“Skate or Die!”
With its funky circular joystick and boom box cabinet, there was no mistaking 720° in your local arcade. Starring a brightly-attired slacker and his favourite board, the Atari game remains a testament to an era when skateboarding was king and Jams were the fashion of choice.
Gameplay started in a small city area, well-stocked with ramps, curbs, springy cylinders and other skater-friendly objects. By executing jumps, spins, ollies and such with your “kick” and “jump” buttons, your skater racked up points, which were used to score tickets to one of the city’s four skate parks: Ramp, Downhill, Jump and Slalom.
The Ramp park was your standard half-pipe, where a slick jump, a tricky spin or a nice rail slide give you points toward a bronze, silver or gold medal. Naturally, a wipe-out garnered zero points, and it took precious time off the clock.
The Downhill park gave you chances for an even nastier spill. Starting at the top of what must have been a very tall tower, your skater sped down a steep slope, kicking for extra power. Every so often, a 90-degree turn would appear, forcing you to either act quickly or tumble off the edge (you’d get another chance, but again, the clock was ticking). The better your time, the better your medal.
The Jump park looked similar to the Downhill park, but with a much different purpose. At the end of each downhill run, the lip curled to launch your skater into the air. From there, it was up to you to spin your way to a high score.
Blow the landing, lose the points, but if you stuck your finish on the designated sweet spot, you’d get a bonus.
The Slalom park was exactly what it sounded like. Zigging and zagging through a line of flags, your points (and therefore, your medal) were determined by how fast and how accurately you made your run.
Also with each medal came a cash prize, needed to beef up your equipment. A stop at the Board Shop would make you speedier. A new lid from the Helmet Shop made you “more aggressive,” letting you spin faster in mid-air to rack up more points per trick. The Pads Shop helped you recover more quickly when you bit it. And a new pair of sneaks from the Shoes Shop increased your jumping abilities.
After exiting each park, your skater had a limited amount of time to earn enough points through tricks and hops to get into the next park. The better you did on each course, the better your chances of getting into the next.
There was no mistaking when time ran out. When the machine suddenly shouted, “SKATE OR DIE!,” you knew it was time to get into a park or suffer the wrath of swarming bees.
Yes, bees! It may not have made much sense, but trust us: the sight of a black-and-yellow mass of stinging insects headed your way was as good a motivation as any.
720° didn’t ignite a wave of skate imitators in the arcade, but home games like the NES’ Town & Country Skate and Surf Designs and Skate or Die clearly owed a debt to this one-of-a-kind Atari hit. And you can still reduce some former players to quivering masses of jelly by shouting a well-timed, “Skate or Die!!!”