DS games tend to work best when they're built from the ground up for Nintendo's dual screened handheld and that's exactly what EA has done with Skate It, its Tony Hawk killer. The 'Flickit' controls have been ported across from the flagship Wii version with careful consideration for the stylus input, allowing a degree of control over your skater's actions you don't normally associate with 3D games on the console.
It works like this. The top screen displays the 3D skater park and your skater from a third-person perspective. The touch screen shows a top down image of your board and it's on this canvas that you use the stylus to trigger tricks. A simple swipe from the bottom of the board to the top will trigger an ollie. Reverse that motion and you trigger a nollie. A swipe at an angle to the board will perform a kickflip and curve strokes will perform pop shuv-its. You can combine this with grabs (L and R buttons) and exaggerated spins using the d-pad to turn your body. While there's a degree of 'magnetism' to a park's various handrails and structures, the game never feels forgiving. In fact, on the whole it's a bitterly difficult game. Skate It is about as close to a skateboarding sim as a game's likely to get on a portable console, and while boarders themselves are sure to appreciate that, newcomers will probably find it more frustrating than fun.
The whole game is, essentially, a series of Flickit challenges disguised as a career mode. Set in San Vanelona, you're told that your goal is to earn respect, get sponsors and get your smiling face in the local boarding mag, but in reality all you're doing is moving from one park to the other and competing in various challenges, the completion of which unlock new challenges, new spots to session, better boards to ride and nicer clothes to wear.
You start with three spots available, the community centre, elementary school and Lake Sherwin, each with a few challenges available. There is a somewhat open world feel, in that you can skate up to green markers within a certain park and trigger challenges, but the fact that you can jump straight into specific challenges from the world map means the structure of the game doesn't elevate itself above a mere process you have to go through to unlock new content. The challenges themselves can be extremely difficult. You've got straight up races against AI opponents and trick scoring battles within a predetermined time limit. The idea is that as you beat challenges you'll get noticed by the media and, eventually, have your pick of sponsors, who, as well as unlocking different boards, parts and clothes, will whisk you around the globe to real world spots like Paris and Rio, with the ultimate goal of becoming Skater of the Year.
Unfortunately the graphics don't reach the quality bar the control system sets. The environments and textures of the skaters and the spots are bland. The rag doll effect is exactly the same every time you bite the dust, and utterly unconvincing to boot. Skate It looks rough and, despite some nicely detailed horizons, is completely forgettable from a visual point of view. Yes, this is a 3D game, which is a challenging proposition from a DS development point of view, but it seems nailing the control system on the DS was clearly the priority, and the art style has suffered as a result.
Beyond the lengthy career mode, you've got the My Spot mode, which allows you to build your own skate park using props unlocked through sponsorship gained in the career mode. You can even incorporate your own custom challenges and art logos. Best of all though, is the ability to upload your spots to a Nintendo DS Server, making it available to others to download and session for themselves. How many DS games provide such 'next-gen' style user generated and sharing options?
Usefully, two-player head to head multiplayer is catered for with single and multi card play. You can go online, too, via Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. While we struggled to find a game, when we did it was an enjoyable lag free experience. As with all Nintendo games, if you've got friend codes you'll have a much better time online. Available challenges include Deathrace, which is a straight up race to the finish line, Jams, which is a race to rack up the most trick points before the time runs out, Best Trick, which challenges both skaters to score the most points from a single trick and Checkpoint Challenge, which is a race through, as you'd expect, checkpoints. Online leaderboards, showing personal bests from everything from airtime to longest grind, really do add longevity and a competitive edge to the game that many DS titles lack.
Your enjoyment of Skate It on DS will largely be determined by your enjoyment of skateboarding in general. The controls are fiendishly difficult but, if you're into the sport, they're rewarding to master. Despite the game being released on the family friendly DS, no attempt has been made to dumb down the Flickit system and make it easy for newcomers, an approach that impacts positively and negatively on the overall experience. The graphics and career mode aren't as good as they could have been, but the online functionality is superb for a DS title. Overall, Skate It is a solid effort, with a control scheme that DS owners will really appreciate.