Skateboarding games were a hot commodity in the 00’s, then seemed to burn out after numerous sequels that either failed to innovate, or jumped the shark with outrageous peripherals (who remembers the Tony Hawk “Ride” motion board?). With the 2020’s upon us however, multiple new skating games are appearing on the horizon. As the resurrection of many long-standing skate franchises looms, how will newcomer Skater XL and its focus on ultra-realistic skating fare?
Skater XL Details
Authentic skateboarding action
Skater XL (for the most part) focuses on realistic skateboarding. Of course this only extends so far. You can still achieve some pretty gnarly speeds or skate over less-than-friendly terrain. However, you certainly won’t be performing novelty tricks like impossible handstand loop-de-loops or shifting 90 degrees into a grind at top speed.
The game takes a twin-stick approach to its controls. Each foot is essentially tied to a stick, with the left stick controlling your left foot and vice-versa. Tricks are complex, and the main loop of the game is mastering them in real-life scenarios.
For a Tony Hawk vet like me, it is very tough to get used to not turning with the left stick. While you actually bend your skater left and right with the trigger buttons, I keep defaulting to the left stick. It’s tough (but not impossible) to grow accustom to. It kind of reminds me of the NHL franchise moving to the user control stick—initially jarring, but now second nature after time.
Overall it makes for a challenging but rewarding system. Even simple tricks that may require minimal button presses in other games take practice and focus here. With the difficulty skewing in this manner, the feeling of joy in pulling off a great trick mirrors real life to a greater degree as well.
Skating game, or skating sim
When I say that Skater XL gears around learning and performing tricks, I really mean just that. There is very little outside of this that makes Skater XL feel—well—”gamey”. There is no campaign to climb the ranks or take down a rival skater. Nor will you hunt collectibles or take down floating letters in a single line.
Instead, Skater XL takes an approach that really seems to ground itself in reality. It doesn’t feel very different than taking a camera and venturing out with your friends in the real world. You’ll find a spot, think up a trick, and like spend a chunk of time trying to land it (and maybe capturing a great video of it as well).
Each of the 5 maps does feature a significant number of challenges. While these are very useful in learning, they go on somewhat like a never-ending tutorial. It almost feels like learning to play the game is the bulk of the game itself. If you’re the type to get impatient during a tutorial, you’ll probably find Skater XL‘s challenges a lengthy grind.
One big free skate
If you are content to enjoy Skater XL for what it is, the question of content may be moot. It’s realistic approach is commendable. That said however, it really is the pillar of the entire game. Between challenges and open skating, Skater XL fares more like the tutorial and free skate portions of a more traditional game, without the additional substance that some may expect.
Part of the problem is that the game is perfect for community mods and development. However, those features are significantly diminished on the console versions of the game. The developer does provide updates in the form of ongoing PC map curation for console users. Still, it’s a far cry from actually incorporating the sort of user content creation tools that could really make this game special.
Nevertheless, there is a satisfying sense of accomplishment in Skater XL if you can find it in yourself. What I mean by that is, satisfaction comes from making your own goals and pulling off feats that make you proud on a personal level. If you need the game itself to validate you with traditional gaming tropes of goals and feedback though, you may be left wanting.
Where reality ends
For all its efforts, Skater XL doesn’t always succeed in giving a realistic feel. Wiping out in particular is enough to break any suspension of disbelief. The rag doll physics in the game are not particularly up-to-par with other modern titles.
Most often I find that my skater seems to freeze solid upon bailing. Instead of rolling into a nasty wipeout, it’s almost as though they become an inanimate mannequin. In a humorous way it almost reminds me of those internet videos of animals that go stiff and topple with fright.
In other cases (both when bailing or in general) there is a healthy dose of clipping as will. Both limbs and cameras seem to have little regard for the laws of physics Skater XL seems intent to prove exist. Objects seem to lose their physicality on a regular basis.
In one particularly hilarious instance, I manages to clip underneath the pavement. As a result I appeared to be sailing on a hoverboard a la Back to the Future. As my legs began an endless twisting that only Mr. Fantastic could withstand, I couldn’t help but feel that at least this epic glitch was extremely amusing.
Skater XL is a bold take on realistic skating with hit-and-miss results
Skater XL is a refreshing take on skating, but at times it feels less like a “game” and more like a long demo. If you approach it from the perspective of truly trying to replicate a real day out in the world with a board and a camera, perhaps its shortcomings can be overlooked. It certainly isn’t trying to be another skating game with absurd goals and campy overlays.
Nevertheless, a lack of polish along with a minimal amount of content may still leave something to be desired. A more robust system for content creation on console could really elevate Skater XL. For now console players must be satisfied with new content as it trickles in from curated updates.
+ Realistic take on skating physics
+ Feels rewarding to pull off even simple tricks
– Lack of robust content or creation features
– Significant clipping and occasional glitches
OVERALL ASSESSMENT OF SKATER XL
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 3.5/5