Skateboarding games have made a revival in 2020. Sessions released last month on the Xbox One in Game Preview, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 is coming in September and now, Skater XL from Easy Day Studios has launched for consoles. There are major differences between these titles, and while the Tony Hawk’s series is known for its arcade pick up and play fun, Skater XL focuses on the sport’s realism and brings with it a new intuitive control system. The big question is, does this realism and control system make it a skateboarder’s dream or does it do a one-eighty, leaving players wanting more?
Easy Day Studios’ biggest draw card is their focus onevolving the skateboarding genre and they have done this by creating a unique physics-based control system to give the player unprecedented control. They have done this by mapping each thumbstick to the avatar’s corresponding foot, so the right stick controls the right foot and the left stick controls the left foot. The other controls involved in the basic movement of the board are the left and right triggers which turn left and right respectively, A to push off and B to brake (X and circle on PlayStation). These left and right triggers also turn the board while in the air, such as when performing an Ollie or when launched off a ramp.
Using the thumbsticks will shift the players weight on the board to perform a wide range of base movements, from a basic Ollie, board flips, grinds, slides and manuals. All of these can be linked together to create a wide range of combinations and give the player freedom. Using the L1 and R1 will also grab the board with specific hands. Easy Day Studios boast that there is no pre-programmed tricks and state
“The important central idea of Skater XL is that it’s more of a creative and expressive instrument than a traditional game.”
While the control system is unique and takes some getting used to, it had this ex-skateboarder pulling off tricks and lines that I could only dream of when I was in my youth. Although, Skater XL is a committed simulation game that will likely leave casual players frustrated and wishing for that arcade control layout and feel.
There is no traditional story or career mode and no objectives to meet or tasked missions to complete, as Easy Day Studios has created a game where the player is free to express themselves however they see fit by finding and creating their own lines to skate. There is also no score system, but any trick, line or grind can be captured at the click of the menu button. Replacing objectives are hundreds of optional challenges, accessed in the pause menu. These trick based challenges teach players intermediate to advanced moves, such as flips, grinds, grabs and more. My personal favourite are the line challenges where the player pulls off a series of tricks that usually involve the environment, for example an easy line challenge is performing an Ollie with a kick flip onto a rail for a grind. These lines become harder and the advanced ones will throw a hefty challenge the player’s way. Before each challenge, the player will watch what is needed to perform the challenge, showing the exact inputs and timing. There is a fair bit of trial and error with a steep learning curve early on but like real skate boarding, the reward is in performing these feats.
Maps in Skater XL are inspired by iconic locations, mostly from California. These real-world locations have been altered to make sure they flow so the player does not have to travel far to find new skating areas. There are 8 maps, 3 of these are PC community created and all maps are not equal in scope and size. Locations include the Easy Day High School (my stand out), which features iconic skating spots, such as the Wallenberg Big 4 and the ‘Leap of Faith,’ also the very large Downtown Los Angeles area featuring some famous spots and recognisable locations. The biggest let down of each map is how empty they are with zero signs of life. Downtown LA feels like an aftermath of a zombie apocalypse, it’s eerie, while other maps are vacant and it seems like the player is the last person left on the planet. While not game breaking, it does take away from the realism. The loss of realism continued when I skated through a full water feature that was easily a foot deep, but I just kept on skating like it was empty. Another example was on the enjoyable ‘Big Ramp’ map where I went off the side in ‘free skate’ mode but I continued skating around in rocky desert terrain like I was on the smooth ramp. Some of the maps are also very small, especially the West L.A. Courthouse that does not offer as much in term of skate lines or replayability.
The visuals are not going to wow anybody but they hold up sufficiently. The maps are bright and all skate parks look like they should, it is just a shame that they are so empty of life. The character models do the job and the four skateboarding pros, Tiago Lemos, Evan Smith, Tom Asta and Brandon Westgate are all recognisable. These pros and the default characters can be customised with an assortment of some of the leading skater brand apparel. For a game that has no pre-rendered animations the character models work well and look great pulling of those complex lines. There were a few occasions where I had the character model get caught and stuck on objects or flop over easy when performing lines and tricks but I just returned to the checkpoint using the D-pad.
The soundtrack is surprisingly very good and accompanies the skateboarding vibes. The bands include Animal Collective, Interpol, Modest Mouse, and several more. The sounds of the game itself including skating, grinding rails and performing tricks react and sound like they would in the real world. Sadly, as the world is so empty, there are no other noises and the game is lucky that the soundtrack truly holds up.
As of yet, there is no multiplayer modes, however Easy Day Studios have confirmed that multiplayer and social features are being considered. A huge feature missing from the console version is user created content and mods. While the PC game has over 100 000 members in Discord and a thriving modding community, Easy Day Studios are continuing to explore their options. At the moment this is a missed opportunity, making the console version inferior off the bat.
The game can be paused at any time and it is one of those titles you can put either a short or long session into. While it is rated G for General, younger gamers will likely find this difficult and frustrating.
Skater XL has been a difficult game to review, as it will split gamers and skate boarding fans alike, as there is not much content or reward for the non-skateboarding gamers. Like most core simulations, it will have a niche market, hopefully a strong one and I am positive that those who have spent real time on a skateboard will appreciate the unique controls that capture their favourite past time. The reward of pulling of tricks, completing challenges and creating some epic lines is nearly as good as its real world counterpart. It is unfortunate at the moment that apart from challenges and free skate; there is nothing else to do. Some level design issues are apparent and having no consoles community support at the moment is disappointing.
Pottsy for One More Game
Skater XL was reviewed on an Xbox One X. It is also available on PlayStation 4 and PC. It will be released on Nintendo Switch later this year.
The developer provided review code for this title. The thoughts on this game are ours and ours alone.