There was a time, back in the distant days of gaming, when skateboarding titles were all the rage. Tony Hawk Pro Skater sequels shot into the clammy palms of loungeroom skegs with almost alarming regularity and for those who preferred their kickflips to be a little more nuanced and technical, EA’s Skate trilogy had you covered. And then, for reasons pertaining to the vagaries of the industry, they all just sort of… stopped. If you wanted to pop a sick ollie, you had to do so outside, in the disgusting real world of people and sun. Now, on the eve of a Tony Hawk remaster, a new contender has entered the ring in the form of Skater XL. A game that, while brimming with potential, makes an ironic mockery of its title.
Skater XL puts you in the comfy kicks of a skater, either user-generated or pre-existing, and after a brief tutorial, you’re sent out into the world. It features a fascinating, and extremely nuanced, control system that uses the dual analogue sticks as your left and right feet. It’s fiddly at first, but you’ll soon grow accustomed to the controls and pull off some genuinely stylish tricks, made even more intriguing by the fact that the game uses real physics. In practical terms, this means every move happens organically, based on your controller movements and not cueing a pre-existing animation, which lends a high degree of individuality to your sessions.
All good news so far, yeah? The problem? That’s the entire game. There’s no story mode, no overarching purpose, no multiplayer or even things to unlock. You just sort of noodle around, popping tricks until you get bored or need to take a slash. A handful of maps with rather dull “challenges” (which are basically extended tutorials) and a fiddly video editor so you can record and upload your sessions. Now, for some people this will be enough. Your humble writer has fond (albeit vague) memories of hanging out with stoner flatmates, popping tricks in Skate and making one’s own fun as the controller was passed back and forth. If you’re up for a languid, chill session like that, Skater XL may be the ticket. If you want some kind of feedback, some kind of sense of progression or interaction with the game? You might want to look elsewhere.
Skater XL’s faults are compounded by the fact that it’s currently retailing (on console, at least) for nearly seventy dollarydoos! This is the kind of experience that would feel justified for twenty bucks or so, but being within cooee of full price is absurd. The lack of content, the occasionally janky animation and clipping, combined with a general lack of purpose, leaves Skater XL feeling more like a promising tech demo rather than a full game experience. What’s there is good, sometimes great, but it’s nowhere near enough yet to justify a purchase for any but the most obsessive of skating game fans.