Controversial statement time: iOS devices are the best way to play skateboarding games, period. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some THPS and Skate, but I’d take a touchscreen over tapping buttons and flicking sticks any day. There’s just something more immediate and satisfying about swiping your fingers directly on the deck that makes you feel one step closer to actually flipping and grinding in real life. In this regard, Illusion Labs’ original Touchgrind was like a revelation. It was easily one of my favorite games when it came out, despite being incredibly hard to control (partly due to a steep learning curve, and partly due to the overhead view keeping you from seeing what was around you). Several years later True Axis came out with True Skate, which felt like yet another re-invention of the genre (and yet another instant favorite for me). With that game’s more forgiving third-person view and far more interesting level design, it was no surprise that Illusion Labs quickly announced a followup to their classic, called Touchgrind Skate 2 (out now, $4.99). And now that it’s here, it’s time to see if the series has learned anything from its competition and further evolved the sport for iOS devices.
The first thing you might notice when loading the game is that things look very familiar. The spinning menu wheel from the first game is back, along with roughly the same overall visual sense: bright colors and cute, punky designs. It gets very, very different once you dive into the actual game, though.
There are two words that come to mind when playing: massive improvement. The best way I can think of conveying this without writing a book is to just start listing differences. Top-down view? Now it’s third-person so you can see where you’re going. Two flat parks that look nearly identical? Now there are three huge parks that each have their own look and personality (with one more on the way). Bare-bones local two player skating only in the iPad version? Now there’s a slick online S.K.A.T.E mode so you can compete with anyone you want, and it works beautifully across all devices. Simple replay system to watch your last few moves and no way to save? Now you can export your replays to YouTube, Facebook, email, or your camera roll, and there are five camera views you can choose from.
Luckily, not everything has changed. The fantastic physics system is back, leading to one of the most realistic renditions of skateboarding on iOS or any other platform (though be warned: it’s still a very, very steep learning curve if you’re not comfortable with the first game). True Skate also has a great physics system, of course, but it can feel like you’re skating on the moon when you ollie twelve feet into the air and do a quadruple heelflip with ease. Not so here. I spent about eight minutes trying to kickflip into a crooked grind with a pop shuvit out. In Tony Hawk that would be about four or five easy button taps. In Touchgrind 2 it felt like a huge accomplishment when I finally pulled it off, and I watched the replay endlessly from different camera angles before proudly exporting my simple five second creation to YouTube.
Of course, when a game is this close to perfection, one can’t help but imagine the things that would make it perfect. I would love for the replay system to be even more fleshed out, with slow motion, different lenses and filters, and more control over where the camera is (Skate 2 & 3 would be a great model here). I’d also love to see manuals introduced at some point, though I suppose it’s possible they’re already in the game and I just haven’t yet figured out how to perform them. And speaking of manuals, instructions on how to do some of the more advanced tricks would be very welcome (see what I did there?). Finally, a park editor would be not just the icing on the cake, but a whole new cake on the cake. Are you listening, Illusion Labs?
Despite my huge list of wants, though, it’s hard to complain too much about what Touchgrind Skate 2 lacks. Especially compared to its humble predecessor, it feels very much like a complete game. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have about seven games of S.K.A.T.E. going and I believe it’s my turn on a few.
iFanzine Verdict: Touchgrind Skate 2 by Illusion Labs doesn’t just build on what the original Touchgrind did; it rips out the floors, tears down the walls, and triples the square footage. It’s not a huge game, mind you, but it is a substantial shot in the arm for not just the series, but for iOS skateboarding in general. Your move, True Axis.