When DDR came out for home consoles the big joke was to write “feet-on” impressions. Then the Balance Board hit and the joke resurfaced. Now with the new skateboard control for Tony Hawk: Ride it’s starting to look like “feet-on” is an entirely valid description for how we are going to be playing many of our games in the future. The question is, will this be a bright or dark future for gaming?
In case you missed the advertising blitz surrounding the game, Ride features a skateboard shaped controller which has light sensors on each side. The controller senses motion and tilt and light sensors sense anything that pass in front of them. It is basically a skateboard deck without the wheels and you stand on it and pretend you’re skateboarding to play the game. It’s definitely an idea of some sort, but I’m not sure it’s a very good one.
Stepping on the board at the show room at E3 I felt a little uncomfortable. The thing was a bit small for me and I’m an average size person. I also don’t skateboard because I’m bad at it so pretending to skateboard wasn’t exactly something that really attracted me. Still, I hopped on and attempted to play through the instruction demo they had on the screen. I was placed on easy, in which players are on a guided path and don’t have to tilt to much to turn and such. By moving your foot along the side of the board it gets you going, just like a real skateboard. Kickflips are handled the same way; you lift the front of the board by pressing down on the back. Again, a lack of coordination will kill you here.
Once I got moving the next step was to grind and then perform a trick off of the railing I was grinding on. In order to any kind of grab you have to lean down and pass your hand in front of one of the sensors depending on where you want to grab. I waved my hand in front of the side of the board — nothing. I tried again — nothing. Evidently I wasn’t getting down enough so this time I really crouched and waved and I grabbed the board. Not a super easy task, and not exactly fun either. After this I had to grind a longer rail and keep balance — this worked well, so I guess they got that part down.
Once the training was done we went into a half-pipe and turned the board perpendicular to the screen. I strong press down on the front of the board got me rolling back and forth, and steering was in my control by leaning. I popped up and did a grab, did some kick flips and pulled of some other tricks. However, I was merely doing the skateboard controller equivalent of mashing buttons, which is what I mostly do in all Tony Hawk games. Here though there wasn’t much of a payoff. The Ride controller makes tricks even more realistic than Skate, sure, but since the controller works without anything else, unlike in Skate It where you pull of tricks with the Wii Remote, your ability to do anything really cool is hampered by the fact that you aren’t a skateboarding professional.
I know I sound a bit like a whiney gamer trying out something new and different, but I’m just not sure that this is a better way to control skateboarding games. Yes, it’s different and innovative, but much like Natal, I just can’t see it improving how I play the game. Shaun White Snowboarding for example gave us the balance controls and made tricks fun and easy to pull off, it was actually a new and improved way to control a snowboard game. This just seems new. Now I’m sure many people will master this controller and become great at the game, but for the vast majority of people it just seems like it won’t make playing a skateboarding game any better.