Skate or Die!
C64, Electronic Arts (1987)
Throughout my teenage years, I had three distinct career paths in mind. The first one was professional breakdancer. When I realized that probably wasn’t going to pan out, I began planning on a more obtainable, more realistic goal: professional ninja. This was of course during the big ninja craze of the mid-80s. When that career path didn’t pan out, I set my sites on a third goal: professional skateboarder.
That decision was partly based on the skateboarding craze which appeared out of nowhere and exploded into mainstream culture during the mid-1980s. The fads, fashions, and lingo of southern California swept across the nation. Sanctioned skateboarding events began appearing on ESPN in 1985. The movie Thrashin’ (1986) brought the world of skateboarding to the masses. 1986 was also the year Atari’s 720 skateboarding game was released. 720 popularized the phrase, “skate or die” (which was spoken in Atari’s infamous synthesized speech). Both Thrashin’ and 720 opened the skateboarding floodgates, and by 1987 the sport was everywhere. One of the most popular skateboarding videogames to hit the home market during that era was Electronic Arts’ Skate or Die.
Borrowing the established formula from Epyx’s “games” series and featuring the musical talent of Rob Hubbard, Skate or Die consists of five separate skateboarding events in which players can both practice or compete in. The five events take place at three different locations: the ramp, the downhill, and the pool.
The ramp is home to Freestyle and High Jump. In Freestyle, skaters try to rack up the highest score possible by performing (and landing) tricks in the local half pipe. Your character’s list of maneuvers isn’t exhaustive, but it’s enough to keep it interesting. You’ll see a lot of rail slides, hand plants, and backside airs here. In the High Jump, players compete to see who can get their skateboard the highest. This is accomplished by building the maximum amount of speed (by pumping in the transition portion of the ramp). It takes practice to get the timing just right.
The downhill section hosts the Jam and the Race. In both events, two skaters make their way down the back alleys of California, skating hard. In the Race, the goal is to make your way through an obstacle course as quickly as possible while building your score up by pulling off some radical moves. In the Jam, which takes place in a back alley, players can now punch and kick as well as pull off moves! Both games pit you against an opponent, so if you don’t have a friend to play with you’ll be pitted against the evil green-haired Lester.
The last location, the pool, is home to the Joust. In the joust, two skaters skate an empty swimming pool while trying to bash each other with big padded jousting sticks that resemble the ones used on American Gladiators. While Jousting against a friend can be a blast, playing the computer can frustrate even the most veteran player as Aggro Eddie tends to make few mistakes.
All of these events are tied together through the Skate Shop, run by Rodney (Dangerfield, with a purple Mohawk). Once you decide in the skate shop whether you’re competing or just practicing, you’ll get to skate to the event or events you wish to play.
I always felt that the Freestyle, Jam and Race events were strong enough to be games on their own. The High Jump and Joust events, while fun, lack much depth. Skate or Die brought the world of skateboarding home to the Commodore 64 in grand fashion. While 720, Skaterock, Skate Crazy, and even the skateboarding event in California Games would all later appear on the Commodore, Skate or Die stands at the top of the ramp as the best and most complete skateboarding game for the Commodore 64.