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#175 – Skate Or Die

If I have to choose, I’m choosing to skate.

Fine, fine, let’s skate!

To Beat: Get the high score in all events
Played: 5/17/21 – 5/18/21
Difficulty: 3/10
My Difficulty: 3/10
My Video: Skate or Die Longplay

Skateboarding and video games seem like a perfect match with each other.  I did some looking into early skateboarding history and I noticed some similarities.  Skateboarding began as a niche hobby, really blew up in its early days, then had a very quick downturn for several years, dismissed as a fad.  Video games had a similar trajectory early on.  Computers were inaccessible to all but engineers, researchers, and educators because they were so huge and costly, but that didn’t stop them from designing games on early hardware.  As video games got bigger and bigger, they too had a very quick rise and quick fall from the infamous video game crash in the US.  But both activities recovered quite nicely and are still very popular.  A match made in heaven, indeed.  Today’s game is one of the earlier attempts to capture the essence of skateboarding into video game form.

For as popular as video games and skateboarding were in their early days, the first skateboarding video games didn’t appear until around 1986.  Atari Games’ 720 is considered the first skateboarding video game, which had an NES port that I will cover in the future.  Skate or Die followed not too long after, first released on the Commodore 64 in 1987 by Electronic Arts, their very first game developed in-house.  The game was ported to various computers in 1988 and 1989, such as DOS and the ZX Spectrum.  Skate or Die came to the NES via Konami in December 1988, published under their Ultra Games label.  It was also released in PAL territories in 1989.

Skate or Die is a collection of five skateboarding themed mini-games.  They are the Freestyle Ramp, High Jump, Downhill Race, Downhill Jam, and Joust.  You can play them solo or all of them back-to-back in the Compete All mode.  Up to 8 players can play the events in alternating play, except for one competitive event.  This game does not have a traditional ending screen, so the next best thing is to get the high score in all events, as well as defeat your opponent in Joust.

Not intimidating at all!

The first thing you’ll need to do is visit Rodney Recloose in his skateboarding shop.  This is the launching area for the game.  Move your “Skate or Die” themed cursor with the D-pad.  You can hover over various things in the shop to get some commentary from Rodney.  At the bottom of the screen, there are options for Go Practice and Go Compete.  You can select Go Practice at any time to jump straight into game selection, but if you want to Go Compete solo or with friends, you’ll need to register on the Sign In sheet.  There you can name up to 8 players, one at a time.  In single player, if you want to Compete All, you need to enter just your name as Player 1.

Outside of the shop, you can control your skater on the street to choose an event.  The events are broken up by where they take place.   The right side leads to the Ramp where you can choose the Freestyle Ramp or the High Jump.  The downhill events, Downhill Race and Downhill Jam, are off the bottom of the screen.  To the left is the Pool where you can Joust, or you may choose the Compete All option.  Just move your skater down the road toward the event you want to try to get started.  I’ll get more into controls in a bit, but your skater on the map screen uses Goofy Foot controls, which are from the perspective of the skater, not the TV screen.

I’ll cover the events in the same order as Compete All, beginning with the Freestyle Ramp.  The goal of this mode is to score as many points as you can by completing as many tricks as you can.  You get 10 tries, 5 from each side of the half-pipe, to pull off these tricks.  To get started, press the A button to enter the ramp.  You can press Up and Down to move in and out of the pipe.  The trick you perform is determined by how many times you press the A button while down in the ramp, plus an optional direction when you reach the lip of the ramp.  There’s a table in the manual that describes each trick you can do.  If you want to simple soar high, press A multiple times in the ramp plus no direction at the top of the ramp.  You’ll fly up into the air and you can turn your skater with Left and Right to spin, just be careful to line up properly when you land back on the ramp.  If you press a direction, either into the ramp or away from the ramp (i.e, press Right when moving right, or Left when moving right), you’ll do a different trick, depending on if you pressed A once, twice or more, or not at all.  Each successful trick nets you points, but if you mess up, then you’ll slide down in shame with no points that try.  After 10 trick attempts, you’ll finish up with bonus points that scale up very quickly the more different types of tricks you do successfully in the run.

