This content originally appeared in issue #1 of the Nintendo Fun Factor zine, as part of a feature on Rad NES Games. The issue is available as a free download here; check it out!
(Developer: Electronic Arts/Konami, Publisher: Ultra Games, Released: 1988)
The popularity of both skateboarding and the NES peaked in late 1980’s America, and
Electronic Arts and Konami were there to capitalize on those cultural phonomena with Skate or Die. Originally developed by Electronic Arts for a handful of home platforms (including DOS, Apple II, and Commodore 64), the game was ported to the NES by Konami shortly thereafter. Its subject matter and iconic and antagonistic title ensured that every kid in America was ready to take on the challenge of competing in some of California’s most treacherous streets, pools, and vert ramps.
Skate or Die’s gameplay features a number of different events, ranging from standard
skateboarding challenges like vert and street skating to the never actually practiced in real
life Concrete Pool Joust! Players are greeted by Rodney Dangerﬁeld’s alternate reality punk rock counterpart “Rodney” upon starting up the game. His skate shop acts as a hub from which players depart to either gain practice in the game’s events or take them on in
The game is simple and fun, and while each mode features just a short burst of gameplay,
there are enough events to provide some radical virtual skateboarding excitement. The
controls feel somewhat less than intuitive at this point (repeatedly rocking the d-pad left
and right to gain speed on the vert ramp makes sense, but doesn’t exactly feel perfect), but they are certainly functional; plus, only poseurs whine about control problems on a classic like Skate or Die. -John
Rad Rating: 5 out of 5
While Skate or Die doesn’t actually feature “rad” in the title, Electronic Arts and Konami pulled off a boneless frontside 180 ﬁngerﬂip with this well-received and well-loved virtual tribute to 1980’s skateboarding.
(Developer/Publisher: Electronic Arts, Released: 1990)
Nearly a decade before Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Skate or Die 2 introduced skaters/gamers to the addicting process of retrying a single stage over and over again to get a “perfect run” with its ramp. This half pipe, selectable from the title screen, gave players 3 minutes and a relatively small arsenal of tricks to get the highest score as possible. Which move you pulled off was dependent on your speed and the button combination used when you reached the lip of the half pipe. Moves with a higher point value were riskier and more difﬁcult to land, but playing it safe would leave you resigned to the bottom half of the high score table. And skating, especially in the 90s, was certainly never about playing it safe. This ramp mode still holds up today, and once you learn (or relearn) the mechanics and scoring system, you could totally ﬁnd yourself (re)addicted.
The other half of Skate or Die 2 is the “adventure” mode, which quite frankly doesn’t hold a
candle to the ramp. The story in this mode is a Footloose-esque tale of skateboards being
banned in a city as a result of a tragic incident regarding one sidewalk surfer and the mayor’s dog. There is some pretty goofy and endearing text in these story segments (not to mention some great digitized voices), but unfortunately, most players won’t be able to enjoy all of the story because the game is so frustrating and difﬁcult. Movement is slow, controls are stiff, and the game is full of obstacles and enemies that can quickly drain the player’s life bar, resulting in a mode that is simply not enjoyable to play.
Despite the throwaway adventure, Skate or Die 2 is still worth checking out for
the ramp mode alone, which offers a tight, polished, and addictive way to
shred. Skate straight! -Ryan
Rad Rating 4 out of 5
Ramp mode = The Search for Animal Chin
Adventure mode = MVP 2: Most Vertical Primate