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Xbox One, PS4, PC, Switch
July 28, 2020
Easy Day Studios
Easy Day Studios
The world seems to keep changing, but one thing is still the same and that’s our love for skateboarding. Skater XL is the newest simulator skating game by California-based developers, Easy Day Studios. This evolution in the genre uses independent foot control and a unique physics system to carve a spot in the limelight. After one and a half years in Early Access development, the game is now out on consoles and PC as version 1.0. Unfortunately, this “extra-large” skateboarding paradise is more of an “extra-small” tech demo.
The first thing to discuss with Skater XL is the changes to conventional skateboard controls in games. Each thumbstick on a dual-analogue controller moves the corresponding foot of the player. Pulling down on the right thumbstick and letting go will move the right foot of the player back, and instantly flicking forward when released. In return, the player will perform a small jump with their board called an ollie. It makes the gameplay challenging while being a fresh experience.
These mechanics are intuitive and innovative, expanding on what EA’s Skate series has to offer. From simple shove-its to triple 180 backside kickflips, each trick is as accurately translated from controller to gameplay as possible. Admittedly, sometimes the sticks act on their own and ollie or flip at the wrong times which is mildly frustrating. Like learning an instrument, there is some trial and error before the controls begin to click. When they do, it’s as close to skateboarding as a video game will feel with the current controller conventions.
Physics in Skater XL are the next trick the game offers but are honestly a bit goofy. While the movement of the feet and board is spot-on, much of the rest is either bugged, stiff, or just not right. Characters bail in the most robotic way, tensing up like rigor mortis immediately kicks in, then constantly clipping through obstacles in the environment. In fact, there is a pair of Dickies pants I use on my character that clip through their shoes at all times.
The skateboard itself, despite its successes, doesn’t react quite right. The board will often unnaturally snap to a neutral position after completing a trick in mid-air. Performing high ollies and nollies on the board are incredibly floaty.
“Many of the challenges are mirrored tricks which is simply a lazy way to fill up game time.”
PC players have mods to tune the gravity correctly, although consoles lack this freedom. It feels cheap and unappealing to play a game with so much model clipping and poor physics. Particularly when realistic behaviour is the unique selling point of Skater XL.
The largest issue with each skating session is how limiting the base game is. Skater XL has a short five-minute tutorial, five maps and three officially supported player-made stages, a playback editor, and a handful of premade skaters with a basic character creator. That’s it. The console versions and plagued by the absence of mods; while PC players have a slew of user content they can add to make the game infinitely interesting. Challenges on each stage will take time to complete with several hundred lines in total to nail. Sadly, there isn’t anything rewarding about landing a 180 frontside heelflip over a double set besides personal accomplishment and a tick that shows it’s completed. Many of the challenges are mirrored tricks which is simply a lazy way to fill up game time.
The amount of content Skater XL currently offers is laughable. It’s like I’ve got a PlayStation magazine with an old-school demo that I’m expected to play over and over again… if that magazine was 60 AUD retail. Console gamers should wait for future updates or a deep sale before buying Skater XL. If you’re lucky enough to have a decent PC set-up, consider the modding scene as there are plenty of fun and interesting add-ons.
Skater XL does undeniably provide a relaxing skateboarding sandbox. The game has a soundtrack including Interpol, Animal Collective, Modest Mouse, and Future Islands. It truly is the 00s skating scene in tone, compared to the grunge and angst Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater highlights of the 90s scene. While desolate and dead of movement and action, each stage is slick and clean, adding to the chilled experience. It’s almost like Skater XL is the Smooth FM skate game to THPS’s punk and rock vibes.
Overall, I can’t recommend Skater XL. Easy Day Studio’s project has released with minimal content and plenty of bugs and oddities. The original and impressively intuitive controls, using the thumbsticks to accurately move your skater’s feet along the board, are well-made and promising. It’s a shame the physics don’t revert off that first trick, feeling wonky in comparison. When things are working as expected, Skater XL is a casual meditative skating game, where anyone can learn the basics of skateboarding, hitting lines across stages based on real spots. However, unless you’re buying on PC and plan to use mods, be prepared to be bored quickly once you finish the straightforward challenges. Skater XL pushes off strong, noticing some wheel wobble as you speed through, until you realise there’s little substance and the game completely wipes out face-first halfway down the vert ramp.