The 90s were witness to many toy crazes. Pogs, Yo-yos, Tomagotchi, Beanie Babies and Troll Dolls to name but a few. Another was finger skateboards, or to name a brand, the ‘Tech Deck’. These mini skateboards allowed you to steer them and perform tricks with just your index and middle fingers. I’ll have to admit, I was no good at controlling a tech deck, but there were some people who mastered the art almost as good as a full sized, pro skateboarder. As much as I sucked, I always thought it was pretty cool… well I was in my teens, and easily impressed.
Original iPhone review from Novemebr 2008 – So imagine my delight when I saw the first footage of Touch Grind, a finger controlled skateboard game for iPhone from Illusion Labs. I was impressed by not only the graphics and physics effects shown in the video, but also the opportunity for a stab at second chance finger skateboarding greatness!
First announced at the beginning of September, I’ve been eagerly awaiting a Touch Grind release date. So excited was I at the news of it’s release today, that I couldn’t wait for the Developer to supply me with a review copy, and so I downloaded it from the AppStore immediately.
On booting up you are presented with the main menu, a single skate wheel which you spin with your finger to make your selection. The most important option, and a must for beginners, is the ‘How to’ section. Here you can learn about the controls and how to pull off the majority of tricks, such as ollies, kick flips, rail slides etc. These short how to guides are well presented and easy to understand. Thank god Illusion Labs didn’t skimp and only supply a downloadable pdf of the instructions like some devs out there . Once you have learned the basics you should head on over to Warm Up – a practice park to try out the controls and tricks at your own leisure and pace. When you have gained confidence there are two further modes: Jam Session and Competition. Jam session allows you to head for the main park and skate to your hearts content with no limits. While competition is a score based run under a one minute time limit. Pull off tricks to earn high scores and unlock new board types, featuring new artwork and capabilities.
The parks are presented in a top down 3D viewpoint, so you can just about make out the heights and depth of objects through shadow effects and perspective. The viewpoint is close quarters, and so it’s difficult to see what’s coming. This was a concern of mine when watching the initial preview videos of the game in action. To counter this problem, Illusion Labs have created icon prompts which alert you to oncoming objects. For instance, if you are moving towards a grind rail, just before it appears, a small icon will appear depicting the rail and showing the angle of it in relation to your board. Also, a zoom out map option can be activated which gives you a scrollable glimpse of the skate park, allowing you to get your bearings. These elements work pretty well, but it is still hard to get around with out bumping into something or missing an obstacle all together. A part of me feels the game would be better presented at more of an isometric angle. The park would be zoomed out and your board would be smaller. A top down, semi transparent overlay of the board would be available to allow you to control it. But this would possibly take away the Tech Deck feel of the game.
Apart from that gripe, the graphics are impressive. Models are well rendered, textures are crisp and the frame-rate is smooth. As well as this, the animation and physics of the skate board and how it reacts to the environment are very realistic
So the big question… how does it control. Well I’m not going to lie to you, it’s pretty hard to master. You’ll have no problem getting the basics right, but actually zooming round the park and pulling of multiple tricks in a row would be near impossible, without hours and hours of serious perseverance and effort put into it.
Just like a Tech Deck you place your index and middle fingers on the boards deck. One on the back and one towards the middle. Depending on which end you choose will affect the direction you move. To stop you just lift your fingers off the screen, or to stop quickly you kick the board up onto its tail. In this position you can also change your direction before moving on. While moving you can slide both fingers long the width of the board to turn it. The park rotates around the board, with the board mainly staying level with the screen. Should it move to another angle, you can lift your fingers off and the camera will adjust back to normal.
To perform an ollie you must lift you middle finger off first and the kick the board up with your index finger, variations of this will flip it and spin it in mid air. To grind on a rail, you need to ollie onto the rail at an angle, and then balance the board with both fingers as you ride it.
The controls work well for the most part and are very responsive. After a few hours I did see improvements with my board skills, but it’s just that coupled with the viewing problems, the experience can be a frustrating one.
While the presentation and physics are great and the controls are good, I was disappointed with the level of depth that the gameplay had. While you can happily skate about in a sand box style for as long as you like in Jam, and shoot for high scores and unlock-able boards in competition mode. There isn’t much to hook you beyond that. I would have liked to see more modes, park types and options. Such as a head to head mode, where you have to match the computer, or a human opponent, move for move. Or a director style trick movie maker, where you can record your best tricks and splice the replays together to share with others. Yes, some of these may sound a little optimistic, but I think they would make this game truly special and original. As it is now however, Touch grind is more of a casual/sand box experience, and I’m not confident that the majority of players will stick with it long enough to master it, myself included… and that’s a shame.
Presentation & Graphics
Great graphics from the menus to the in game 3D art. Plus the board physics are fantastic
No music, but the sound effects of the board on concrete and obstacles are pretty nice.
More of a tech deck simulator than a game, it’s fun, but is frustrating to master
A casual sand box experience, lacking the exra features to make you come back for more
iPad Second opinion: Dave LeClair
Touch Grind HD for iPad really relieves many of the problems from the iphone release. A major problem on the iPhone was that it was nearly impossible to see what was coming. The ipads extra screen room nullifies much of this problem. Items still sneak up on you occasionally, but it’s much rarer. It’s still not a perfect game by any means, but it has improved a great deal. I would highly recommend anyone who played the first one and saw potential go out and get the iPad version. .