Show off your moves, as many as you can.

The next event is the High Jump, also taking place at the ramp.  Press A to start your descent down the ramp.  For this one, you need to mash the D-pad and the B button as fast as you can to gain speed through the ramp.  You can go back and forth up to 10 times to try and record the best jump you can.  The manual says that once you’re ready, you want to press A at the edge of the ramp to soar high, then press A again at the very apex of your jump to “kiss the sky” for a little extra height.  Once you do that, you’ll go back to the left side and automatically dismount.

Next up is the Downhill Race.  This is an obstacle course where your goal is to skate to the finish line at the bottom of the course.  Here, and in the Downhill Jam, you can choose your control method of either Regular Foot or Goofy Foot.  Regular Foot essentially amounts to reverse controls, but those controls line up from the perspective of the TV screen.  For example, pressing Left turns your skater to the right, but since you are moving down, your skater will turn toward the left side of the screen.  In Regular Foot, the Up and Down controls are reversed too; press Down to go faster and Up to slow down.  Goofy Foot is the same controls as the map screen, which are from the perspective of the skater character instead of the TV screen.  It’s confusing to describe, but maybe that made sense.

Anyway, on to the Downhill Race.  First choose your control method, and off you go!  Navigate the obstacles the best you can and try not to crash.  You can earn points by doing tricks as you go.  You can jump by holding Up and pressing A, and you can duck by holding Down and pressing A.  The jumping and ducking controls are the same for both Regular Foot and Goofy Foot.  You can jump off ramps or duck through tunnels for extra points.  Crashing only gives you a slight time penalty as you get yourself back on the board.  The bulk of your score is awarded at the end of the course depending on how quickly you finish.

Love to leave Lester in the dust!

The fourth event is the Downhill Jam.  This one is a different kind of obstacle course, only this time you compete against another skater.  In single player, you’ll go up against the computer-controlled Lester, but in a multiplayer game you compete against each other!  Movement controls for this mode are the same as the Downhill Race, including choosing either Regular Foot or Goofy Foot.  The Downhill Jam is a glorified race to the end of the course.  You can earn points along the way by knocking over small objects like cans, and you’ll crash if you stumble into anything sturdier than that.  Running through a chain link fence and crumbling to pieces is pretty funny!  The other thing you can do for points is to beat up your opponent.  There are surprisingly sophisticated controls for the attacks.  When your opponent comes alongside you, press the D-pad toward him and A to punch.  If you press away and the A button instead, you’ll do a kick.  Furthermore, you can do a high kick with a diagonal Up and away with A, and a low kick with diagonal Down and away with A.

The fifth and final event is the Joust.  It takes place inside of an emptied out pool.  At the start of this mode, you can choose your computer-controlled opponent.  Poseur Pete is the easiest opponent, Aggro Eddie is medium difficulty, and Lester is the toughest, coming right out saying the title reference: “Skate or Die!”  In this mode, players take turns between offense and defense.  The offensive player needs to use the jousting stick to knock the opponent down, while the defensive player must move to avoid getting knocked out.  The defensive player gets five passes across the pool, and should he survive that, then he becomes the aggressor and the players switch roles.  At the edge, press A and toward the pool to enter, then you can use Up or Down to position yourself inside the pool.  You can slide along the top edge of the pool as well.  As the attacker, press A to swing your joust and knock the opponent down within range.  Each knockdown is a point and the first to three points wins!  This mode also has competitive multiplayer where you can square off against your friend.  If you play with more than two people, the mode becomes a single bracket tournament, for up to 8 players, which is a pretty cool addition!

This was my first time beating Skate or Die, at least I think so.  I didn’t play this one until adulthood, but it was one of the old NintendoAge weekly contest games and so I played it for that.  I only remember giving it an hour max, probably not even that long, just enough to post a respectable score on the board.  This is an affordable game, around $5 for a loose cart, not hard to find at all.  It’s weird that I didn’t come across this one as a kid, but I know I picked up multiple copies from buying lots as an adult collector.  It’s the type of game you’ll find bundled with other games you were going after.

