A Decent Line

Skateboarding and video games have enjoyed a mostly stable relationship throughout their decades of teamwork.  The early days of Skate or Die and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater dazzled up and coming skating enthusiasts while the modern blend of indie darlings like OlliOlli and the AAA throwdowns of Skate and…well THPS have kept the wheels turning for over 3 decades.  Anyone that’s gone on a skateboard can tell you that shit is hard.  And like most sports, the schmucks who can’t huff it would rather blast 900s with the touch of a button then hit the bricks for years of training.  Hi, it’s me, I’m schmucks.

So when the introduction of Skate first hit the ground rolling in 2007 I was absolutely hooked into its style of play: using the sticks to flick specific tricks instead of inputting combos gave it a dose of realism that was weird in the more arcade-centered genre.  The love of the line, where hitting a kickflip over a set of stairs felt like a bigger accomplishment than the million point combos of other games was such an interesting and gratifying experience.  I loved the personal and human connection to skateboarding’s art and to give it the affection it needed, without all the crazy bells and whistles, was a lovely breath of fresh air.

Fast forward to 2019.  With the Skate’s main franchise dormant for nearly a decade (not to mention it’s meteoric rise to party-animal arcade mediocrity) and the rise of mobile gaming planted firmly in the competition of large scale tech companies, developers Agens and Room8 supplied the Apple Arcade with Skate City: a 2.5D love letter to the art of the trick and the thrill of the casual ride.  Its success during its exclusivity with Apple allowed a launch to consoles and PC 18 months later, and my two left feet were ready to jump in to feel like a proper skater again.

Skate City at first glance feels like if the devs at Skate were allowed a mobile pseudo-sequel without having EA over their shoulder.  Tricks are done by moving either the left or right stick in one of 8 directions to load your trick, then releasing to ollie and complete the trick.  Later in your playthrough, special tricks like grabs and more technical flip tricks can be unlocked and accessed by pressing the bumpers and selecting a trick like normal.  Spins can also be added to your tricks by tapping the left or right bumpers in the air.  While the amount of tricks may take a nosedive without the inclusion of quarter and half turns for extra trick storage, it is a very easy game to pick up and enjoy.

Tricks can be linked together with manuals and grinds, manuals via Left and Right Trigger and grinds with a bevy of options with presses and holds of bumpers and triggers.  These are key to keeping combos going to its 4x max since holding a grind or manual will increase your multiplier and single tricks do not supply as many points as you would imagine.  If you’re noticing a lot of overload on the button mapping, you’re not alone.  Many times I tried to pull a specific grind only to accidentally continue a combo with a manual, then bust my ass and lose that good score.  Unfortunately the more technical you get with your combos the harder the game stumbles over its own feet, which is annoying in the later challenges.

Challenges are plentiful in Skate City, as each of the three skatable cities carry 21 missions as well as 30 mini-challenges in a Free Skate mode.  Challenges range from Score Attack, to a “Simon Says” style trick event, to running away from the cops because you shouldn’t be skating there but, you know, you be skatin’.  Each challenge has your mobile game-centric 3 star progression to collect points to customize your skater and to upgrade your character and their trick knowledge.  These challenges provide some decent variety trying to link combos around pedestrians chillin’ in the streets, or correctly guessing 30 requested tricks which you will need to either do your homework or pause to look at your trick book multiple times because it’s tough.

Thankfully replaying levels is done with the press and hold of a button, but Skate City’s UI makes this button knowledge tiny and up in a corner away from the action to where I ran through almost the entire game without knowing the replay button existed.  In the long run it helped with practice, but it was kind of dumb luck I finally noticed it, and it doesn’t help Skate City’s problems when there isn’t a screen in-game that shows a mapped controller layout.

The Free Skate really shines as Skate City’s coup de grace, as lazily riding through each city line doing whatever tricks come to mind really solidifies the style of play the developer’s were shooting for.  This is both a blessing and a curse, as the 63 main missions can be completed in a couple hours, and there isn’t much more content afterward, so the freeskate is probably the last bastion of gameplay until the momentum finally runs out on Skate City’s drop-in.
And through that momentum, I enjoyed Skate City’s ride.  There’s some polish that could really smooth out the bumps that are endured on the road, and button mapping would be a godsend, but if you don’t take your time too seriously and go with the lo-fi, easy-to-play flow that permeates through Skate City’s pores you’ll have a couple hours of entertainment that is worth the ride.

Reviewed on Steam.