Not sure if I’ve said this before… but SKATEBOARDING GAMES ARE BACK, BABY. Yes, we have entered somewhat of a new skateboarding video game boom, spearheaded by SkaterXL, Session, and of course a new entry in the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater franchise. But that’s not all. EA is in the early stages of bringing the legendary, much requested Skate franchise back, and we’re also being treated to a new game in the OlliOlli franchise.
There are countless others I haven’t listed, but the latest game to come out is Skate City, which made its Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo Switch debut on May 6th. Originally an Apple Arcade exclusive that launched in 2019, the game comes to consoles in all it’s 2.5D glory, offering a light campaign mode and 3 expansive levels based on real world locations.
To sum up the type of game this is: it probably has more in common with the aforementioned OlliOlli than any other competitor. The game follows a 2D route through a 3D environment, similarly to the newly announced OlliOlli World. Whereas OlliOlli is heavily inspired by the likes of THPS with its massive combos and gloriously over the top levels, Skate City apes the realistic approach of games like SkaterXL and Session with a slower pace and an emphasis on realistic skateboarding.
The game offers a control scheme somewhere in the middle of OlliOlli and SkaterXL, with directional analogue stick positions assigned to different flip tricks. Spins are mapped to the bumpers, and leaning on the nose or tail for manuals or nosegrinds/50s is handled with the triggers. It’s a cleverly simple system, but whereas OlliOlli hides surprising depth in it’s controls, Skate City doesn’t offer much more than what you may find from an initial play through. Special tricks can be unlocked (including the game’s only grab trick), but the trick list is a little shallow.
Skate City’s realistic tone is also it’s downfall – the simple controls coupled with a slower pace and smaller sized obstacles just simply makes skating feel a little muted. A simple ollie down stairs in OlliOlli is surrounded with fast paced, adrenaline pumping sound effects and huge UI that amps up the experience. In Skate City it’s all just a bit pedestrian. The camera is so far away and detached from the action that even the most complex trick feels a little apologetic, and the UI and sound effects always feel like they are scared of interrupting you.
Also, my common measure of whether I will enjoy a skateboarding game is whether there is transition skating, and whether that transition skating is any good. Skate City features absolutely no transition: all 3 of the game’s levels are all based on street spots, and continuous travel from left to right, so transition doesn’t really make sense in this context. Having said that, OlliOlli developers Roll7 seem to have figured this out for OlliOlli World, so it can be done on a 2.5D plane.
Whilst the moment to moment gameplay doesn’t deliver, the amount of things to do is impressive. In the one area where the game outdoes SkaterXL considerably, the game is fleshed out with plenty of well designed challenges and goals to keep you busy for hours. The game does a good job of introducing new gameplay types and mixing things up with race events (with you competing against an AI skater), high score events (where you have to beat a certain score) and escape events (where you have to outrun a security guard).
All of these award SC coins, which can be used to buy new items for your character, or unlock new levels. Character customisation is somewhat lacking: limited visual options and a lack of real brands makes this area a little disappointing, but for a low budget title it’s impressive they even included this. There are 3 levels in total (with a hint of a 4th), but the levels are expansive and cleverly loop in Endless Mode to offer a lot of replay value.
There are also some bizarre inconsistencies with the feeling of legitimacy in the game. I’ve played many skateboarding games over the years and it’s always immediately obvious when a game has not been developed by real skaters, or real skaters haven’t been consulted. Weirdly I can’t quite figure out whether Skate City has or hasn’t.
The game lacks basic stuff like setting your character’s stance (regular is the only stance) and labels some tricks with weird names that seem made up, which all seem to indicate the developers don’t actually skate. On the other hand there are some extremely niche references to skateboarding that only real skaters would know, including real life obscure spots hidden in the game’s levels, great references to “skater’s skaters” in the challenges, and a Nine Club reference so specific that you have to be neck deep in the world of skateboarding to understand it.
What this does is leave a weird impression, like when you talk to a scooter kid’s dad at a Skatepark and he drops some bizarrely spot on reference to Animal Chin from when he skated as a kid. There’s a feeling that this thing should perfectly speak to your sensibilities, but falls short and disappoints in some really obvious areas that seem strange.
Skate City also really feels like a mobile game that has been ported to console. Some people may take this as an insult, but it isn’t meant as one! This is fine, especially given the game’s extremely generous price (£9.99), but obviously console and mobile are two very different beasts. Game design and graphical fidelity often differs between the systems to take advantage of each system’s better traits.
What I mean by this is that, on console, Skate City isn’t the prettiest game – it was clearly a game designed for smaller screens, with large UI buttons on the game’s menus, and the simple control scheme could transfer to a mobile platform fairly well. It’s also a game that is perfect for a quick 5 minute pick up and play – something that benefits the mobile player more than the console player. Therefore, on Xbox One, where I played it, it doesn’t land as well as games like OlliOlli or SkaterXL.
I also encountered some unusual visual bugs: my skater was bright pink in the skate shop, and certain hairstyles freak out and look totally broken. I’m unsure if these are Xbox One only bugs, but none of them stopped me from playing the game, and in time I imagine developers Snowman will get round to fixing these in a patch. These are all minor things, however, and my main issue with the game is that I just didn’t find it very satisfying to play.
If you are looking for a great skateboarding game that will hook you for hours, this likely isn’t it. It lacks the staying power of its competitors and you would be better off digging into SkaterXL or OlliOlli depending on which side of the realism fence you fall. It’s a great distraction for a couple of hours, or as a quick 5 minute game, but for that experience you are best to play this on Apple Arcade or Nintendo Switch. On that platform, Skate City is absolutely ideal, but on consoles, you’re best off steering clear of this one.
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