This Vaporwave Skateboarding Game Is An Impressive Love Letter To The Sport

This Vaporwave Skateboarding Game Is An Impressive Love Letter To The Sport

Before any of the in-your-face vaporwave aesthetic of Skate Story has a chance to overflow my senses, I am struck by something surprising—the sound of skateboard wheels rolling across a slightly gravely surface. It sounds exactly like skateboarding should. It’s a small detail but one that immediately makes me feel that, despite all the visual flair and absurd story at play, the core of this indie skateboarding game is a deep love for every aspect of the sport. The rest of the demo equally surprises me with intricate but not over-the-top mechanics. Skate Story was one of my standout games from the Tribeca Film Festival’s games selection and it’ll make you fall in love with skateboarding.

All I really knew about Skate Story before my hands-on demo, which consists of the game’s first chapter, was that it is a skating game starring a glass protagonist jumping over flowing obstacles while in Hell. Normal stuff for a skateboarding game, right? When I start my demo, I do get some of the normal stuff: it teaches me how to turn, slide, and push the board forward to gain speed.

When Skate Story does finally teach me how to do a trick it’s a simple ollie, something you’ve probably done a million times without thought in a game like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. The in-game text talks up the trick, saying how fundamental it is to all of skating, and eventually teaches me to hold the controller bumper and press a button. I do a little hop and it feels good. I mean that both mechanically and just as a reward—I feel accomplished for doing something so minor.

Image: Devolver Digital

That extends to all of Skate Story’s tricks. The first chapter only teaches me three and they all have a button combo to execute, with extra jump height added if timed properly. None of it is as flashy as most of today’s skateboarding games are. Skate Story offers short tutorial screens for each trick, which show you a visual of how a skater’s feet move on the skateboard to accomplish it. It’s completely needless since you aren’t actually doing it, but it’s clearly about showing a love for the little aspects of skating.

During an interview after I had played the demo, developer Sam Eng (who showed up to the demo with a skateboard in-hand) referred to the flow state of skating and how the game seeks to capture that vibe. “It’s almost like a dance,” Eng says. (If it’s a dance it also has the perfect music to move to thanks to indie band Blood Cultures, which adds to the already amazing sonic profile of the game.)

For Eng, things like the tutorial videos teach the player a bit about real-life skating. “I want at the end of the game for people to feel like ‘maybe I can skate’.” That’s one of the reasons you don’t see the glass skater in the game doing any wild triple flips and twists while getting massive air. It just doesn’t feel true to the skating experience, especially Eng’s personal experience. “I can’t do crazy fucking shit,” he admitted.

Image: Devolver Digital

Even while there is an almost holy reverence for the act of skating, Skate Story also parodies society’s perception of skate culture. The entire game’s premise is a joke about how skaters are delinquent, as you are a glass demon skateboarder who is trapped in Hell but wants to eat the moon. At one point you are sentenced to imprisonment for the crime of skateboarding, which a floating bust of an ancient Greek philosopher notes is a “sin beyond sin.”

This all comes together by the end of the chapter (the full game will have nine chapters to represent the nine circles of hell from Dante’s Divine Comedy). The player must face off against the philosopher statue in a test of skating skill. It’s a boss battle basically, but it’s won by stringing together tricks to deal damage. But even though there was a time limit and I was ostensibly in a fight, the only thing in my head was how I could string together the perfect combo of tricks that would feel smooth and look cool. Despite the vaporwave aesthetic, giant statue heads, and giant moons waiting to be eaten by demons, I came away from Skate Story feeling incredibly at peace. That’s that flow state Eng talked about.

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