Skater XL is a skateboarding game that will constantly test the dexterity and coordination of your thumbs in one of the most challenging simulation experiences you’ll pick up this year.
Like many sims, Skater XL will require your full and undivided attention as you attempt to ollie, shove-it and kickflip your way around skateboarding environments with almost perfect conditions. There no trace of pesky pedestrians or irate security guards as you grind the courthouse steps or trick some parked cars in the high school parking lot. Skater XL is a blank canvas which becomes entirely the game you make it.
It’s a very stripped back experience. The game has no career mode, no timer, no multiplayer and a basic selection of trick objectives which can be manually selected from the in-game menu. Tricks are tight and tidy when you can pull them off. The margins for successfully nailing your intended move are razor thin and the payoffs are just as slim. Time and patience are required to develop your skills so that you can string together multiple tricks. Your reward is to remain upright, the penalty is instantly turning your body into a crash test dummy with some fairly decent ragdoll physics.
The controls in Skater XL aren’t intuitive, you will have to make your way carefully through the tutorials to understand how it all works. Left and right sticks control the corresponding feet of your avatar, and it takes some time to get used to. They’ll be used for almost everything that you’ll do in the game, which is both comfortable and limiting. There will be more than a fair number of spills as you instinctively try to manoeuvre your way around the map before you’ve adjusted to the specific control style. There’s no button to initiate a grind either, these are engaged when you get the line and ollie correct. It’s almost like a chemical experiment, in that you have to add the right ingredients in the proper order at precisely the right time to get the reaction that you’re after. It’s a straightforward recipe, one that takes some of the fun out of the process, but leaves you with a hefty helping of satisfaction as you start to master your skills.
Skater XL has a fairly solid soundtrack to it including the likes of Modest Mouse, Band of Horses, Getter, Interpol, Future Islands, Animal Collective and the Silversun Pickups. It’s a much more laidback musical experience than you would find in Tony Hawk’s, which firmly sits in the skater punk category. The music here feels like you could glide straight off your board and slip into a cafe for eggs benedict and an almond milk avocado latte without skipping a beat. It’s a relaxing musical experience which suits the stripped back nature of the game.
Skater XL really focuses primarily on the simulation of the skateboarding experience – sometimes at the expense of everything else in the game. Background environments seem to be there as a placeholder for future graphics, menu systems are limited, and there are few to no options for altering the game experience. It’s a massive positive that the pure experience of skateboarding is satisfying enough to hold your attention without the inclusion of these other activities. It also shows that there’s plenty of room for growth in the title.
“Skater XL really focuses primarily on the simulation of the skateboarding experience.”
There are five core maps to start with, and three community developed maps at the time of launch, so you’ll need to get familiar with what’s on offer. The hope here is that more maps will become available over time. There are no giant rails or oversized ramps in sight, while the environments and backdrops are plain, but satisfyingly full of realistic rails, ramps and space to perfect your skills. You won’t be pulling off a super ollie or grinding the length of the Staples Centre, which suits the realism of the physics and the style of game. You’ll work out what can and can’t be achieved and then you’ll push the limit to attempt the impossible.
In the most appropriate analogy we can think of, Skater XL is akin to a plain doughnut. No cinnamon or frosting or fancy toppings, just doughnut. Sure, it’s doughy, delectable and doughnut shaped, but when you’re finished with the tasty treat, you’d like a little more. For comparison, the Skate series doughnut is coated with powdered sugar, Session is an original glazed treat, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater is a chocolate coated monster with sprinkles and popping candy. There are many delicious offerings in the skateboarding genre, and there’s most assuredly one that will suit your taste buds.
Skater XL is available now on PS4 and Xbox One.