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I’ve Never Been This Frustrated. Yanya Caballista: City Skater Review

Yanya Caballista came out in 2001, from Koei, who made Steep Slope Sliders back in the 90s, which a lot of people love. This game was released to mixed reviews, like a 7.5 from EGM, and a 4 from IGN.  

But it has some really interesting concepts. First is the actual gameplay. You don’t just get a high score, you actually have to fight these monsters called Gawoo. You literally blow their minds with amazing skate tricks, but they’re color coded as to which tricks impress them. So you have to hold a long grab or spin, or do flip tricks.

The other interesting concept is the fingerboard accessory. You would clip it on to your thumbsticks on the PS2 controller and hold it sideways and steer it around and pop the tail by clicking in the thumbstick. I have wanted to play this since it came out, but I just never had the opportunity.

When I decided to play this for the channel, I had no idea how big of a mistake I was making.

My first idea was to emulate it on my computer, and just rig up some kind of controller setup that would let me play it the way it was designed. The PCSX2 website claims it’s playable, but it’s not. If you change the Emotion Engine recomplier option, it’ll run okay. I got maybe 20 frames per second and I just built a pretty beefy new computer. If you have a 2080ti graphics card, it might run okay. But it didn’t work for me.

So I bought a copy of the actual game. But guess what. Buying the game complete with manual doesn’t mean it comes with the skateboard. It doesn’t go in the case. The game actually came in a box that held the game and the skateboard separately. So I rigged something else up instead. I took a crappy wooden fingerboard from china, put griptape on it, and put it down on the sticks so the grip would help hold it. Then I tied it down using some string. I didn’t have string, but I had some leftover clothesline, so I spent a half hour unbraiding enough to tie it down.

The other issue I had was that I don’t have a PS2. So naturally I had to go buy one. If you didn’t know, PS2s are getting expensive these days. But now that I’ve got few bucks a month coming in on Patreon, I decided to spend much more than double what people have donated to buy a system and controller and memory card.

Another mistake I made was actually trying to play it. And here’s how that went.

So you fire up the game, and it wants you to do a 44 part tutorial. Each section has 10 training missions and then a final test.

Here’s how the game actually controls. You can do everything with the skateboard. Slide it up to push. This controls how much air you’ll get on ramps, but doesn’t seem to have anything to do with how fast your character is actually moving. Seriously, you move around at a crawl. When you push, you get a burst of speed for a second and then slow down. See this speed meter move down here? The only way to clear gaps is to reach the ramp when it’s full for a split second. 

Clicking in L3, which is the tail, will make you ollie. R3 will make you turn around. In the air, L3 will make you do a flip trick, and R3 will make you do a grab. Which grab? Which flip? None of your business. It’ll just do something.

Twisting the board will do absolutely nothing. On very very rare occasions, on a blue moon when Venus is in line with Jupiter and the cosmic rays shine down and work their way into your PS2, you might spin. But it’s touchier than I can ever explain.

And that’s it. So how do you do different tricks? Timing. Here’s how to do a successful jump.

When you Ollie, you can pop the tail again and do a flip. If you wait until the trick is done, you can pop it again and do another one and juggle them together.

There are also early flips and late flips. Late flips almost make sense. Spin and come to a stop, then do a flip trick, and you might get a 720 late flip, but 99% of the time, you’ll just do a 720 kickflip. 

How about an early flip? That one is just nonsense. It means you have to start the flip before you get to 90 degrees in the spin. And with how fast you spin, that’s seriously like 3 frames of leeway. It’s almost impossible. This tutorial stage took me forever.

Oh, and don’t forget to time out your pushes perfectly! Even in training, you have to ollie right when that gauge is full to have any chance of clearing the gaps they give you. Are you having fun yet?

How about spins? If you can get a spin to work, you can just hold it until you land. It doesn’t care if you land sideways at all, which is good. But every now and then, you’ll spin a couple times and then just stop dead. I don’t know why this happens. But when it does, you’re stuck. You can’t do another flip trick, you can’t do a grab, you can’t start spinning again. It’s over. I don’t know what causes this, but it’s the worst.

