The Skate or Die Bad N’ Rad Episode can be listened to HERE!
Skate or Die: Bad ‘N Rad is not a game I grew up with. I wasn’t even aware of its existence until a few years ago when I found an unloved copy at a Goodwill for a few dollars. That’s one of my favorite things about the Game Boy library, there’s still lots of hidden gems for collectors to find. It’s a vast library with lots of cheap games. This particular copy was so unloved that I didn’t know it was part of the Skate or Die series for a long time because the label was worn at the top. All I could read was “Konami” and “Bad ‘N Rad”. I really enjoy a lot of Konami’s work on the Game Boy and I’m huge fan of the word “Rad” so I figured this game was a safe bet for a few bucks.
Even though I’ve owned this game for a few years, I never really played it until a few days ago. I tested it when I originally bought it, but didn’t get past the title screen. This was because it wouldn’t let me skip all of the extra copyright and legal garbage at the beginning. This is a pet peeve of mine and one of a few reasons why calling this game a “gem” might a be a stretch.
Since I had never played this game before, I decided I should first try it out on an original Game Boy. After a few minutes of game play I realized I couldn’t play it on an old Game Boy. I even tried with my ridiculous Nuby light and magnifier thing. The game was simply too fast and the Game Boy screen is, well it is what it is. I know nobody is playing GB games on old un-modded hardware. I think it does speak to the difficulty of the game though if it can’t really be played anymore on the original hardware.
I proceeded to spend the rest of my playtime with the game split between my Game Boy Advance SP and my GB Boy Colour. Now that I could actually play the game the first thing I noticed was how much it reminded me of other early Konami Game Boy games. The music is a good example. Konami new how to competently use the Game Boy sound hardware and this game shows it. Even the level select screen reminds me of TMNT: Fall of the Foot Clan.
The game itself is fun, but frustrating. The controls, graphics and sound are all fine. They’re even really good for the most part. However it seems to rely quite a bit on the video game trope of memorization after multiple plays and game overs. This kind of game play was definitely overstaying its welcome by the time this game went to market. However, I grew up playing old arcade games where this kind of mechanic started and do have an appreciation for them. I’m just glad I’m not paying quarters to play this game!
I really enjoy the first two Skate or Die games on the NES and have tons of fond memories playing them with friends. This game did manage to evoke some of those memories and I did really start to have fun with it after a few game overs. It definitely felt like a worthy Skate or Die entry on a portable system. I think what impressed me most about it was that I didn’t play this game when I was kid so “Skate or Die hype” isn’t effecting how I feel about the game. But even that far removed I still feel like I’m playing a good Skate or Die game.
Erik Pierson runs the noteworthy Retail Archaeology Youtube Channel. You should check that out!
I was super stoked to have Skate or Die: Bad N Rad up as the first title for our Gameboy club (collective? I like that) Yokoi Kids. I’ve had the game since I was a kid, I got it from my friend along with a second Gameboy and a few games for about 20 bucks and I had just happened to get my first paper route! Money! Purchasing Power!
Quick little NB here – paper routes are awful. If you are a child reading this and paper routes are even a thing anymore: just don’t. You’ll end up working for a guy named Carl and never attend or throw a good sleepover because you, a child, will be getting up at 6am to put together newspapers to deliver them to neighbors who don’t tip well. Help your soul if you live in a state with snow.
Back to Bad N Rad! It’s a sound concept that resonated with the times. Let’s go on a skateboarding adventure! We aren’t competing in just big air anymore, this isn’t a “jam”, this is a mixed platforming and downhill skateboarding game with enemies and bosses. The game is frustrating and hard. A lot of memorization is required and there’s definitely a bit of trial and error to what you can and can’t touch in some of the stages. You have a life bar, some obstacles and enemies chip away at this like dogs and overhead spikes while some are instant kills like pits and spikes in downhill mode.
