mid-air adjustments to make, so as long as you’re going to land on a “viable” surface then you’re going to score points. The same is true with grinding, as there’s no need to balance on the rail and once you’re on there, you’re on there.


With the basics of Street Sk8er’s action roughly figured out, I decided to head into the Tour mode, as that’s where the meat of the game’s content lies. I switched to the all-rounder character Ginger, because she’s the only one sensible enough to be wearing knee pads. The Tour is a series of score-attack challenges across the game’s three courses – New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo – interspersed with a couple of minigame challenges. You’re given a target score to beat before you can progress to the next stage (although you can retry as many times as you like) and a time limit to consider, which can be topped up by skating through various checkpoints.


Los Angeles is the first course, and because I’d already played it before I managed to get through it with the minimum of fuss… on my second attempt. The first time through, I spent too much time trying to rack up points on the half-pipe, which isn’t a great tactics for several reasons. One is that you gradually score fewer and fewer points for each trick you pull off on the same obstacle, forcing you to move on to fresh, ankle-shattering pastures. That makes sense, and it keeps the action flowing at a good pace. The other thing is that you get a big points bonus if you reach the goal with a lot of time left on the clock, and especially later in the game you need this big points bonus to meet the score requirement. So, Street Sk8er tries to squash two kinds of skating gameplay together: the trick-centric score-em-up and the straight race to the finish line, and it does an admirable job of combining the two into a game that’s fast-paced but still gives you a chance to show off.


After each of Tour mode’s main stages, you’re given some points with which to improve your character’s abilities. I decided to keep Ginger as an all-rounder, although it was tempting to slam it all into jump power and see if I could send her into a low-Earth orbit, or at least out of bounds.


Next up is the half-pipe minigame: thirty seconds to score as many points as you can without severely injuring your character by trying to get them to grind along every available surface. That’s definitely an issue with Street Sk8er, it’s often not clear about which ledges are grindable and which aren’t. Anyway, the half-pipe. There’s not much to it, but you should still try your best because the higher the score you get, the more bonus time you’re given to complete the next “proper” course and those extra seconds can be vital.


Here we are in New York, grinding our way to success and definitely not about to smash into that chainlink fence once this brickwork runs out. I’m sure I’ll avoid that hazard, have my time refilled and do a backflip off that ramp in the distance. That’s the plan, anyway. Because Street Sk8er only has three full stages, you’ll eventually come to learn the layout and location of every ramp and obstacle, and honestly the earlier comparison to Ridge Racer is a surprisingly apt one. Despite being a PS1 exclusive, Street Sk8er feels very much like an arcade game: short, score-focused stages where playtimes are generally under three minutes per course, bold, chunky graphics and not much else to it rather than the core gameplay.


Fortunately, that core gameplay is a lot of fun. Limited, sure, but it moves at a good clip and the feeling of nailing a series of tricks, grinding along a rail to the next half-pipe and backflipping over the finish line with time to spare is enjoyable enough to keep you coming back thanks to good controls and some fun presentation. There’s definitely room in my heart for an arcade-style skateboarding game, and that’s exactly what this is, to the point that I’ve almost convinced myself that there really was a Street Sk8er arcade cabinet with a motion-sensitive fake board for you to stand on. The brevity of a Street Sk8er play session relly works in the game's favour, too - keeping each run to a couple of minutes forces you to avoid getting hung up on the same areas of the course, being able to retry with no fuss prevents things getting frustrating.


The second between-round minigame is the bowl, which is functionally the same as the half-pipe. Thirty second timer, score points, etc. The main difference is the added anxiety that comes from constantly worrying I was about to smash Ginger’s head into this crane dangling over the middle of the bowl.


The final “big” course is Tokyo, and personally I found it the most fun of the three, probably because it’s a little less realistic than the other two, with menacing, vertiginous quarter-pipes and almost sci-fi themed tunnels – an aesthetic that fits nicely with the overblown, oversaturated arcade feel of Street Sk8ter’s action.


It’s also fun because while it technically has the highest points requirement to clear the stage, it also has the most ramps and jumps so you can score some big points without having to slow down too much. In fact, Street Sk8er’s Tour mode is one of those rare games that gets easier as you progress through it, mostly because of the bonus time you can get from the minigames which isn’t available to you on the first stage. This is especially noticeable once you’ve completed the Tour mode once, because the next time you play it the score requirements will be even higher.


It doesn’t take long to finish Tour mode, and you reward for doing so – the first time through, at least – is that some gates in the stages become unlocked, giving you access to different routes though each course. It’s a decent way to expand on the game’s replayability, even if it was surprisingly difficult to see the new routes when I went back and tried the stages again.