Doing tricks on vert is almost impossible because of this. Here I am in the second to last level, and there are these evil aliens I’m trying to murder at the top of this quarter pipe. I somehow, on every single attempt, I just do a single trick and I’m stuck. You’ll see my wobble back and forth in the air a lot as I desperately try to get my character to do something. But it never works.

There are grabs too. You just click the nose down and you hold a grab for a while and it tells you how long you held it. It’s fine. But again, if you don’t do it at the exact frame it wants you to do it, nothing will happen. Sometimes you can do a flip and then a grab. But most of the time, you just lose control and do nothing.

So here’s how an average jump works. Roll up to the kicker and make sure your speed is at 2. Right before you get to it, push one more time, so you’re at your maximum speed when you roll off the end. Click in the tail. Once you’re in the air, you can flip, grab, or spin. But it’s so ungodly picky in a way I could never figure out. Do you have to pop and spin at the exact same time? Can you spin a tiny bit before you flip? Supposedly that’s how the early flips work, right? How about if you flip before you start spinning? I have absolutely no clue.

At the end of the second tutorial section, there’s a final test that’s supposed to prove you’re ready for the game. It gives you a course with some disgusting, hateful invaders that you’re trying to destroy. They’re in a completely linear path, and if you don’t kill one of them first try, you have to do another whole circuit of the course, but you probably don’t have time for that.

Another big issue is what happens if you miss a jump. It just takes you to the closest rideable land, not before the jump you missed. So you can easily mess up a jump and then have no chance to go back and do it again because you can’t jump back the way you came without a ramp.

I’ll tell you right now, this tiny tutorial level took me 45 minutes. No exaggeration. I gave up for a day and then came back to finally beat it, considering all the time and money and effort I put into just setting this game up.

So getting the first couple Gawoo aren’t too complicated. It’s still hard though, considering that nothing wants to work. Maybe it’s my makeshift controller. Maybe it’s the incredibly specific timing that you need, and the difficulty of clicking in joysticks in a frame-perfect way. But I could get these guys about one in five tries.

I know what you’re thinking. Can’t you just do stationary tricks in the Gawoo’s influence circle? No. Ollies don’t work stationary. And if you try to start the trick by him, you’ll end up in the water.

But the real challenge was the next part. All I have to do is make this jump. I didn’t quite understand the speed gauge yet. It told me to push before the kicker, but that doesn’t really mean anything. Pushing three times gets you to full speed, right? Nope, you still have to push a split second before you ollie. And this is where I learned that. I missed this jump so many times that I actually turned off the system and gave up for a while. But I soldiered on. After a lot of experimenting, I figured out the timing to a reasonable extent and I started being able to clear it about 15% of the time.

What’s up there? Two more equally hard jumps, of course.

When you go around the corner, there’s a hate-filled demonic trespasser at the top of the jump, and one at the bottom. As long as you touch their influence circle during your trick, it counts. So you should be able to get them both in one air. But no matter what I did on this jump, I only did a single flip. Every now and then I’d get lucky and maybe spin a little. But this jump, more than any other, was just impossible. After that one, you have a gap that lands out on an island with two more of these jerks. If you try to spin and fail, which is exactly what happens every time you spin, you’ll steer so that you don’t land in both of their circles. So you end up riding around the island and trying to squeeze in some extra tricks to kill them.

What if you didn’t do everything perfectly? You throw yourself off the island and hope you respawn somewhere helpful. You might get another shot at the second to last jump, but you’re also running out of time. Why are there timers on training levels?? Even the regular training ones have a timer that makes you hit retry on a menu after you spend 5 minutes trying to do a 360. But this is just hateful.

I’ve never felt so hated before.. Well that’s not true. I’ve never been this hated by a game developer before trying to play this.

But I somehow finally beat it.

The rest of the training was for a different mode, and for advanced techniques. I can’t handle the basic techniques, so I skipped that.

This is the point where I realized that I had made my last major mistake. I went into the options menu because I realized I hadn’t muted the music for recording yet, and that’s where I saw the controller mode. Instead of the skateboard, you hit X and triangle for nose and tail, and you steer with the D Pad and spin with R1 and L1.

