Skateboarding games have been making quite the resurgence as of late. After lying dormant for the latter half of the 2010s, an influx of old and new properties are dropping back into the public consciousness and returning to form.
One of the new skateboarding experiences that can be found on the market is Skater XL, a Kickstarter-funded project that released version 1.0 on July 28th. Developed by Easy Day Studios, Skater XL had a marketing campaign that focused on reception from its players; while this could seem like pandering to some, seeing reviews from people that have apparently put hundreds of hours into the game prior to its release was definitely something that made me excited to buy it when the time came.
Now that I’ve spent a good amount of time with the game, I walk away from it… conflicted. On one hand, its gameplay is incredibly enjoyable, if a bit hard to get accustomed to at first. On the other, there is not enough content within it to justify its $40 price tag. That is not to say that it cannot be in the future; if updates are made that add to what you can do in the game, then Skater XL will be able to capitalize on its full potential. However, as it stands, it feels like the game has focused on quality over quantity, but at the cost of having any quantity to experiment with.
There is no plot to Skater XL. When you start the game up, you’re given a basic set of tutorials to show how the game controls, and then you find yourself in the middle of an expansive map. From there, the world is yours; skating around and doing tricks is what makes up the core gameplay, and what you can do is only limited by your imagination. Skater XL’s focus on gameplay allows for players to jump straight into the action, showing that Easy Day Studios knows what makes it’s game so attractive: they did not buy it for a complex story, they bought it to skate.
Skater XL controls in ways that are different from most skateboarding games of the past. Unlike its predecessors, where you move around with the control sticks and use buttons to pull off tricks, the game has you steer around with the LT and RT buttons and pull off tricks with the control sticks, with the left and right sticks controlling your character’s feet. It was admittedly jarring to adjust to the game’s controls and the game’s learning curve can be difficult at times.
However, the game seems to be aware of potential difficulties, as it comes equipped with a mode labeled “Challenges,” where players can learn how to do various tricks, from flips to grabs to grinds and other things. These serve as a great way to get players used to the controls, while also enabling them to learn the complexities of the trick system naturally and whenever they please.
As of its initial release, the game has five maps to choose from, ranging from downtown Los Angeles to a large ramp complete with huge jumps and a wide space to mess around in. Each map is either large in scope, dense in content, or both, allowing you a lot of different venues within each map and a lot of ways to pull off tricks. The settings themselves look beautiful, which is impressive given the small size of the game’s development team. However, there are times where you will notice occasional visual glitches in the background; luckily they do not last long when you get closer to them.
While the venues themselves look beautiful and offer various possibilities as to how to skate, they can often feel barren. There are no NPCs around to liven up the environment, which can prove to be quite disappointing when in the middle of a normally crowded space like Los Angeles. In addition, as of the game’s initial release on PS4, there is no multiplayer option (although there are plans to add this down the line).
Half the fun of skateboarding games of the past was playing with your friends and messing around with each other, whether it be in a cooperative sense to make cool setpieces or in a competitive sense to see who can do tricks better. To see Skater XL not have this option built-in at launch was admittedly disappointing.
Outside of the main gameplay, Skater XL also has a few small features to experiment with. There is a character select option, where you can choose between pro skaters such as Tiago Lemos and Brandon Westgate or make a character of your own. When it comes to the latter, for the most part, there are various options for you to choose when it comes to how your character looks.
Unfortunately, there is a very limited scope for customizing your character’s physical appearance, but when it comes to what your character wears and what your skateboard looks like, the options are much more plentiful. Sporting clothing and gear with different skate brands is very enthralling, and it makes the game feels a little more fun in the process.
While you are out skating in the world, you also have the option of looking at an instant replay of any specific run you do on a map. By moving the camera around and altering your field of view, you can create and save your own skate clips whenever you find yourself proud of a skate run. It works well enough, but in my experience I never really found myself using it. It might just be a personal preference, but I was never drawn to actively use the “Replay” option.
Skater XL does a lot right, but it also has numerous issues that can hamper playing through it. For one, the soundtrack, while catchy and memorable, is rather small. Oftentimes you will find songs repeating several times during an average playthrough, which can get old quickly. Additionally, its initial release came out with both frame drops and various bugs. The former issue is not too frequent to the point where the game is unplayable, but it can hinder you when trying to do a complex sequence of tricks.
In regards to the bugs, Some of them, like those that appear when bailing out, can be quite funny to watch; however, the most prominent issue I faced almost made the game unplayable at times. During the challenges, there would be times where I would need to pick up a lot of speed. As such, I would try to speed up as much as possible before making a jump. However, there exists a bug where if you try this, sometimes the animation for pushing forward will freeze, preventing you from speeding up.
Pressing buttons will do nothing to fix this, so all I was left to do was either wait for the animation to finish after two seconds, or start challenges over again. This made some challenges nearly impossible unless I cheated, which was not something I enjoyed. While these issues can possibly be fixed in future updates, as they stand, they can be real annoyances.
However, Skater XL‘s biggest issue is that there is currently little content to support its gameplay. You can skate around by yourself in different venues, you can try out different tricks, and you can record yourself doing those tricks. That’s it. There are no pre-arranged minigames that can add diversity to how you play the game, the number of maps can leave you wanting more, and as fun as playing the game can be, the lack of content can leave people wanting more.
I am aware that the PC version of Skater XL has an active community of modders who create new maps and mechanics for the game; while this does make some of these aforementioned issues less prominent, the fact that they are absent on the PS4 version just makes things even worse.
Skater XL is one of the most conflicting games I have ever played. Despite all of its issues, I still found myself coming back to it, because although there is not much to it, actually playing the game is really fun. The controls feel unique, the maps look gorgeous, and it’s enjoyable putting my own spin on how I skate around the game’s world.
However, the fact is that it feels more like a demo than anything else. It feels like the start of a big project rather than the end of one and with a $40 asking price, when you take into account its technical issues and overall lack of content outside of the basics, I can’t exactly say it’s worth that much right now, at least on the PS4.
Hopefully, Easy Day Studios will dedicate their future to adding more to Skater XL and making it an experience that everyone can enjoy, making its world feel livelier and allowing friends to skate together without issue. For now, I would say to buy this game only if you wish to have a pure skateboarding experience. Otherwise, this skatepark is one that you can hold out hope for but move past until it reaches its fullest potential.
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