Jousting is tough, try to get close and strike.

I stated above that to beat this game you need to get the high score in all events and win Joust, which is only partially true.  You can do all events in a row using the Compete All option, taking them in the order I reviewed them above.  The thing is that there aren’t really high scores for this.  The game keeps track of the top three scores in each event but the lists start off empty, so any score is good enough for the top score.  In the Compete All mode, you are awarded a separate, overall score of 5 points for clearing each event in single player.  I assume when playing with multiple people you earn fewer points the lower you place among your friends.  Now you do not earn the 5 points if you lose Joust, so winning that one is required, but the other ones don’t matter at all.  There’s no ending screen for this game, but the ending blue screen for Joust showing the full 25 points is good enough in this case.

I did want to try to perform reasonably well in each event, so here’s how I did that.  In the Freestyle Ramp, if you play it properly, most of your points are earned from the bonus points at the end.  You need to perform as many unique tricks as you can to boost the bonus points.  My run wasn’t perfect by any means, but I scored a little over 6000 during the round and earned another 6000 points in bonus.  For the High Jump, I just tried to mash as much as I could.  When the jump felt right, then I performed the “kiss” move for a little extra height to end the event.  I don’t think pushing A at the top of the ramp really did anything to improve my height, in fact I think it slowed me down as it threw off my mashing rhythm.  The Downhill Race doesn’t have too much strategy other than trying to avoid crashing.  There are some stunts you can do on certain obstacles to get to the end faster and earn a few style points, but it’s not necessary.  I only crashed once in my attempt which is fine.  For the Downhill Jam, I didn’t bother attacking Lester at all.  I focused on clearing the event as smoothly as possible.  You can gain time on Lester by leaving him behind, as the game will pull him forward automatically and give him a small time penalty.  In my run I crashed once through a fence, but so did Lester so no big deal.  The Joust was the hardest event for me.  My offensive strategy was to wait until he went, then enter and hit him right away on my side, which worked often enough.  Defensively though, I think I just got lucky.  What I wanted to do was stay right behind him so that we only cross paths at the top where he isn’t likely to land an attack.

The speedrun World Record of Skate or Die is currently at 2:16.9 by OldSchoolMcFly.  The run itself looks quite straightforward.  Do the bare minimum to clear the two half-pipe events, and get to the end of the course as quickly as possible in the two Downhill events.  There was a pretty neat route to the Downhill Jam that I wouldn’t have known about before the speedrun.  The Joust is where the run is made.  The runner chose the middle character, Aggro Eddie, perhaps because he is actually more aggressive and enters the pipe more quickly than the others.  Two of the offensive points were scored the same way as my strategy above.  For the third point however, the runner waited out the clock in the pipe until he could go on offense and then timed it to where he was already overlapping the opponent so he could score the point immediately.  That’s definitely not easy to do and I bet it requires a lot of luck to set it up.

For me, Skate or Die is a basic skateboarding game that doesn’t have a lot to offer.  It does have a variety of events that are pretty fun to play, but they are so short and it starts to lose appeal for me quickly.  The graphics are basic, with simple backgrounds and tiny sprites, but the animation is quite smooth and nice to look at.  The music is pretty catchy, in line with other Konami developed games.  The controls are responsive, but they don’t feel very responsive at times due to the momentum based movement and turning in the Downhill events.  These are nitpicky complaints.  This is a good game; I just got my fill of it pretty fast.

#175 – Skate or Die


#175 – Skate or Die


#41 – Town and Country Surf Designs: Wood and Water Rage

A game with surfboarding animals can’t be all that bad, right?

Hear the calming waves and feel the ocean breeze.

To Beat: Finish Round 5 in Street Skate Encounter and Round 1 in Big Wave Encounter
To Complete: Finish Round 12 in both modes
My Goal: Complete the game
What I Did: Reached Round 13 in both modes
Played: 11/29/16 – 11/30/16
Difficulty: 4/10
My Difficulty: 4/10
Video: T&C Surf Designs Longplay

Town and Country Surf Designs: Wood and Water Rage is an NES game notorious for not being very good. Certainly that was my impression of the game ever since childhood. Now that I have beaten the game, I realize that the game is misunderstood. I wouldn’t go as far to say that it is a good game, but once you break through the shell of bad impressions, there is a playable game here that has a few neat ideas.

