Wednesday, 24 August 2011


Remember that totally radical time we had in the 90s?! Dude those times were gnarly, when we hung out and caught some waves or something.

Wouldn't it be awesome if like, a video game could totally sum up the experience. Like 1994's Skitchin' for the Sega Mega Drive. It's like, "skating" and "hitching a ride", but too x-treme to deal with Gs.


Somebody in the marketing department of Electronic Arts thought this would be a swell idea. Appeal to the youths of today by having them... hitch a ride on the back of cars. God yeah, I mean, that's all the rage right? Sure, it comes from the country which lets people drive these vehicles at the age of 16, so you could just wait and buy one for yourself, but everyone likes roller blading and wearing baseball caps backwards and M.C. Hammer. Niche markets 4 lyfe!

This is as close as you might get to "London Riots: The Video Game" (discounting the flash games that already exist portraying the event). Angry teens hitting things, probably causing damage to property and themselves. As a fan of the establishment, I think these people should be captured and beaten within an inch of their lives, with the weak being promptly burned to solve the energy crisis, but this is why I don't run the country or make video games (yet).

However, I'm sure regardless of your views on human life, you'll probably agree with me that something should be set on fire to balance out the stupidity of this game. It's the video game equivalent to BBC Three  - built by the thirty-somethings who genuinely believe they still understand youth culture, despite the fact they're more than double the age of their supposed target market.

Or at least, that's what you'd think if Skitchin' were a bad game. That's not the case - it's built on the foundations of something great and delivers a quality gaming experience. You almost want it to be bad to prove a point - it's not supposed to supply us with entertainment value if it takes this narrow view on the world so seriously. It's supposed to be terrible because it's clearly been designed by monkeys, but it isn't.

Not only that, it's a product of Electronic Arts. The company that these days relies on their annual £40 patches for FIFA, Madden, NHL and NBA rather than unique and fun experiences brimming with the originality you'd expect from the world's biggest publisher. Had this been made to today it would have no doubt met the requirements of being truly awful - it was just in the right place at the right time and most importantly, had the right developers. But most of its success lies on the fact it's a derivative of Road Rash. You could shove Colonel Gaddaffi into the Road Rash engine and market it to the Libyans... and theyd'd still be entertained.

The only problem with Road Rash is that it couldn't handle itself well on the Mega Drive. Watered down environments and reduced frame rates - it's not the best of sights, but the gameplay more-or-less made up for it, provided you could see past the graphics. Predictably Skitchin' has the same issues, and, paired with its outdated view on youth culture, actually makes it a game that's aged even worse. It's screaming out for a re-release, but I wouldn't put too much faith in good results if such a thing were to happen (for one, teenagers don't don purple jackets and mohawks anymore).

Skitchin' is an interesting game to play. Unlike Road Rash, the controls aren't immediately obvious and seem more suited to a controller which has shoulder buttons. Once you've named your character, such as the brilliant Blog Squirrel representative "Git Face" shown in these screenshots, you're thrust onto a road. You start skating up said road, hopefully avoiding traffic before realising that you're not moving out of 8th position. You're holding B to "accelerate" and you notice that by pressing C, you can start punching things, so the logical conclusion is to start punching cars. This gets you killed, because it's impossible to punch cars.

After quite a bit of trial and error and a constant refusal to look at the instruction manual, you realise you have to hold A to "skitch" onto passing cars. Then the C button comes in handy when dealing with the opponents you'll likely catch up. You also have to keep using your D-Pad (which you also use to aim punches) to hang on to the car and avoid obstacles that may affect you. You're cycling through the Mega Drive buttons, never letting go of B and though the game is still completely playable, the experience feels... clumsier than usual.

For example, if you brought the game to the Sega Saturn, you could assign the left and right attacks to the shoulder buttons, place the jump button on C (as opposed to Up and C) and make sure the D-Pad does nothing but move the character - as it should be. And of course, the Saturn could guarantee you a smoother frame rate and better graphics. Much of this occurred with Road Rash's own Saturn adventure, but as Skitchin' was less successful, it sits in Mega Drive territory hurting your thumbs.

