It’s no secret that skateboarding titles make money — If they didn’t, there wouldn’t be a Tony Hawk game coming out every six months. They cater to a dedicated, niche audience, for sure.
But in Vans SK8: Pool Service, everything that has been appealing about the genre, from intuitive or innovative control schemes and playability, have been stripped away in favor of style over substance.
The premise is simple — skate around a pool and do tricks. But the whole concept of skating around a pool is built around speed and fluidity, something that is fundamentally lost in the accelerometer-driven gameplay. The rider is steered by tilting the iPhone up, down, left or right, but the mechanic is so imprecise that trying to skate directly up the side of the pool is often an exercise in futility. The finicky controls only compound the difficulty of performing tricks, which is done by flicking the screen.
Stringing together consecutive tricks is probably as hard as it is in real life — it’s damn hard — but that’s not why we play these games. The lack of playability in even the most basic of gameplay modes, which include career and free skate, makes a mockery of the $4.99 price tag. Career tries to spice things up by unlocking other trick-specific challenges, but the points cap to reach these achievements is prohibitively high and probably requires far more patience and practice than any casual gamer will bother with.
On the bright side, this game does look fantastic, with some impressive motion capture for the tricks. Boards are customizable, and there’s a choice of two playable pro skaters. The punk rock soundtrack does get a little grating due to its limited selection, but there’s no iPod option.
Despite the high production value, Vans SK8: Pool Service is too frustrating from the get-go, and simply does not allow a player to build enough momentum in their gameplay experience to be an enjoyable title. Save your money.