Help, I can’t stop playing Skate City, a lo-fi skateboarding game that landed on consoles and PC yesterday following a period of exclusivity on Apple Arcade.
I’m of the belief that, when it comes to games based on action sports, players fall into one of two camps. You’ve got your players who favour impossible tricks and million-point combos, core components of games like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and SSX. And then you have those who gravitate more toward realism, a hallmark of games like Skate and Steep. (Before you tell me Steep is unrealistic, just watch any video showing uber-popular French freeskier Candide Thovex in his element, or, heck, out of it.) Skate City exists firmly in the latter camp — which means it’s extremely my shit.
Skate City bears a remarkable resemblance to Skate, a game series I’ve sunk more hours into than any other. In Skate City, as in Skate, you use the joysticks rather than button inputs to perform flip tricks. (I’ve been playing on Switch.) Flick the left stick up and to the left for a heelflip. Down and to the right for a three-flip. Horizontal flicks for shuv-its. The right stick, meanwhile, dictates the same moves from the nose of your board, either fakie or nollie tricks depending on your positioning. It’s not an identical controller scheme, but if you’ve played Skate, you’ll feel right at home.
Aside from the minimalist art style, the lack of an open world, and the arcade nature of its missions, the most significant difference is that Skate City is a side-scrolling game.
You can technically push Skate City to the limits — linking spins, grinds, slides, manuals, and flip tricks in a manner that would make Rodney Mullen proud — but never to the point where you need to suspend your disbelief. I’ve never spun more than 720º; you won’t find any 900s in this game. Stair sets top out around 20 steps, which is right up against the human limit of what IRL skateboarders can do. (In 2015, Aaron Homoki cleared the infamous Lyon 25, a 4.27 m-long, 6.71 m-high staircase in eastern France.) You can’t even bust out a triple kickflip in Skate City.
Playing Skate City is less about racking up the points (though, again, you can do that) and more about fine-tuning your technique. Across the three endless-scroll levels of Los Angeles, Oslo, and Barcelona, you can fall into a flow state of kickflips and noseslides, but there’s a learning curve. Learning how to pop tricks in Skate City is hard. Balancing manuals and grinds is hard. Stomping your first 360 is hard. It takes a while to acclimate to how Skate City works, but once it clicks, your brain just flips, man, and you grasp it on a Neo-like level. It’s a lot like Skate in that sense: hard to learn, easy to master.
And if the free skate mode isn’t your thing, you can angle for some direction. Each city features more than 20 challenge missions, like races or trick callouts. (“Do a kickflip,” the game literally says.) Complete these to earn points, which you can then use to buy snazzy new shirts, shoes, decks, trucks, hats, and wheels, or improve your stats. It’s easy to pick up and play in bite-sized sessions, a minute or two while you’re cooking or watching TV or patiently waiting for one of your editors to fine-tune your most recently filed blog into something that somewhat resembles a readable document. As such, it’s become my “everything” game, which I play a little bit of among the other ceaseless demands of life.
Am I just lavishing praise on Skate City because, as I punch this text up, I’m sitting on top of some of the global leaderboards? Please. Who would ever deign to such a haughty, arrogant, self-centered act of hubri-
OK, maybe a little bit.