Touchgrind in review: Skateboarding IS a Geek sport
Take a look at the above list. Are you reminded of those heady days of teenage rebellion? Do you look fondly on cursing, spitting, bleeding from falls, running from the fuzz and beating up roller bladers? If so, then I think that the Swedish Illusion Labs AB have an app that will have you switchstancing down memory lane.
Touchgrind is not only the first stylish skateboard game for the iPod Touch and the iPhone, it is de facto, the first ever skateboard game on any portable system that in any measure can successfully emulate real feet and physics to immerse the player into solid skateboarding action.
Gameplay and Presentation
If you have ever skated, you will find it magically simple to adjust to using your fingers rather than your feet. Tricks are completed in the same manner as real skateboarding but with less blood. If you want to ollie, you make essentially the same motions with your fingers that you would with your feet. The board will “follow” you in through any combination of moves. It will grind, ollie, 360 flip, stall and even oldschool pivot with you across the entire map whether you ride goofy or normal.
Tricks take a little time to get used to but the learning curve is not too intense. I am already a better iPod skater in two hours than I ever was in 5 years of skating even though my mates were all the best of teachers. You cannot however pop onto the ‘board’ and in 5 minutes master everything. The learning curve ensures you will enjoy this game for a long time. In a sense, Touchgrind is a game that can be enjoyed virtually forever with replay value stemming from its ergonomics.
Concurrent to excellent ergonomics, the graphics and sound too are top-notch. The wood part of the board is well detailed even to the grainy looking gripsheet and a well painted belly. The wheels roll realistically and the trucks too are well painted. Everything creaks and groans in reaction to movement and to the different surfaces in the game. A grind sounds and looks like a grind. Rolling sounds like rolling and tables thankfully have a unique sound. Illusion Labs also meticulously made the environs. Everything from shadows to chain links on the fence are visible and realistically rendered depending on your perspective.
But what is most impressive is the board’s movement. In every trick, it swivels, pans, arcs, crashes, bounces in bona fide movements. Nothing feels hastily done or left out. When performed wrong, certain tricks will leave the board lying or skidding on its side or bouncing awkwardly against the ground or an obstacle.
Though Touchgrind presents itself above the arcade genre, there are unlocks and a point counter system which will have you straining for better and better combos. There are however, no flashy power ups littering the screen. In fact, all you see is the board and to a lesser extent, skatepark obstacles.
This would be my first complaint. No matter how well rendered everything from fences to boxes and rails are, none of them are truly visible to the player until the last moment. Small icons indicating rails, tables, etc., float round the screen and change with your perspective but until something suddenly springs into view, there is little indication of the course layout. On one hand, after some practice, you may become an incredible skateboarder, but in another, you are still looking at the ground, never graduating to looking about you for action.
My second complaint may be founded on my ineptitude in playing games. Whilst the iPhone or iPod Touch look moderately like skateboards and even though your fingers are transformed into feet, the simulation goes no further than twisting and flicking motions. The iPhone offers no tactile feedback. The edge of the board snap away from a heelflip nor do you tense for balance when grinding a rail nor does it hurt when you land on the side of the board. As fun and realistic as this simulation is there are moments when it would be nice to have a little help with tricks as the surface of a static iPhone is a drastic contrast to a moving skateboard.
No complaint however can really detract from what a truly revolutionary game this is. When I was about 16 and bored in class, my mates and I got the idea to create skateboards to use in classroom study time. We carefully cut papers and laminated them into proper “7-ply” boards complete with a fine layer of sandpaper that we coloured black. Painstakingly, we created trucks and fixed remote control car wheels to the bottom. If anyone were geeks, it was us, the skateboarders. Years later, kids bought premade plastic versions that we thumbed our noses at.
Touchgrind is full circle in truly geekifying the sport of skateboarding. Not only does it want for an expensive iPhone or iPod touch, but it gets a target market of former and current skaters playing nice with wannabes. Everyone will be glued to a tiny screen and screaming, “yeah man!” or “nice, guy!” on successful completion of what really is really nothing more than a glorified true or false statement. It is a perfect example of multitouch technology fully being realised and employed to good and fun use.
No matter what negative comments I had, there is way for the “wow factor” to wear off and let me rate it any less than grab. It would be worth Kiss if the view of the map could be better conveyed to the player. Very well done.