Skater XL Review
Fingerboarding, along with having really, really good Pokemon, was one of the main ways of proving you were cool when I was in school. I remember it well – wearing a leather jacket and awesome sunglasses, armed with a stick used to beat off the girls, I’d flick my way through the schoolyard with my tiny skateboard. It wasn’t the size though, dear reader, it was what you did with it, and that sums up my experience with Skater XL pretty well.
Moving the analogue sticks allows you to control the balance of your board and pull off awesome tricks. It’s as simple as that, simpler than fingerboarding by a mile. There’s no great storyline, no big bad underworld god to beat with some unlockable ultimate trick, and be thankful for that. This is a sandbox – you spend most of your time feeling like a king when you pull off even the smallest of moves.
But, like my school days, you’re not as cool as you think you are. The girls weren’t impressed by my less-than-average skills (or my Pokemon) back in 1997, and my wife was even less impressed in 2020. She helpfully pointed out that I was supposed to spend far more time on the board than I was, advice that was warranted as I’d slammed into a school bus some sixty or seventy times.
Kicking off kicking back
Skater XL is a game you have to give time to. You can’t casually boot it up and skate up a storm. It took me 10 minutes to get to grips with the basic controls. Then the game threw more at me.
It has been built from the ground up for those people that are going to play it for the love of it. Passion comes out of every pore. Someone with more skill than me could play it for hundreds of hours, and have the tools to do whatever they want. Sure, there are issues, but if it clicks, this game will be an incredible bargain. When you’re gliding through a map, pulling off the most amazing moves, there’s something almost zen about it.
That’s when you’ve got skill. My character, an extension of me, doesn’t have any skill. He doesn’t need amazing tools. He needs a decent cup, because he spends half his life banging his testicles off walls, bars and, yes, giant vehicles.
The controls are tight. It plays a bit like a fighting game, where putting in the right combination of buttons with the right timing will pull off a certain trick. This is a genius move. Every bump, every topple feels like it’s your fault, and you can usually pinpoint the exact second it all went wrong.
The developers understand skating, understand the goals of skaters, understand the community. Best of all, they understand what their biggest fans want. In so many ways, that’s enough. In a few others, it isn’t.
Here’s the problem: to be good at this game you need a decent skating knowledge and you need to give it the time to put that knowledge into use. Like fighting games, it’s not enough to hammer the buttons. To be good, you’ve got to learn combinations and be able to read the route in front of you.
You’re not going to enjoy it if you’re fancying something more arcadey, something that lets you accrue points and top leaderboards. Those features just don’t exist.
The only progression is your own skills. The only thing making you want to go back and tackle one line or another is the reward of finally overcoming it.
This isn’t a bad thing. It’s the nature of a hardcore skating game. It’s why you buy this game. It might be why you don’t buy this game, and that’s okay.
Skater XL offers no incentive for younger or less skilled players to put time into it, and that’s the catch. If you don’t instantly fall in love with it, it almost feels like a waste of time. You’re learning to play it – something that will take many, many hours – for the sake of playing it. If this was real skating, the reward for hundreds of hours would be becoming an awesome skater, meeting people, keeping fit. The experience just doesn’t transfer to the digital realm, but that’s what the developers have tried to capture. In the grand scheme of things, most people will feel it just isn’t worth it.
Content is sadly lacking. This is a simulator, and so it gets a bit of a pass on that. In games like this, content is what you do, not what you unlock.
But that doesn’t mean it won’t be a problem.
Music and Graphics
Skater XL looks good until something breaks.
The colours are bright, the locations well made. I was quite impressed, despite, I think, a lack of One X enhancement. I haven’t been able to find anything that points to it being above 1080p, and it’s certainly not in HDR, but these are minor issues for this title.
Despite the impressive physics on the board, the animation is often lacking. When you crash – and you will crash – your guy looks off blankly into the distance, no expression. At first this is funny. After 50 handrails between the legs, it starts to become a little unsettling. It’s a look of someone that’s lost the will to live.
And that’s before you end up going through walls and crashing through cars. There are some physical things that just don’t exist. This is a pretty regular occurrence that may bother some but isn’t game-breaking.
The music is one of the best things about the game. It feels exciting, it feels fun to listen to and it sets the scene brilliantly. Not since booting up the original Crazy Taxi has a non-story game felt this in tune with its soundtrack.
Skater XL deserves to do well. It deserves its community. The developers know what needs to go into a great skate game. They’ve created something, frankly, that bigger studios just don’t have the passion to implement.
The struggle is balancing a good game, especially a good simulator, with a fun game, and that’s where Skater XL wipes out. There is no incentive to play beyond love at first sight. The only limits of Skater XL are your imagination and your patience, because when either runs out, you’ll just turn it off and walk away. The unlikely chance that you run out of imagination is a testament to the devs, to their vision for the controls and their understanding of what skaters want.
How quickly you’ll run out of patience is a much bigger problem, but it can be fixed. Here’s hoping – for the sakes of all 90s wannabe skaters – that they manage to do just that.