When I was in my early teens, a lot of my friends got into skateboarding. I desperately wanted to join in, but I could never quite get the hang of coordinating myself to ride a board, let alone pull off a trick of any kind. So I stuck to what I knew best – video games, with spent countless hours performing gnarly tricks in the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series and finding the silliest ways to fall off the board.
Years later, skateboarding games are back in a big way – with returns to the Tony Hawk series as well as a long-awaited Skate sequel on the horizon. But while these games are reliant on preset tricks and animations, another game has come along to change the way we look at skateboarding. It is time to welcome Skater XL.
The approach taken by Easy Day Studios to the skateboarding genre wasn’t to simply pre-map tricks and techniques to buttons to go for high scores – instead, they created a digital paradise for simulated skateboarding. Skater XL plays less like a video game and more of an experience; open urban landscapes decked out with ramps and rails, with nobody to get in your way or tell you off for being a nuisance. There’s no point-scoring, no time limits, no competition – it’s simply about skating.
As previously mentioned, Skater XL is not your typical skateboarding game; it plays almost like a Trials game in terms of how it controls. Rather than buttons assigning certain tricks, your controller is mapped out for motion – the left joystick is your left foot, and the right joystick is your back foot. Moving these around controls your feet and allows you to perform tricks through motion, giving fluidity to the board and the way you perform tricks. The triggers are used for movement and grabs, while the face buttons help you kick off and stop. It takes some time to get used to, and you’re guaranteed to push the wrong button or move the joystick wrong to move before you actually get used to it.
As you learn the movements and methods of the gameplay, you’ll get the hang of more tricks along the way. “Easy to learn, difficult to master” is the key phrase here – you’ll jump in thinking everything is going to be a cakewalk before copping a mouthful of concrete repeatedly. Prepare to do a lot of Ollies to begin with, but as your skill grows, you’ll be chaining tricks in no time. That isn’t without frustration however; throw in Grinds, Rotations, and Grabs and you’ll feel like you’re button mashing to look decent.
But therein lies the beauty of the game, in that there’s no necessity to learn things immediately or a push to beat a score. The amount of times I tried to pull off a grind only to faceplant over the other side of the rail had me frustrated, but when I finally pulled it off and understood the angles and control, the sense of accomplishment made me feel great.
The sandbox aspect of Skater XL can feel a little hollow at times, but luckily enough there’s challenges which you can complete, which accompanied by a brief tutorial showing you how to pull off a move before you do so. This is where coordination is key, because one wrong move and you’re going to restart it over, and over, and over. Think of the challenges as interactive lessons on how to skate, and how to really refine your control.
With five pre-made open levels and three additional community-made levels, the developers have embraced fans on Discord and the creativity of players as well; entertaining mods and creations that players have made or suggested. This could hint at more to come from the game in the future, which bodes well for additional content or gameplay modes.
The character customisation leaves a bit to be desired though – while having some serious branded content there, it didn’t exactly win me over in terms of looks, as the character models themselves feel very much like wireframes with brands draped over them. Add this to the fact that the huge skating environments are so… empty and sparse, and the game starts to feel a little off.
THE PS4 VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Skater XL is definitely going to be a polarising game for some – the intuitive and deep control methods coupled with the expansive open-world environment make for a great time to just chill out and skate around, but some players may miss the ‘action’ of the game or feeling a necessity to reach a goal. While challenges will keep you going to better yourself, some may be turned off by the limited game modes and replayability. All in all, Easy Day Studios have crafted a truly interesting skateboarding experience that gives players the ability to skate without leaving their home.