Success in Skitchin' depends on your ability to latch onto vehicles and propel yourself forward with the momentum you've gained (someone find me equation that explains how this is possible without the car slowing down). But of course, drivers obey the rules of the road, and will often stop and junctions, screwing with chances of success. Thankfully, the AI has troubles too, and, if you're lucky, you can kill your opponents with repeated jabs to the face or ankles.

Skitching is, of course, a crime, and thus the police will also try and arrest you in later races, much like in Road Rash. Make no mistake, this is essentially just Road Rash minus the bikes - you can get a variety of weapons to clobber people, and doing tricks on the conveniently placed ramps will give you more money to upgrade your kit. And there are many upgrades to be made - you can even improve your gloves... despite the fact it's clear your character doesn't wear any. The only major difference here is you complete the race by getting others to do the racing for you, and it's even more outlandish in its presentation than Road Rash is.

Graphically I feel Skitchin' suffers. For a console that can't do native sprite scaling, it's surprising that anything works, but the fact that Git Face felt the need to change clothes between races seems to suggest the developers struggled with the limited palette. And of course, like in the above screenshots, this leads to purple cars. The music is hit-and-miss too. All signs of a system that's struggling.

But all these things aside, Skitchin' is definitely a fine piece of video game comedy, partly because I think it genuinely it took itself seriously back in 1994. I love the way that even though they're supposedly anti-establishment, "extreme" cool dudes with nothing to lose, they still wear purple knee pads to avoid cuts and bruises. I love the way one of the announcers is happy to call himself "The Spectre", and that an entire generation of people were meant to accept this as being normal.

And of course, like Road Rash, I enjoy watching the characters get hurt. It's actually more entertaining here because you can skate into lamp posts, and people are flung across car bonnets. There's a semi-important question to be asked about whether any of the themes here were relevant in 1994 - whether the American people had moved on in life by then, but I guess that's just part of the charm of Skitchin' - it's fighting the powers at be.

I also think it's amazing that either Sega or Electronic Arts let the packaging claim the game was "bitchin'". Don't get that with Nintendo!

Road Rash, as a concept, was quite unique at the time, but I think Skitchin' takes it one step further. It's a nice game - badly thought through when it comes to its marketing but a solid racer all the same. I recommend looking for this one if you're building a Mega Drive collection - it might take a bit of explaining in 2011, but it pays off and is just as entertaining as any Road Rash game. This whole "driving forward hitting people" genre needs to make a comeback.


  1. I'd never heard of this before, but now I'm gonna have to play it...

    Have to say I'm not sure I agree about those EA comments though, I honestly feel like they've been on the up and up. I mean with Mirror's Edge, both Dead Space games, that publishing deal with Suda 51, that OTHER deal with Insomniac.. as well as their work with Bioware...

    I just feel like they release quite a lot of great games again per year now. Unlike say, Activision.

  2. Activision are statistically worse:

    EA is certainly capable of producing top quality stuff, but there is a huge reliance in the company on half-baked sequels. All those Sims expansion packs and a Harry Potter title for every film - good business practise and not as bad as Activision's "20 Guitar Hero games in 5 years" tactic but it's a bit dull.

    I suppose the best way of looking at it is to read Wikipedia's list of "notable games" EA have published. There's about one "new" game a year. Then you remember EA publish about 30-40 games a year. A lot of sequels, and though there's nothing particularly wrong with that... we're due to get the 18th Need for Speed game in a couple of months. I think that's a tad excessive when you consider nobody remembers half of them.

    It's stuff like that which almost makes me think they're abusing their power as the world's biggest publisher.

    I should also point out Command & Conquer 4 (a 2010 release) could be one of the worst games they've ever come up with. It might be technically sound but it's the prime example of the EA machine in action, completely going against the Westwood Studios way of making C&C games in the interests of making lots of money, and winding up as the worst in the series thus far. No fighting giant ants in that one!

    So I dunno, they're possibly getting better, but I'm not totally convinced.