In the annals of skateboarding games, the first game most gamers, even those who grew up in the 16-bit generation of gaming, think of when they think of skateboarding games is Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. However, when you get to the 8-bit generation, the signature skateboarding game of the time, and the first game to be exclusively focused on skateboarding (technically the first focused “extreme sports” game) is Skate Or Die! for the NES. Coming out in 1989, while it is not the first game to depict skateboarding (an honor held by California Games), to a certain degree this is one of the first major sports games that were based off a real-world sport but not one that was either an Olympic sport or team sport.
The game takes the tack of most event sport games, like California Games, or Konami’s Track and Field series of games. The game contains 5 events: Half Pipe, high jump, downhill jam, race, and duel. Half-pipe is a basic trick event, requiring the player to do a series of tricks in the pipe, in a series of passes, from grabs, to 180s or 360s (or higher spins), to grinds, to stalls. The High Jump is basically all about catching as much phat air as possible. The downhill jam and race are similar events, requiring you to navigate a downhill course as quickly as possible, while pulling tricks along the way, with the difference being that race is a solo event (with you in an rural environment with dirt, trees, and other obstacles) while downhill jam is in an urban environment, and you have another opponent on the course at the same time, who you have to beat (and who also becomes an obstacle). The duel event is basically like something out of American Gladiators, with one player having a “jousting” stick with a boffer at each end, and the other player having no stick, and needing to survive for 5 seconds, at which point they switch possession – whoever knocks down their opponent twice in a row wins. The player can either choose one of the events, or play them all in sequence, in either single player or two-player.
To be honest, there’s not much reason to play solo except to beat the top score in the game – and fortunately the game does save names of players (up to 10), and the top 5 high scores for each event. I found the controls fairly smooth (though, mind you, I’m playing this over emulation using a X-Box 360 controller and the analog stick) but tricking was a little more difficult than I would have liked, and turning can be a bit of a nusance in the the downhill events. I haven’t played Skate or Die in two-player mode, however, I can see how that would be fun, particularly if you’ve got room-mates or are playing the game at a party or similar enviroment and thus have the plenty of people playing the game, and thus plenty of competition for the high score.
Is It Worth The Hype: I would say yes. It is a solid enjoyable game, and probably the most enjoyable game of all those I’ve played for this column.