Honestly, I wanted to play the game in the way it was intended, but after that absolute nightmare, I very happily turned it on. Now it doesn’t take a cosmic fluke to get a spin to work. It actually happens a good 1% of the time. I’m 3% more consistent with flips and grabs. But the main issue is the timing, not the way the controls work exactly, so this only helped a little. But it might have saved me an ulcer or two on that last section.

So how does the actual career mode work?

It’s basically just hunting down and slaughtering your peaceful alien neighbors, but there are a couple differences from the training mode. There are coins you can collect. If you get enough of them, or one of the big ones, you’ll get a time bonus. This will be really important later down the line.

There are also grind rails now. These don’t do anything. You don’t get extra points for combos or anything. They’re basically just there so you can lock in and get the coins slightly easier.

Once you mercilessly explode all of the dudes in the main area, some barriers come down and you have a new area to do the same stuff in. I don’t really mind this concept. In theory, they could have just left the whole area unlocked from the beginning, but this at least helps you focus and not miss anything before moving out of the area. They also put your victims on the map, which is helpful. What happens if you get almost to the end and run out of time? Do you restart at that newest area you unlocked? No, I think you already know that you don’t. You start from the beginning. Not a big deal in the first few levels, but these might end up taking you ten minutes per attempt, and that adds up.

Anyway, if you’re lucky and your tricks work often enough to complete your regional genocide, a boss will come out. It’s probably the mother of all the creatures you slew. 

Anyway, you just follow it around and do tricks. It’s really not hard. I don’t think I ever failed a boss battle. Sometimes they have different obstacles, like bombs that can detonate and take away time. But they’re not too terrible.

The bombs in general are though. Look how tight this is! This level was torture and they just did this to make you suffer.

After the first couple levels, you start to realize how horrible the timing thing is. There are a lot of jumps and stuff that don’t work. Here’s an example. There’s a building in the corner here. I thought I could go in and leave through another door, but I can’t. You have to skate along this tiny little ledge. You can’t grind it. This isn’t Tony Hawk. You can only grind grind rails that were designed for it. Just because the game is called City Skater doesn’t mean you’re some kind of hooligan who breaks the rules and grinds whatever he wants.

But if you miss that, you fall, and you have to skate ALLLLL the way around at 3 miles per hour to get back up there. If this happens to you a couple times, you might as well restart because there’s no way you’ll have enough time to finish the rest of the stage. And this section unfortunately ends with a vert ramp. These are basically impossible to time out. I don’t know when to ollie. Even at full speed, you barely get to the coping. Do you ollie when you’re about to run out of speed? Do you try to wait until you reach the top and ollie at a standstill when your character is about to turn around? Do you push again halfway up the transition? Do you give up and unplug the PS2 and put it in the garbage? I never figured that out.

Oh, you may be wondering why I’m kick turning all the time. I’d like to know that too. My character just turns a little bit all the time for no reason. Other games work fine so I don’t think it’s my controller. 

This is the last level I got to. There’s one more after it in this mode, but I never beat this one. I think it’s physically impossible for a human. The idea that this shipped with the intention that people could beat this with the skateboard controller really says something about the mental state of the people who made this. It’s not even the last level, and it’s on regular difficulty!

OK, so there’s a new type of alien here. Every now and then they add something new, like ones with a smaller field of influence because their vision is bad or whatever. This time, it just says “Normal tricks don’t work.” Um, hello? As the guy who’s going to play this level over and over for hours, I would definitely like to know what abnormal tricks I have to do to kill them. Is it late flips? Early flips? Airs with spins, flips and grabs all together? I don’t know. I looked up a strategy guide and it said that it’s just a really big trick that kills them all at once, instead of hurting their life bar. But that’s just some guy on the internet who probably barely knows any more than me.

Earlier in the game, you could just nickel and dime them to death. Since it’s almost impossible to do anything other than a straight heelflip on vert, you’ll find yourself doing 10 heelflips to kill an enemy. 

