Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. This week the list gets a big shake-up courtesy of the Skate series, honest-to-goodness sports games requiring true technical prowess to master. So like Devil May Cry with a board, right?
#42. SKATE (series), by Chris Hepburn
Freedom is something all humans strive for, and skateboarding is a leading way to do so. The Skate series captures this feel of freedom perfectly while remaining more rewarding than most games in the genre. The games give players the freedom to explore and shred any location, from the simple curbs of a street to the absurd and huge skate parks throughout the city.
Each title in the series expands on what is offered to the player from the previous. The second iteration allows players to dismount their board and reach new locations to do “sick tricks.” The third title gives players the ability to drop skatepark items anywhere in the world to customize each spot. In addition, the game gives players freedom in how they wipe out with the Hall of Meat mechanics and also the ability to record their actions as skateboarders do.
The power of Skate is that they do not make performing tricks a simple press of a button; players have to use some dexterity with the analogue stick and account for physics making each successful trick or line feel more rewarding. Games such as the Tony Hawk franchise allow complex tricks and unrealistic combos at the push of a button, losing its substance, while Skate tries to be far more realistic.
In order to land a grind, the player needs to accurately jump on to the obstacle and position the board in a way to do the specific trick they want. Furthermore, they must land with wheels pointing forward or they will wipe out, akin to real life. This care to the dexterity and physics makes the game more difficult than the arcade-like button mashers but makes doing a backflip or a few tricks feel far more rewarding than the acclaimed McTwist trick at the push of a button.
Landing a trick after multiple failed attempts can make players feel accomplished as a real skateboarder would. The dexterity of the analogue stick and control over the character’s physics creates a challenge for landing just right. Killing both normal and unrealistic spots is a joy with great in-game cinematography, creating a dramatic look which allows players to easily see the board as well as the obstacles ahead of them.
Players can place a pin anywhere they can stand and then recall to the area at the push of a button, making tricks or runs easier to retry. Skate keeps a rewarding system of allowing players to jump into any area and try a trick with the ability to quickly get back to their desired starting point.
The story and challenges take full advantage of the rewarding yet challenging systems the game has in place, asking players to think creatively to achieve large scores on difficult areas. Creativity is a pillar in skateboarding, both in the real world and in-game, and this shows within the Skate series. Each area can be tackled in a multitude of ways—no one line exists, but an area can be picked and prodded or even customized to the player’s liking.
When doing tricks becomes boring, the game gives players many areas where they can do long downhill or traversal sections, allowing them to skillfully reach new areas in different ways, doing tricks and going fast. With the placement respawn system, players can tackle runs multiple times in bigger and better ways.
The Skate series is not known for its story, which focuses on the player becoming a famous skateboarder, but a simple narrative is all that is needed. The mechanics help enforce the feeling of becoming famous because of the high skill ceiling the game has, continuously forcing the player to become better and finding new ways to accomplish challenges.
In most games, players wish for more freedom to do what they want and be able to tackle the situation in a various amount of ways, and anyone looking for that should look no further than the Skate series. Players can customize their character from head to toe and even how their skateboard functions.
Fans of the series have been clamouring for a fourth instalment because no game has been able to encapsulate the rewarding feeling and freedom of play like the Skate series has. Borderlining on simulator aspects, the title has gained a large following and converted many from the Tony Hawk franchise because of how it makes players feel. Being able to overcome challenges by hard work gives players a drive to continue—a sense of accomplishment rather than the easiness of arcade sports games that lose impact on what is happening. Skate incorporated this feeling into the three main pillars of the game: traversal, tricks, and wiping out. Thinking creatively and being able to tackles areas in a multitude of ways has brought players back time and again just to explore the wonderful playground of the digital world.
Hopefully, EA will hear the fans cry for a sequel and bring back the freedom in a new entry, pushing the envelope and driving progress in the genre. On the other end of the spectrum, the new upcoming title Sessions can, again hopefully, take what EA left off with and continue the as a true spiritual successor to the franchise.
AN ENTIRE GENRE
Since the age of the PlayStation 2, or earlier, gamers have had to come to terms with a process of coming an going that follows that of the film industry: the life cycle of genres. For many years, games and cinema were intertwined in nerd pop culture, and perhaps they are still much more so than people give them credit for. To wit: the profile of skateboarding was much higher when Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater hit the market, even showing up in popular movies. When Skate arrived, skateboarding had dipped in popularity, but compared with today it was still relatively well-exposed.
Since then, the industry has seen a single series of 2D sidescrolling skateboard games, OlliOlli and OlliOlli 2. Like the genre of film westerns before it, the genre of skateboarding games is for all intents and purposes dead. Unfortunately, a medium as young as video games simply has not had to experience genre death as much as others; though it happens. The real-time strategy (RTS) genre, is likewise in sleep mode but seems to be taking tentative steps toward re-emerging, with plenty of indie and mid-level strategy games seeing moderate success on Steam. Perhaps one of the upcoming Dune games will even assist in doing so.
The aforementioned Sessions, after its Kickstarter success, has a bright future if it can access even a small fraction of Skate‘s audience from back in the day. Even should the game fail, hope will remain—in the meantime, other action games do their best to include the best features of skateboarding games, from the rail grinding in Sunset Overdrive to the tricky combo-systems in Devil May Cry 5.
Don’t forget to come back for next week’s game in our list, with another big series—perhaps the biggest we have tackled so far. In the meantime, why not join in the conversation either here or on our Community Discord? Any video game genres that you wish were not sleeping, like the RTS or skateboarding genres? Do you follow any genres that actually have come back, thanks to a recent success story? As always, you can also follow OnlySP on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.