Bring it Back | Skate or Die!
Welcome back to another edition of Bring it Back! This is GotGame’s special feature that takes a look back at older games for a retrospective, then providing hope for a return of the series. Last week, we looked back at Rare’s Jet Force Gemini, but this week, we go back even further to a more obscure game. In fact, for the first time, we also suggest a merger of two existing franchises under one publisher. For this, we’re talking about EA’s Skate or Die!
Before there was Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater or even EA’s own Skate, there was Skate or Die! This skateboarding game provided several events, including freestyle ramps, downhill races and even pool jousting. The game takes a lot of inspiration from the sports games from the now defunct Epyx studio. Funny enough, many of the developers were even ex-employees of Epyx. This was all part of a master plan from Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins. As Atari and Epyx began working together, this pushed many of the employees the wrong way and right into the hands of EA. Trip also hired composer Ron Hubbard, who was well known for composing several classic games at the time.
Aside from the Epyx titles, the idea of making it a skateboarding game came from the arcade classic 720°. With all the new talent in tow, Skate or Die! began production. The game would be pretty simple, giving players a few events, and only a handful of characters. There was Rodney, the local skate shop owner that would guide you from the main menu. His son Bionic Lester would act as one of your rivals in the game. Then you would also have Lester’s buddies, Poseur Pete and Aggro Eddie, who would also compete with you in the game. The game was simple, but it ended up getting released on multiple platforms at the time. This included the Apple IIGS, the ZX Spectrum, the Commodore 64, MS-DOS systems, the Amstrad CPC, and finally, the NES.
Each version of the game looked radically different, using the hardware’s strengths and weaknesses to show off the visuals. The overall graphics were crude, but considering the amount of platforms, this was an early example of multiplatform releases in the late 80s. Being that the game had a lot of platforms to release on, EA got a little extra help from Konami. The NES version would release under Konami’s Ultra Games brand, allowing them to bypass Nintendo’s strict NES rules. Konami also utilized Kouji Murata to compose the NES version of the soundtrack. While the game only sold 100,000 copies, it still went on to get a handful of sequels.
While not a true sequel, EA released a winterized version with Ski or Die! in 1989. It was more or less the same as Skate or Die!, even consisting of the same characters and releasing on most of the same platforms. It wouldn’t be until 1990 where EA would release Skate or Die 2: The Search for Double Trouble. While it was a true sequel, it took a departure from the event format and became more of an adventure game. Rodney and Lester return, though in more of a supporting role, as Rodney sells new boards and Lester teaches you new tricks. Poseur Pete and Aggro Eddie get removed, but the main character gets a girlfriend named CJ (who looks suspiciously like Ariel from The Little Mermaid), and a new villain emerges under the name of Icepick.
Ron Hubbard returns to compose the soundtrack, and EA released the game exclusively for the NES. Interesting enough, the game was notable for having digitized vocals, not only in the music but even throughout the story of the game. The game became a side scrolling title where players would skate across the screen, gathering small collectibles like tacos and CD’s to which they could use as a sort of currency. Things get really strange with the story, as the mayor bans skateboarding after you accidentally run over a poodle. How do you save your hobby? By going around the city and shooting innocent bystanders with paintball guns of course.
The plot didn’t make a lot of sense in the beginning, but it does start to work toward the end. With Rodney’s help, you start to save up for a new half-pipe, only for Icepick to kidnap CJ. Having a story and some sense of purpose helped to make the game more interesting. The gameplay was also a vast improvement over the original thanks to having more to actually engage the player. Interesting enough, through some sort of partnership, Konami was able to make a Game Boy sequel. Skate or Die: Bad ‘N Rad came out in 1990, also taking the adventure game route. Despite different developers, the game shared a lot of similarities with Skate or Die 2. The biggest difference was an additional top-down perspective stage for moving downhill.
While Skate or Die! ended with the Game Boy game, the series did have some additional moments to shine. The original game got a release on the Wii’s European Virtual Console in 2007, giving a bit of nostalgia to old fans. In 2002, Criterion Games wanted to revive the franchise as well, but it was turned down to have them develop Burnout 3: Takedown instead. Practically dormant for over 30 years, the series may be obscure, but it has potential. The biggest challenge here is the fact that EA now has the Skate franchise. Luckily, there’s a logical solution here: merge the franchises. With one popular skateboarding franchise to carry the other, this is an easy way for EA to Bring it Back!
Merging the franchises can be extremely simple. From a marketing standpoint, all it would take is to add Rodney or Bionic Lester to the Skate franchise and imply that the two shared a universe this whole time. Add in a few additional modes or even a mini-game inspired by Skate or Die!, and you can have a fun Easter egg for older fans. With Full Circle working on the next Skate game, and no official title yet, we can’t rule out the possibility. Of course, if EA chooses not to merge the franchises, they could still release smaller Skate or Die! games. Perhaps a mobile game with microtransactions, or even a small indie game on consoles. A sequel wouldn’t make much sense, but the merging of the franchise is the strongest option.
Were you a fan of the Skate or Die! games? Is Rodney’s mohawk sporting mug ingrained in your brain from hours of shredding the halfpipe? Let us know in the comments below. Stay tuned next week where we look back at a classic series from Vivendi Games and Warner Bros!