The wild success of Wii Fit not only showed game publishers and developers that people were willing to have a video game encourage them to exercise, but it also showed them that there is a huge market of people who are interested in using the Wii Balance Board if/when their fascination with the Nintendo-produced game would expire. Aside from We Ski, however, no one was really developed for the new peripheral. It wasn't until the prior E3, when Shaun White Snowboarding: Road Trip was demoed for the press, that developers finally started announcing plans to develop for the Wii Balance Board. Naturally, the initial wave of titles that supported the board were all exercise-related. Some publishers, however, followed in the footsteps of Ubisoft and made the board a new controller for extreme sports games. Zoo Games is one of those publishers, and with their latest title, Skate City Heroes, they try to use both the board and the Wiimote/Nunchuk combination to give the player a more involving control experience. The result is a game that isn't much of a looker but is very fun to play.
The premise of Skate City Heroes is a somewhat unusual one, and the closest game that it would be similar to is an old title called Razor Freestyle Scooter. Set in a futuristic city, you and your friend are spending an afternoon skating in the downtown plaza when a freak electrical accident occurs. Once the accident subsides, the robotic mascot of a local gaming establishment comes to life, bent on taking revenge against the people who have made him advertise their games for so long. His manner of revenge, however, is to force people to play his games and offer your friend as the prize for winning. In order to rescue your friends, you must participate in these games and survive.
Participating in these games requires you to get on your skateboard and complete the challenges given to you by each of the minion robots. Each challenge varies something you would see in a standard Tony Hawk-like game to something completely off-the-wall. For example, one challenge may ask you to get 5,000 points in 90 seconds, while another might ask you to use the grappling laser to jump on six specific cars in 60 seconds. Completing all of the challenges gets you a piece of a level token, while completing the token gets you a boss challenge that must be passed in order to rescue one of your friends and get to the next level.
As far as the single-player game goes, it's not half-bad. As stated before, the tasks are varied enough that you don't feel bored, but this isn't to say that they're easy. Some of the objectives can be tough, but they're never tough enough that you will want to quit. Each hub city is just the right size for traveling from one objective to the other, and getting lost isn't something that will happen often. While it might seem like the hub cities have nothing to do, the inclusion of optional side-quests, such as camera destruction and picking up all of the stray medals, gives the user something else to do between quests. The only thing that feels strange here is combat against the robots. It's not that it's difficult to accomplish, but it does feel a bit out of place. It's fairly easy to kill the robots, but it still feels a bit weird to see it in a game like this.
The controls become the main draw for Skate City Heroes, as they are handled fairly nicely. The analog stick controls the player's direction while the A button jumps. The B button handles grinds while the Z button activates your grappling hook. The C button, combined with the tilting of the Wiimote, initiates grab tricks, and flicking the remote performs kick tricks. This sounds fine, but the manuals and balancing really make you appreciate the controls. When grinding, you have to use the Wiimote to balance things out. The only drawback is that balancing the remote is pretty sensitive, so those without steady hands may actually find this a bit difficult. The same goes for manuals, which require you tilt the remote downward and then balance from there. The only issue here is that the manuals are always triggered if the remote is pointed down, so if you ever wanted to rest your hand, you might have to rest the Wiimote on a flat surface or risk bailing out.
While the controls are good on their own, they get a whole new dimension added when you throw in the balance board. Depending on the scheme used, you can use the board to steer your skater around by simply leaning in the desired direction. The leaning is also used in conjunction with the C button to perform grab tricks. Kick tricks, oddly enough, are performed by stomping on a certain area of the board, depending on the trick you want pulled off. This control method makes it feel more like an arcade game, since standing on the board and board movements make it feel like you're actually skating. The real benefit to the board comes in balancing, since the peripheral isn't as sensitive as the remote. Overall, using the board is much more fun and highly recommended if you have any intention of playing the game.
When it comes to multiplayer, it's best to get the most disappointing news out of the way first. Unlike the single-player game, the balance board is automatically disabled for any of the available multiplayer titles. If you aren't well-versed in the Wiimote- or Nunchuk-only controls by this time, things will be difficult. If you are, you'll have a bit of fun with the multiple multiplayer modes, which are good for up to four players (split into teams of two).
There are plenty of multiplayer games in here that mirror other skateboarding games. From a standard scoring run to a best trick or best combo run, you've seen it before from other titles. There are a few more games in here that are different, and some of them are good. Some, like Deathmatch, charge you with killing more robots than your opponent. This can be quite fun, since the game is just the right length and there are plenty of times when matches can go back and forth. The same goes for a mode where the game calls out a trick name and you have to be the first to perform it.
There is a mode called Shopping, which can take too long to be any fun. In this mode, you have to perform tricks to earn points, which can then be used to grab random items in the area. The fact that the scoring system is low and the items high in price ensures that the mode will take a bit too long to be played more than once.
For some reason, when playing Skate City Heroes, the graphics start to remind you of Sega's classic Jet Set Radio. The characters have a certain animated style to their look, and the city is styled like a typical Japanese metropolis. It doesn't take long, however, to realize that the lack of cel-shading isn't the only difference between the two games. While the city looks like it would have come from Sega's game, the colors used for the city are pretty dull.
Aside from a few buildings, there doesn't seem to be any sort of vibrant life coming from the area surrounding you. Your skaters have as much detail as the citizens around you. Beyond some hip clothes, your characters sport the same medium polygon count and the same fingerless hands that the other city dwellers have. Besides more fluid movements, the only thing that makes your players stand out is the scowls that are always present on their faces, making them some of the least likeable heroes a game has ever seen.
The same goes for the enemies, which all appear with designs you would expect from lower-caliber adventure games. When your main villain looks exactly the same as his cronies and the only differentiating factor is a top hat, you know things are in pretty bad shape. On the bright side, Skate City Heroes never has an opportunity to slow down, and the speed exhibited by your skaters, whether it be on the ground or in the air, is well realized.
The music in the game will also remind you of the competitions, but only for a moment. Skate City Heroes is pretty heavy with the hip-hop beats, but that's about it. The beats here can get pretty repetitive and the songs, even without lyrics, are largely forgettable. It's not bad enough that it will make you want to turn down your speakers, but it's not good enough that it will make you turn them up, either. The sound effects are generic, but they work well enough. There's no mistaking a grind from a manual when you hear the effects. As for the voices, they are minimal at best. You get the shouts of pedestrians as you pass by them, but other than the grunts of getting your skater hurt, that's about all there is.
It can't be said that Skate City Heroes is a great-looking skating game, since Skate It seems to have trumped it in that area. It also can't be said that the game is a solid title when it comes to sound, since nothing stands out when it plays through your speakers. It can be said, however, that Skate City Heroes is a very fun game, thanks to the use of the balance board in conjunction with the Nunchuk and Wiimote. When configured correctly, the controls are amazing enough to morph a game that should be mediocre on all counts into something you'll catch yourself playing for quite some time. It's a very good rental and a good buy, if you've been craving a more casual skating game for Nintendo's little white console.
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