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Skater XL

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Sports
Developer: Easy Day Studios
Release Date: July 28, 2020

About Joseph Doyle

Joe has been known to have two hands with which to both play games and write reviews. When his hands are not doing those, he will put books, musical instruments, and other fun things in them.


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PS4 Review - 'Skater XL'

by Joseph Doyle on Sept. 14, 2020 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Skater XL is an evolution in skateboarding games, where you will experience unparalleled board control and responsiveness while you skate legendary real-world skate spots.

Some of the most widely played video games of the early- to mid-2000s were Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and Underground series. Kids were going out in droves to buy skateboards that would sit idle in their garages once they figured out that skateboarding was tough. When Tony Hawk games started to turn sour (looking at you, Ride), EA's Skate scooped up the market and made a similarly wonderful trilogy of skateboarding games. Since the early aughts, that market has largely been dry — and no, Tony Hawk Pro Skater 5 doesn't count. Armed with decades of knowledge, Easy Day Studios has stepped up to fill the void with Skater XL, a new take on skateboarding in terms of controls and gameplay. In a bold attempt of innovating, Skater XL puts a lot of effort into flipping the status quo of skating games on its head with limited success.

After what could be best described as a spartan tutorial, Skater XL throws you right into the thick of it at the high school-turned-skate park. "Islands on the Coast" by Band of Horses blares in the background while you explore the campus, which is adorned with bowls, picnic tables and rails — the whole kit and kaboodle. The main mode is a skateboard-based sandbox game with a half-dozen levels. There are no points, no goals ... nothing. Those who appreciate explorative games and want to do a deep dive into the world may find this intriguing, but this is quite the departure for those who are attuned to the Tony Hawk and Skate franchises.

Pushing further against the grain, Skater XL adopts a unique yet burdensome control scheme. Tony Hawk set the standard by attributing trick types to face buttons, whereas Skate flipped the script by attributing feet and body to the right and left analog sticks, respectively. Skater XL innovates by mapping each of your skater's feet to its own analog stick, utilizing a lot of stick-flicking to perform ollies, kickflips, heelflips, etc.

While other skateboarding games go for intuitive controls, Easy Day Studios opted for more precise inputs, leading the player to struggle to figure out what they're doing unless directly instructed. They attempt to do this in Challenges mode, but it makes the game feel like Street Fighter meets Simon Says. The game shows you how to complete each challenge, which you can cheese by doing the trick without moving half of the time, but I digress. The title has a controller UI overlay that shows the player exactly what they're inputting on their controller, just so they can understand what they're even doing. This mode is almost necessary to play the game, which then begs the question: What is the point?

Free roaming is only rewarding in a skateboarding game when you have a mastery of how to navigate the levels. When the game's controls are so off-putting and confusing that they demand a UI that takes up 10% of the screen, the skill requirement is too high. This skateboarding game doesn't fill the player with enough intrigue and wonder to justify its "Have at it!" philosophy. When you add missed inputs and persistent glitches — your player flinging themselves off boards, flying straight through the surroundings — Skater XL is a bother to interact with.

The aesthetics in Skater XL give it a healthy dose of panache but are largely lopsided in terms of quality. To start off with the positives, the lighting is nice. You can see and almost feel the different times and environments. The settings are expansive; there's a level that's basically a mega ramp, which has wonderful wood textures and reflections of the sun beating down. The surrounding desert, which is adorned with dusty foliage perched upon red hills, adds character to this level. From reflections on metal bars to the dinginess of the textures in the skate park, attention was clearly paid to the environments and their appearance, and it showcases the nostalgic wanderlust that Easy Day Studios wishes to inspire in their players.

The skater you control looks rough, though. Even adorned in all of the latest skating brands, the person you control is pretty janky. This is best represented when your character is off their board for a trick or crashing, leading them to embrace both anti-gravity and rigor mortis at the same time. When you enter the character customizer, you're greeted by static, gaunt, and lifeless faces. Further, the character customization for women is markedly limited, especially in the pants and shoes departments. On top of the lack of any notable female skaters in the game, this make this customizer feel like an afterthought: a place to feature popular skate brands for embedded marketing. While the lion's share of what you see in the game is on the pretty side, this attention to detail is lacking in other departments of the visuals.

In terms of audio, Skater XL offers a solid, albeit antiquated selection. No sound effects are notable, for better or for worse. You get the standard selection of wheels scratching against the pavement, metal pangs from grinds, the slap of the deck against the ground, etc. The music choices for the background playlist are very interesting, though. Easy Day Studios made a solid selection, including the aforementioned Band of Horses, along with Animal Collective, Getter, etc. This blend of electronic, hip hop, and rock suits the aesthetic and feeling well. Songs like "My Girls" provide a chill, twinkly ride, Modest Mouse gives off twangy, jingling energy that leaves you wistful of the small community experience, and Built to Spill, Silversun Pickups, and Westkust pump up the player. While all tonally relevant to the skating vibe, one couldn't and shouldn't say that this music is relevant when much of it is at least five years old. Skateboarding is a young person's game, so shouldn't the music reflect that? For now, I'll happily listen to Sam Herring growl at me while I skate around (Future Islands is really good, y'all).

In sum, Skater XL tries to fill a void in the world of skateboarding video games by offering a valiant blend of the familiar and innovative. The music and aesthetic are warm and welcoming to build a carefree experience for the player. The settings are bright, crisp, and appealing, but the controls and game layout that Easy Day Studios decided to embrace seems misguided. The freedom to explore and create your own lines may be liberating for some, but the lack of direction can leave players cold. Most sandbox games offer something tangible to work toward, to build, to interact with, etc. This same sort of goal isn't in Skater XL, which makes the experience feel blasé. While the game's website touts that there are no specific inputs for tricks as a selling point, this sort of freedom is a nasty combination of overwhelming and undefined. Games generally work when the player is either presented with goals to reach or a world to explore, but Skater XL doesn't provide enough of either to be a fulfilling experience.

Score: 6.0/10

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