The alternating gameplay between two stages is a nice concept but neither mode, side scrolling and overhead, are done particularly well. Side scrolling is the better in my opinion. By tapping or holding down the left or right buttons you can accelerate and cruise on your board, duck with a button and jump with the other. along the way you’ll ollie over a lot of pits, duck spikes, speed down hills, avoid water and fire, and defeat bad guys by jumping on them and, seemingly, cracking them in half at the hip. You aren’t coming back from that one, tiger. The bosses are clever. It’s neat. It’s also fairly memorization based and the levels feel a bit long. the ollie/jump feels a little sticky or maybe it’s that the end of the platforms seem like they end before the sprite does. All said, it feels nice to whip through this levels once you have them down but it’s a pretty straightforward experience and not a complete thought, I guess is what I would maybe say.
The overhead levels are mostly a nightmare. I’ve never really been the fan of any the downhill levels in Skate or Die games and these might be the worst. turning feels sluggish and most sections that look as though one could weave through them are best having their obstacles jumped over. That is of course until you miss and trip over one at which point it’s likely the player will take a few cheap hits trying again as the game starts the skater right up next to the obstacle for another crash. You quickly lose life in this mode on top of everything and then you start from the top.
So, overall I haven’t made it sound like a great game and that’s true. Bad n Rad also tends to go with me everywhere I take a Gameboy (which is a lot of places!). I personally must like the game because I play it pretty consistently, ever since I got it for newspaper money. I’ve never beat the game but I can make it to the second set of levels (like a few Konami Gameboy games you can pick from a set of levels and once beaten you get more or a boss stage). I can’t ever suggest the game at work but something in me always wants to tell people to give it a try. Everyone likes some games of questionable quality and this is one of mine.
I gave myself three GAME OVERs per stage before moving onto the next or giving up.
* I have to admit that I’ve actually played this game before in junior high, but all I remember is the side scrolling sections on the final level and nothing else.
* Side scrolling segments are great, but the vertical segments are way too frustrating. You can’t really ride back up the screen in the vertical stages, so every obstacle you hit just knocks you backwards back into it. If you hit something once, you’re basically dead unless you get lucky.
* Biggest complaint with this game is that I can’t see far enough ahead of me to know when to jump or crouch, making this game more about memorization and less about reaction skill. To be fair, this plagues most portable games from this era (look at the handheld Mega Man ports).
* Controls felt like they responded poorly and caused the player character to feel sluggish. It wasn’t a game breaker, but combine this with the lack of visual foresight and it’s beyond annoying on the vertical levels. Once you picked up enough speed, it feels fun when you pull off the right sequence of jumps and ducks, but some levels didn’t feel like they were designed for non-stop movement.
* Music was dope
* Stage 1: Too much stop and go. The user’s first experience with the controls shouldn’t be on this level. As you can see in the video, I didn’t even reach the boss :(.
* Stage 2: I am terrible at this level. For some reason it feels like the controls are worse? I HATE that the water hurts the player. The music is dope as hell though. I couldn’t clear the grinder section :(.
* Stage 3: THIS LEVEL RULES. It almost feels like a Sonic or recent Rayman game. Whoever designed this level knew what they were doing. The water gimmick here is way better than Stage 2, and they introduce you to it early and safely. I think I beat this level on my very last life during my final attempt :).
* Stage 4: I am so bummed that this level starts with a vertical segment because it means that I am probably never going to see the final side scrolling section again. The controls and timing are just too difficult for me in my old age. Definitely didn’t even reach the boss on this one 😦
Overall, it’s a great game and I would love to see a version of this with expanded levels and a larger viewing area. The simple, though sluggish, controls show that a skateboarding platformer doesn’t need to have a steep learning curve. Even some modern games like OlliOlli have failed to pull that off.
I would say this game is both Bad and Rad.
Nolen Tabner is a game designer originally from DFW, TX now residing in Glendale, CA. He has worked on many games your toddler has played along with games your filthy uncle has played. He is currently working on a game called CHIMPS. Check him out. http://nolentabner.com