And I did go back, because I was having so much fun playing Street Sk8er that I figured I’d try to unlock a few more things. I hit a bit of a stumbling block when I went back into tour mode and the point requirements had been increased, mind you – especially on the first course, where there simply aren’t that many things to trick off and to get through you have to nail every available point-scoring opportunity and get to the goal as quickly as possible. One thing it took me a while to realise is that when you level up a character’s stats, it also increases the “level” of tricks that they can perform. You start out with fairly “standard” skateboarding tricks like kickflips, but once you’re up to level eight you can pull off ridiculous helicoptering moves, mid-air handstands and the like, all of which get you the extra points that you’ll need to meet the new targets. While there’s not really a combo system as such, it does seem that you can only perform the bigger tricks after knocking out a few of the smaller ones, making hitting as many potential jumps as possible very important.


Another reason to keep playing Tour mode is that you can unlock some new characters, with a couple of stand-outs. One of them is a bonobo ape called, appropriately enough, Bonobo. Who could fail to be charmed by the concept of a skateboarding chimp? Especially in a videogame, because this way you get the fun of seeing a monkey busting out killer backflips without any of the ethical concerns you might feel when viewing, say, an old PG Tips advert. More skateboarding monkeys, that what videogames need.


The other “weird” character is a ninja lady called Saho, who’s unique in that she rides rollerblades rather than a board. It doesn’t affect the gameplay any, but it’s a nice touch and I assume the thinking was “ninjas stab people, so she should use rollerblades, ah ha ha.” Once of Saho’s moves is a jumping board-grab where she stretches her legs out like she’s doing a flying kick, so she’s worth unlocking for that reason alone.


By this point, I’d spent a good few hours playing Street Sk8er, and I was having a lot of fun. More fun than I expected to, if I’m honest. It’s a straightforward, uncomplicated but action-packed and very engaging piece of arcade excitement, and part of me wants to describe it as the skateboarding equivalent of Crazy Taxi. It’s a particularly impressive achievement when you consider that it’s one of the first – if not the first – fully 3D 32-bit skateboarding games, preceding even the first Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater.


Ah yes, that game. Well, there was always going to be a point in this article where I had to compare Street Sk8er to Tony Hawk’s, wasn’t there? However, it’s not a fair comparison, because they’re very different games. Street Sk8er’s all about straightforward, uncomplicated action, while THPS simply has much more to it. That said, I’m still going to compare them by saying that THPS is the better game, because it has even sharper controls, more locations, bigger combo potential and (starting with THPS2) the Create-A-Skater option... but Street Sk8er offers a nice change of pace, and is a fun game for when you’ve got twenty minutes to spare. One thing that THPS did that Street Sk8er doesn’t quite manage is that it made regular suburban kids feel as though they were, in a small way, a part of a cool “underground” subculture. That might sound like I’m taking the piss but I genuinely think that’s a good thing - I’m sure there were kids out there who got into skating and other related topics because of the THPS games and I think that’s neat.


On the theme of comparisons between this and THPS, I should mention Street Sk8er’s soundtrack, which is probably exactly what you’re expecting – licensed pop-punk and ska tracks from lesser-known bands of the time like The Pietasters and I Against I. The exception is a couple of tracks from Less Than Jake, including “All My Best Friends Are Metalheads” which later graduated to the big leagues by appearing on the soundtrack of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4. Obviously it’s all down to personal taste, but I enjoyed the soundtrack and whatever your feelings about ska-punk I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb to say it’s the perfect genre to soundtrack a 1998 PS1 skateboarding game. Personally, “All My Best Friends Are Metalheads” comes attached to a lot of fond, alcoholically-fuzzed memories, so I was glad to hear it while I tried to steer a monkey in a baseball cap around a half-pipe. There’s nothing quite as iconic as holding on to what you are and pretending you’re a superman or as straight-up good as Adolescents’ “Amoeba,” but yeah, I enjoyed the soundtrack.


That’s Street Sk8er, then. If you’ve read through this article and spotted an instance where I typed “Street Sk8ter” and forgot to fix it, feel free to let me know because I’m sure I did it at least a dozen times. It’s a really enjoyable little game with a pleasingly straight-ahead arcade feel, and it’s particularly impressive when you consider when it was released. Honestly, I'm struggling to think of anything negative to say about it besides the lack of content. There's a stretch or two ineach course where there's not much to do besides "go fast," and it could maybe do with a button to reset your position when you get stuck in the smaller crevices of the play area, but other than that it does what it does very well.
So is it inferior to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater? Just about, and especially when compared to that venerable franchise’s later sequels, but that’s nothing to be ashamed of.  And hey, skateboarding ape. You can’t argue with that.

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