But now, you’re required to get a really good trick all at once. And with the timing of this level, you have to do it all perfectly first try. The first couple aren’t that tough, relatively speaking. This guy over here is hard because you have to jump from box to box to get into his view. This one over here is off of a grind rail. If you’re lucky, you can clear over to the other tower and get the coin, and kill him at the same time. But since you need a really high score for him, you’ll probably have to air to flat and then come back for the coin later.

The walkthrough I did straight up said that you have to do this perfectly first try, or you need to start over. There isn’t enough time later in the level if you waste a second here. That’s probably true, even though I never got through it. OK, so the next area is down by the beach over here. There are some simple murders you can do on the way, but then there’s this stupid jump. It’s a ramp with gaps in it that you have to ride up and then you get a shot at killing these two guys.

But they forgot to actually test this. Keep in mind, you’ve been conditioned to push right before a jump for 4 levels now. But if you push here, you’ll actually catch air off of this chunky polygon geometry, and instead of ollieing, you’ll just do a heelflip because you’re already a millimeter in the air, when you were expecting to ollie. With lots and lots of determination and practice, you’ll be able to get up there and throw an air at these guys. They like spins and flips, so go back and forth with those for a while. Don’t fall off the cliff or you’ll definitely run out of time. Just do it perfectly.

Next is a guy up on an awning. You have to skate all the way back around the level to get to him. There’s no way to get up here from the beginning of the track. You’re required to do it this way. Try to ollie up there. Of course, the ramp is too close, and you’ll bounce off. ‘Bounce’ is the wrong word. You just reverse directions somehow? Anyway, try to get up there and do a steezy trick to blow his brains out all over the beach.

This unlocks a gate at the beginning of the level that you have to skate all the way back to. And this is where the game gets impossible. I beat this part over and over and over and I finally did it almost perfectly with a ton of time left over. I made my way back to the new area.

There’s a big path that it wants you to skate through to waste time. But the first alien you run into is right here. And I don’t know what it is about this ramp, but I absolutely cannot do any good tricks off of it. Gun to my head, give me 60 seconds to do a good spinning combo off of it, and I’ll just use that time to call the coroner and write a will for what I want to happen to my corpse. Which, by the way, is to be thrown off a mountain and eaten by wolves or fire ants or whatever. But I wouldn’t even use the time to try the trick because it’s impossible.

With several minutes though, I’ll eventually get it, and the next 4 guys are here chilling on the quarter pipe.

This part really is impossible. I got here quite a few times and failed every single one of them. Again, because of the timing on vert, I can’t do anything other than a plain heelflip. These guys are really high level and have to be killed in one hit. Sometimes I get incredibly lucky and a spin works. Still just the single flip though. Even a 1260 heelflip isn’t enough to hurt them. Other than this punk over here. 

Eventually I’ll run out of time. And here’s the disgusting thing. I noticed level 4 and level 5 areas in this stage. And then there’s the boss too. So I only got about halfway through this. And there’s also another level after this one! And a hard mode! And a flip side!

What’s the flip side about? I don’t know. But this section of the career is called the frontside. Could they have been clever and called the rest of it the backside? Yes, but of course they didn’t. 

The flip side, from what I understand, is the same levels, but the enemies are in different locations and there are more of them. You don’t need to kill all of them to beat the level, but you eventually need to so you can unlock the final stage. Whatever.

I really can’t explain how bad the controls are here, no matter how you try to play it. The timing is just way too hard. You know how in Tony Hawk, you can hit R1 to spin, and you just spin? Even if it’s really early after you ollie, or maybe even right before you ollie? Yeah, this isn’t that! You hit X to ollie, but you can’t still be pushing, even though you have to push at the last second. And you have to spin before you start to do a trick? I guess? But I just never got the hang of it, and I really really tried. I can see how this game could have been with better controls. But even so, it’s bad. Put in multiple tricks with directional buttons and a flip, and make the points based on trick variety instead of different impossible timing combos, and this game could have been about a 5 out of 10. But as it is, it’s complete trash.

I give the game a little bit of credit for the concept. It’s got a unique gameplay style, a unique control scheme, unique characters and story… It’s just that all of that stuff is terrible. I would have rather had a cheap Tony Hawk clone.

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