Author Topic: Skater XL (Switch) Review  (Read 1096 times)

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Offline Oronalex

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Skater XL (Switch) Review
« on: December 13, 2023, 10:17:57 AM »

All Skill No Frill

After being announced by Easy Day Studios in 2019, Skater XL, the popular skateboarding sim on PC, PS4 and Xbox, has officially come to Nintendo Switch. Like the Power Wash Simulators and House Flippers of the world, Skater XL translates skateboarding’s technical body mechanics into an intricate physics-based playground. Think Tech Decks, as an example–a miniature version of what we’d always envisioned when playing the Tony Hawk series or watching the X-Games. And just like those, the reality is something different entirely.

First let’s talk about what exactly Skater XL is. I wouldn’t necessarily qualify it as a video game but as more of a hobby grade simulator.  I say “hobby grade” because it’s not something you play for points and there isn’t any kind of story or progression; you are there for pure self satisfaction. A lot like real world skateboarding, Skater XL is difficult to use, it’s clunky to play and more often than not you end up on the ground–at least at first.

It takes practice–and I mean hours of practice–but what exactly are you practicing? The gameplay follows in the footsteps of the Skate series, with the analog sticks used to complete tricks, but in this case each stick represents one of your legs. So to perform an Ollie, you would need to flick the stick representing your back foot, to kick the tail down. To perform a flip trick, you'd have to flick the back foot to pop the tail, then flick the front foot in the direction for whatever trick you wanted, but all against a tight timing window akin to what you would do in real life. You use the ZL and ZR buttons to turn, and R and L buttons to perform grabs.

The grinding system is also relatively intuitive as it comes down to jumping at the proper angle to get on top of it, and moving your feet the way you want to perform a grind. So if you want to say to do a 5-0 (back truck) grind, you would jump and turn your board to get the back trick on the obstacle, then move your sticks back to keep the back weight on your tail. Same with trying to slide on your tail, but you would need to turn your body mid air to get your tail on the obstacle. Manuals and nose manuals (wheelies) are also an interesting mechanic that requires exact balance on your sticks. Moving your back foot stick slightly backwards but not all the way, just in that middle point, will trigger a manual. So the complexity really stacks, as far as doing grinds, flips and manuals, sometimes all in one sequence.

The newly introduced Grab Anywhere feature allows you to grab anywhere on your board, depending on where your weight is shifted and how you are moving the sticks. It’s a fun system to play with and can lead to some hilarious backbreaking grabs that aren’t possible for any human with a spine. There’s also a replay editor where you can create your own custom edits and eventually make your own skate video. The editor could use some more functionality, as other games in the genre offer a more robust experience.

Despite what sounds like simplicity, there’s so much more depth to what makes Skater XL such a fantastic simulator. Turning your body to get into a slide or grind is just fine, but what if you were able to turn just your hips while keeping your shoulders straight? By turning your sticks on opposing sides, you turn your legs without turning your shoulders. This move changes the style of the grind to look almost like something completely different, but it also can be used to wind your shoulders for impressive spins out. It’s an internal system that isn’t overtly explained at all, and actually one of the many systems that aren’t explained in any tutorial. Things like bumping out, shoulder winding, manual shifting, transition skating, foot catches and more are internal systems built in for your exploration if you’re willing to do some research. There are some light challenges included in the game that go over the basics but the creativity and depth are only self created, which is both to the game’s benefit and its detriment.

I think that’s what has kept me playing 600 hours on PC and 20 hours on Switch so far: the endless customization. Despite being able to do a kickflip, how you angle the sticks, how you shift your weight after the flick, how you move your legs and catch the trick are all different. My flips may look completely different from those of another player, so spending time with this game feels personal. There are only eight maps at launch (with more to come with the community mod browser) with some real world locales, but they act as sandboxes for you to play in, so the fun comes from a personal desire, and less of a guided experience.

As far as the Switch version goes, we get the full 60 FPS treatment, making for a smooth experience overall. Graphically, we take a hard hit of 540p handheld, and up to 720p when docked. This leaves some muddy looking textures, and plenty of pop in. Outside of that, playing Skater XL in handheld is a feat of its own, mostly because the sticks on the JoyCons have very small angle windows, leading to a lot of spins being added to your flip tricks accidentally. In this case, a Pro Controller is the best way to play this game. There’s also a finite number of maps at the moment. The community mod browser that is already established on other consoles is coming soon to Switch, but without it the experience is a bit more limited. I mentioned in a previous Skater XL preview that the Switch uses digital triggers, so they do not adjust their function based on the pressure being applied. They are either pressed or not. In this case, I am surprised to report that turning your character still feels good, but in the replay editor, it's impossible to make a sort of slow motion effect because you would need to feather the triggers for that. That doesn’t hinder the gameplay, but it’s worth calling out.

While I’ve evangelized the greatness of Skater XL to me personally, I still have to ask who this game is for, and the answer to that is not many. One of my early career reviews was for Tank Mechanic Simulator, and I found myself asking a similar question, never once thinking I would be the one defending such a niche piece of hobbyist software. As someone who has played anything and everything with “skateboarding” or “skater”  in the title, Skater XL has been my favorite and closest to what feels like real skateboarding. I’ve been skateboarding for roughly 22 years, and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found a similar feeling within Skater XL. Envisioning a trick in my mind, and then being able to practice it over and over until it’s absolutely perfect is exactly the experience I want from this. But that’s a personal anecdote, shared by many other skaters with the similar experience of a decade or more of dedication to the hobby. Ultimately, though, that’s not everyone; it’s a very minute subsection of the population.

I said from the beginning that Skater XL is barely a video game. It’s more of a digital representation of what it’s like being a skateboarder. Most of us don’t have an elaborate story other than being a kid with a skateboard and a curb to learn tricks off of. Skater XL provides exactly that, zero frills, no plot, barely a tutorial, and unimpressive graphics. It’s more of a dream machine for those kids in empty parking lots, but it’s not really a video game. Would I recommend Skater XL to most folks? Probably not, just like I wouldn’t recommend my own mother to step on a skateboard. As a sandbox for skaters to hone their skills, however, it’s second to none, with some Switch concessions, of course.