It seemed to me that skateboarding games hit the peak of their popularity in the early 2000’s – Tony Hawk was huge again, and the sport itself was gaining traction in the public eye as a serious practice, rather than some hoodrat shit you did with your friends in a parking lot. Skateboarding video games were always exciting to me (as someone who wasn’t particularly good at the real-life version) with their fun gameplay, and signature punk-rock soundtracks. With the massive success of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, and its sequels, the door was open for other skateboarding simulators as well. The only problem was, because of my age, I was never especially good at these titles; the tricky, precise controls, and demanding button-presses were a bit too much for 10-year old me. I still tried, mind, back when renting games was still a thing, but I never got to enjoy the full scope of these tantalizing worlds. Never did my young brain imagine that two of my favourite things in the world – skateboarding and Disney – would come together in a single, more accessible game. But it’s 2003, and here we are with Disney’s Extreme Skate Adventure – and what an adventure it was.
For me, this title had the appeal of Kingdom Hearts, with its interactive, fleshed-out Disney worlds, along with skateboarding game staples, like a fully-customizable character – upgradable stats and all. The Adventure mode allowed you to create your avatar (or use a character from the Disney roster), and skate around the central hub of Olliewood, completing missions and challenges assigned by non-playable characters. Doing so would unlock clothing (helmets, shirts, decks, etc.) and eventually access to other Disney worlds. The starting points available were Andy’s Room (my personal favourite) the Treehouse from Tarzan, and Pride Rock. Clearing these areas would unlock further worlds from those movies, like Pizza Planet, Clayton’s Ship, and the Elephant Graveyard. Each world was progressively more challenging. Sound familiar? Yes, it’s the same basic structure: watered-down Pro Skater. But that’s exactly what I needed.
The simplified control scheme, and Disney-fied elements made this game a lot more kid-friendly. It was more accessible for me (notoriously awful at Tony Hawk games, despite enjoying them) and made the tricks feel a lot more manageable to pull off. I think my favourite element of the game, however, was always the feeling of exploration. With a familiar open-sandbox style, this title had a multitude of hidden areas and little secrets to discover. The Human Camp, for instance, had a beautiful section of waterfalls and pools, full of stone ramps to pull off your sick aerials. But to get there, you needed to successfully grind down a complicated (for a kid, at least) series of tree roots, navigating the precise timing of your jumps, and length of your grinds. There were also the hidden Disney icons, and hard-to-reach jewels needed to upgrade your stats. I especially remember the not-so-hidden bowls in Zurg’s world where gravity was greatly reduced – you could hang in the air for ages. Nothing was more satisfying than watching your character hover, weightless, while you mashed buttons to combo every grab, flip, and switch for thousands of points. In order to reach these secrets, like the rooftops in Olliewood for instance, you needed to master the controls and execute a series of stunts for your reward. It was immensely gratifying to pull off maneuvers that I could never hope to attempt in other skateboarding games. I couldn’t be much of a pro skater, but I could manage a Disney one.
The soundtrack for this game was another reason that I loved it so much – it had some absolute bangers. One of my favourite bands of all time, Simple Plan, had “Grow Up” on the track list, along with “Sell Out” by Reel Big Fish, and “Somewhere on Fullerton” by Allister. As a 10-year old, my musical tastes were already top notch, and the blend of upbeat pop-punk, ska, and rock music was exactly my cup of tea. Even everyone’s favourite meme band, Smash Mouth, was represented on this track. I mean, just picture it: ollie-ing around Pizza Planet jamming to Pacific Coast Party. What a time to be alive. The background music in the Disney worlds wasn’t quite as exciting, but those tunes weren’t the main attraction anyway.
In the days before Activision was trash, before first-person shooters and action titles were the most ubiquitous genres in gaming, there was a sub-genre of sports: skateboarding games. And this one, for me at least, was particularly special. From herding wildebeests in Pride Rock, to helping the gorillas trash the Human Camp, this game was the perfect mashup of Disney fun, and skateboarding gameplay. This game really rode the wave of skateboarding’s resurgent popularity – and I’m eternally grateful for it. Thinking about this game fills me with nostalgia, even though the game itself is Objectively Not That Great, it represents a time and feeling that I really miss. The place we used to go to get away from it all, if you will. I kind of hope that skateboarding games make a comeback (SkateBIRD, anyone?) because they were always such a pure expression of fun. All this talk about skating has made me want to slap on a pairs of Vans, or Converse maybe, and listen to Sum 41. Or you know, maybe I’ll just wallow in the crushing weight of adulthood, and lament the fact that I never learned to do a kickflip.