There hasn’t been a good skateboarding game available for consoles in about ten years. We’ve watched Tony Hawk go peripheral, and a handful of one-off mobile games from a variety of developers. Until recently, even EA was quiet on the Skate series despite literally a decade of begging from their audience. Thankfully, that’s all in the past now; Skater XL is here. This new skateboarding title from California based indie developer Easy Day Studios innovates and repackages a classic gameplay concept for a modern era of video games. With a new physics-based trick system, classic real-world California skate spots, and customization to boot, this has been my favorite game in a long time.
You have one goal in Skater XL: skate. The game doesn’t feature a campaign, instead focusing on true freedom and the subtle nuances that go into skateboarding as an active sport.
You perform tricks using the left and right analog sticks serving as each of your feet. There are no pre-programmed tricks or canned animations in the game. This means that every time you perform a trick, it’ll look slightly different depending on how you flick your ‘feet’. As a long time skateboarder, I was really excited about this game when it went into Early Access two years ago.
Performing each and every trick is incredibly satisfying considering that you can’t just flick your sticks in any direction and expect something worthwhile to happen. Turning and rotating in mid-air is typically executed with the left and right triggers. If you prefer the methods of classic skateboarding games, turning can still be done with the analog sticks. When you go for a grind on a ledge or rail, you won’t gravitate towards it by jumping in it’s general direction like in Skate.
There are eight maps in the base game, with my favorite being Easy Day High School. It’s Easy Day’s love letter to the California skate scene. This ranges from classic spots like Wallenberg and the schoolyard picnic tables, to more urban-based spots like the famous Hollywood 16 stair and the Radio Korea Plaza in Downtown Los Angeles. The team at Easy Day has curated three user-made maps for launch; Streets by Jean-Olive, Hudland Training Facility by Pactole, and Grant Park by Theo. The three maps aren’t very large but allow for a space to practice tricks on different obstacles before taking them into the bigger maps like The Big Ramp or Downtown LA. Easy Day has promised free updates including new maps and gear post-launch.
Aside from your trick selection and general style, your skater and skateboard customization are where individuality shines. With hundreds of pieces of clothing and hardgoods gear from real-world skate brands, there’s tons of combinations for style when filming your skate session. Speaking of filming, the game comes with a very nifty replay editor with camera markers that can follow your skateboarder or remain in place to capture a trick. However, you must rely on your respective console’s video capture to share your tricks with the world. Additionally, there are three playable professional skaters; Tiago Lemos, Evan Smith, and Brandon Westgate. With gear from each of their sponsors available for customization.
Skater XL’s visuals are bright, simplistic, and sleek. The menus and user interfaces are very minimal and pleasing to the eyes. Each map is fully realized and beautifully rendered. However, you’re the only one there. No one’s driving cars, no one is skating with you, there are no pedestrians. It gives off this refreshing feeling of vacancy as you won’t want anything getting in the way of your skating. Visually, my favorite map is the California skatepark. Having been to the park that it’s based on (Stoner Skatepark in LA), it was a familiar location to me. It’s a beautiful, faithful recreation complete with classic West Coast twilight hour sun.
Aside from skating, there isn’t really much to do in the game. There are challenges that essentially ask you to copy a trick that an AI skater will do. They serve as a streamlined tutorial to help you learn tricks. I’d recommend playing through these challenges if you find yourself stuck learning how to flip your board.
While not big on content, Skater XL provides a fresh take on the skateboarding genre with hours of mindless fun pulling off any skate trick you can think of based on its excellent physics engine and variety of spots to skate. If you like skateboarding even a little bit, pick up this game. If you’re a gamer looking for a campaign and an extensive feature list, I would wait for the game to flesh out through updates in the coming months.