T&C Surf Designs is a company that specializes in surfboards, clothing, and accessories. They first opened a store in Hawaii in 1971 and expanded to clothing in 1976. Sometime in the 1980s the company adopted cartoon characters named Da Boys for a line of shirts that became very popular. These characters created by Steve Nazar would form the basis of the NES game. Da Boys would disappear for many years before being revived in 2016 under the name Thrilla Krew. T&C Surf Designs is still in business today.

T&C Surf Designs: Wood and Water Rage was released on the NES in February 1988. The game was developed by Atlus and published by LJN. It was only released in North America. There was a sequel to the game named Town and Country II: Thrilla’s Surfari, released in 1992. These two games are the only games bearing the company name or characters.

Just look at that character lineup!

Wood and Water Rage has two distinct modes named Street Skate Encounter and Big Wave Encounter. As you can probably tell by the names, the first is a skateboarding game and the second is a surfing game. There is also a third mode named Wood and Water Rage that combines the two by cycling between levels in both games. To beat the game, you must meet the conditions for both modes either separately or together in the combined mode.

When you begin the game you choose one of the modes with the option of either 1-player or 2-player. Multiplayer is alternating play and otherwise identical to the single player mode. After you choose the game mode you choose which characters you want. There is Tiki Man for skateboarding and he pairs with the surfer Kool Kat. You can also choose Joe Cool for your skateboarder and he teams with Thrilla Gorilla on the surfing side. The characters are purely cosmetic. My favorite is Kool Kat just because he surfs while wearing a tuxedo, which is beyond cool.

In Street Skate Encounter, your goal is to reach the end of the course. Play takes a side-scrolling perspective starting on the left and moving right. You must dodge hazards and obstacles in order to reach the finish line before time runs out. You only get one minute to clear the course but it is a short stage. If you either run out of time or run out of health, it’s Game Over and back to the title screen.

To control your skateboarder, use the D-Pad to move in all eight directions. The game autoscrolls but you can speed it up by moving right or slow down by moving left. You can also tap the B button to push yourself forward. I don’t know if it’s necessary, but I always tap the button repeatedly to maintain speed. You can jump with the A button, but when you do this you jump in the air and your skateboard stays on the ground rolling beneath you. If you want to jump and bring the skateboard with you, hold Left while jumping.

There’s not enough tax money to fix these roads.

This mode has a few interesting mechanics to it. There is a life meter in the bottom right corner of the screen consisting of some round symbols. You earn life points periodically as long as you skate quickly, and you lose some if you crash. Depending on how you crash you either lose two or three life points. If you max out at eight life points the timer freezes, so skating perfectly means you cannot run out of time.

There are ways to earn extra points while skating. There are four different colors of coins that appear at regular intervals in the stage, and collecting them will give you points. Red coins give you the most points and blue give you the least, with pink and green ones in between. If you only collect coins of the same color, then each successive coin gives you double points up to eight times the base value. There are some moving objects in the way such as a toy car or a ball and you get points if you jump on top of them with your skateboard. There are also barriers that give you points if you jump over them and let your skateboard roll underneath. You can also grind on the guardrail at the very top of the playfield and you get points for doing that.

After you clear a round, the next time through is the same level except you begin farther to the left. This means that you gradually expand the beginning of the level and the course gets longer the more times you play it. The fifth time through the course is the first instance of playing the entire level. Hopefully by now you have learned the course well enough to keep going without crashing so that the timer will freeze.

The time both halts and blinks green when you are doing well.

In the other mode, Big Wave Encounter, your goal is to surf long enough to reach the pier on the beach. Just like in skateboarding, play is side-scrolling and moving to the right. You want to surf both to the right far enough to avoid crashing within the big wave tailing you and high enough to avoid crashing on the bottom of the screen. There is no timer in this mode; it is all about surviving to the end. You also have health points in this mode and if you run out it is Game Over.

