This article was written as part of the Make a Wish Week Amigathon. Donations are now being accepted to help fulfil the dying wishes of terminally ill children.
When you were at school what did you aspire to be when you grew up? A professional footballer? Astronaut? Rock star? How about litter picker? Well if daydreams of the latter were what got you through all those tedious algebra lessons and daily assemblies, and yet your soaring ambitions never came to fruition, now’s your time to shine!
In Skidz you play an acrobatic kool kat stunt rider who can’t decide if he’s a BMX-er or a skateboarder so it’s up to you to choose for him. Either way, it’s your duty to clean up the streets against a ticking clock, depositing rubbish in bins, and dodging obstacles as you go along. Wild.
Developed by Core and published by Gremlin, Skidz was simultaneously released for the Amiga and Atari ST in 1990. Responsible for its design were Terry Lloyd and Bob Churchill, coding was left in the capable hands of one-game-wonder Andy Williams, with graphics courtesy of Lee ‘Chuck Rock’ Pullen, while the legendary Ben Daglish worked his magic on the musical score.
Adopting two wheels, your bicycle motocross (hence BMX – ha! I educated you when you weren’t looking!) is more svelte, passing easily through narrow gaps, albeit travelling more slowly and using more energy to do so. Skateboarding is the swifter, more manoeuvrable option, conferring the flexibility to pull off a 360 degree flip on the spot.
This comes in very handy whilst attempting to avert collisions with thugs, muggers, cats, Scottish terriers, pigeons, roadworkers, joggers, tramps, cyclists, rabbits, and Mr Miyagi lookalikes, as you fulfil your obligation to collect 75% of the litter strewn about the environment. These encompass six levels, set alongside a canal, in a park, Chinatown, a beach, boardwalk and construction site.
10 items can be carried at once before you must stop off at a bin to deposit them and bank your points. Missions can be completed in any order, and once ticked off, the final challenge – a three man race – becomes available to you. You only have one life with which to execute this feat, yet can continue from the same level with all your power-ups intact should you nose-dive into the tarmac once too often.
If you’re looking for historical gaming influences to hang Skidz’s helmet on, you could do a lot worse than Atari’s 1986 skateboarding trickathon, 720 Degrees, EA’s Skate or Die (1989), Paperboy (1984) by Atari, or Gremlin’s own 8-bit forbear, Skate Crazy from 1988, which is fairly similar except you get around on roller skates. The public-spirited cleanup angle appears to have been adopted from New Generation Software’s 1984 title, Trashman, the out-there premise of which is as literal as you might imagine.
That’s really just the tip of the deck, however; the ’80s and early ’90s were a hotbed of skateboard gaming interpretations… Skateboard Kidz, Pro Skateboard Simulator, Skate Boardin’, Super Skateboardin’, Awesome Earl in SkateRock (Paperboy without the newspapers!), Skate Tribe (in which you can fly and fight dragons!), Skate of the Art, Rollerboard, Skate or Die: Tour de Thrash, Cheap Skate, Skate or Die 2: The Search for Double Trouble (which includes an adventure game element), Skatin’ USA… and they’re only the ones with conspicuous skate-related titles.
BMX games – revolving around another monumental ’80s craze – were popular too pre-Skidz, though few took the isometric 8-way scrolling route it seems. We had BMX Racers (beware of grannies giving you stick, literally), BMX Simulator 1 and 2, BMX Trials, BMX Kidz, BMX Freestyle, BMX Rekencross (in which you’re chased by a belligerent kangaroo as you solve maths riddles by jumping over obstacles), BMX Air Master, BMX on the Moon (where you take on spaceships and monsters with your moon gun!), BMX Number Jump (same as Rekencross only not so Dutch), BMX Hyper Biker Simulator (endorsed by Raleigh), Alex Kidd: BMX Trial, BMX Jungle Bike, and even BMX Ninja, which has precisely nothing to do with ninjas.
I must have been a double-kewl kid because I had both, as well as rollerskates. My skateboard was white and blood-red with a picture of a ferocious, snarling, clawing tiger on the underside. It was surrounded by Chinese symbols I couldn’t read and may have translated into utter gibberish for all I knew. Still, it tapped into that Bruce Lee worshipping mindset that made us believe we were kindred spirits, so who cares?
My BMX was a slick, all-white Emmelle. The tires, plastic spokes, frame, everything was white; a rarity then and so therefore somehow that was kool too. What wasn’t kule in the least was the moment the handlebars snapped while I was riding it, leaving me attempting to steer with something that wasn’t attached to the rest of the frame. You can imagine how well that worked out! Little did I know at the time that Emmelle bikes were cheap for a reason.
Erm… weren’t we here to talk about a game originally? I wish you’d stop trying to derail my review and let me get on with it!
Two control schemes are on offer, neither being particularly intuitive or easy to get to grips with, though it’s highly unorthodox and much appreciated to be given the option of an alternative at all.
The default scheme is to hit the fire button repeatedly to begin moving and build up speed and then hold it down to maintain that pace. Pressing fire again once you’ve reached unit 4 on the speedo causes you to jump over objects and up kerbs, or as part of a trick to earn bonus points. If you perform a spin simultaneously, the hop lasts longer allowing you to travel further in the air to circumvent wider obstacles, or bridge gaps.
You turn in 45-degree steps by pushing the joystick in the required direction, and can stop altogether by pushing it in the opposite direction to the way you’re facing.
Method two entails repeatedly pushing the joystick in the desired direction of travel to accelerate, and then holding it there to continue at the same speed. Releasing it to the centre position causes you to come to a gradual standstill, or you can brake suddenly by pushing the stick in the opposite direction.
You begin the game with sixteen energy units, which are depleted in the event of each collision, when our rider topples over into the water or runs over a cigarette (health edutainment in action!). On the contrary, energy can be replenished by munching on fruit, hamburgers (no doubt actually made of beef, what’s that about?), chocolate, ice cream, and cakes. While it’s game over if you run out of energy, you can opt to continue from the same level with your current progress intact.
Should you dawdle too long on a level, a ‘hurry-up’, disembodied, cap-sporting skull appears from nowhere to stalk your every move, sabotaging your precious health. It levitates rather like the ‘Skate or Die’ bees – not in the game of the same threat – yet in 720 Degrees ironically.
Cash is earned by pulling off stunts such as spins, bunnyhops, endos, and doughnuts, or by picking up coins, or the notes fluttering about the street. This can then be spent in the shop you visit between levels to upgrade your skateboard/bike, or restore your health. Your options include new brakes or wheels, a repair kit, helmet or knee pads to reduce energy loss in the event of an accident, a medical kit, and water for rehydration.
10,000 bonus points are awarded for completing sub-games such as feeding fish, or collecting objects and delivering them to particular areas or people. These are an optional diversion so not at all necessary to complete the game.
A single, not especially memorable hip-hop soundtrack plays throughout the game, interspersed with regular ‘yeah’ speech samples and street-related sound effects. Luckily the shop is a silent place for reflection… and aural rehabilitation following that assault on the lugholes!
Ultimately what Core have created is 720 Degrees with the addition of a BMX option, grafting on Trashman’s litter management mechanic to flesh out the trickery. It’s a novel twist, though I can’t help thinking that it’s the danger and exhilaration of tearing around on four or two wheels, either racing or performing stunts competitively, that should have been the prevailing focus, with any peripheral activities relegated to serve as bonus incentives rather than the leading, killer feature. Not exactly rock ‘n’ roll is it?