The surfing controls seem straightforward but they are the cause of all the confusion and misunderstanding of the game. You use the D-Pad to move in all eight directions. If you hold the A button it shifts your balance forward, and holding the B button shifts the balance toward the back of the surfboard. That’s all there is to it, but in practice it seems that no matter what you do you always end up losing ground and getting knocked off your board into the water.

Aside from just trying to stay on top of the water, there are obstacles that can also knock you down. There are people on inner tubes, jumping fish, and birds that you should avoid. You will also come across bananas that you can collect for points. I never bother with them since I am so focused on keeping afloat.

This jerk bird goes out of its way to mess with you.

Your surfing style can also net you some additional points. You earn a tiny amount of points just for staying alive, but if you surf inside the pipeline you get a larger amount of points periodically for as long as you stay on your board. If you surf up off the very top of the wave, you will catch some air and land toward the bottom of the screen and earn even more points. The best way to earn score is to do a turn at the top of the wave. The easiest way to do this is to surf straight up and then turn downward as you touch the top of the wave. If you can pull this off at the very top of the wave you get points as well as an additional life point. You can do this many times in a row to boost your health to the maximum very quickly, so this is the best strategy for survival.

Wood and Water Rage has no ending in any of the modes, and so I get to figure out what it means for me to beat the game. The Street Skate Encounter mode lets you play the full level on Round 5, so clearing that round qualifies as beating that mode. The only difference in the later rounds is that your starting health is reduced. I believe on Round 12 you only get one point of health to start so that is the most challenging round. The Big Wave Encounter has a more unclear ending condition. The level seems to get longer in later rounds but there is no definitive way to tell. It may cap out at five rounds like the other mode, but if you clear at least one level that should be good enough. Just like in skateboarding, the starting health is the lowest at Round 12. To master the game, you should probably complete twelve rounds in both modes.

Wood and Water Rage was a game I had in my childhood collection. I am sure it was a garage sale pickup for cheap since I wouldn’t have been interested in this game on my own. With that in mind, this game did not get much play time. The skateboarding was fine but not all that gripping, and I did not understand the surfing at all. I would occasionally mess with it and then go on to something different.

This is the sweet spot!

Now that I am going through all the NES games, I have finally given it a fair shake and I see that it’s not all bad. The Street Skate Encounter took a few practice runs to learn the controls and layout. Timing jumps off ramps is still something I flub up occasionally, and I will get nailed by one of the moving obstacles sometimes. Otherwise, I didn’t have too much trouble with this mode. The Big Wave Encounter still was as confusing as ever until I had the aha moment of earning life points by turning downward at the top of the wave. Once I did it a couple of times, I saw how easy it was to pull off and I could keep doing it as much as I needed. This little trick makes the surfing easier than the skateboarding, which is something I could have never envisioned. This also led to reducing the difficulty assessment for the game to below average.

I met my goal in both Street Skate Encounter and Big Wave Encounter separately, but I also decided to play the combined Wood and Water Rage mode for my video longplay. Since Round 12 in each mode is where the difficulty is the highest, then clearing Round 24 was my goal here. I only make one attempt at it and I came up short. In Round 21, I crashed right in the beginning of the level and that was that. Mistakes sure are costly in this game. Nevertheless, I am still pleased with how I played.

My big takeaway from playing this game is that it is far too easy to overcomplicate something in my mind. I figured that the surfing would be very difficult to figure out when all along the solution turned out to be both simple and repeatable. The skateboarding by contrast was almost the opposite, requiring a more traditional approach. The game overall is not too complicated with some understanding of the mechanics, and it turned out to be more enjoyable than I expected. However, don’t be fooled. The game is very lean in terms of content, and what’s here is nothing to be excited about. I prefer to lean on the positives, and it’s always nice when a game can surpass my expectations at least a little bit.

#41 – Town and Country Surf Designs: Wood and Water Rage
(Street Skate Encounter)

#41 – Town and Country Surf Designs: Wood and Water Rage
(Big Wave Encounter)