Skater XL has a really advanced trick system, even if it is somewhat limited. The amount of tricks is lower than most skateboarding games, but every time you do the tricks, they look different. In other words, no, there aren’t late shove its and no complies and street plants or darkslides, but you can do a 360 flip in a thousand different ways. That’s because the board is flipping with physics.
To do a kickflip, you hold down your back foot. Let go to pop, and slide your front foot left, and it’ll flip. But you can also hold down both sticks to ollie higher. You can flick up-left or down-left, and at different speeds. You can click the sticks in during the flip to catch the board with one foot or the other. You can hold your feet out and let the board flip a second or third time, if you want.
This is the biggest strength of the game. And I think it’s what will appeal most to you, as a skater. Sure, you can do a back tail in every skateboarding game on earth. But in this one, you can control HOW you do it in a really granular way. You can do a high or low ollie to get into the slide. If you use just your back foot to pull your weight back over the tail, the board will slide flat. If you use both sticks to lean back, the nose will be higher up in the air. You can twist like a shifty to get into the slide, or you can spin your shoulders. You can slide to the end and ollie out, or click the stick to unweight and drop off, or you can just ride off the end. You can spin out, twist out, shifty-style, or powerslide.
If you told 50 people to do a tailslide on the same bench in the game, they would all look different to one degree or another. That’s without adding flips or picking creative locations.
Overall, I really like the controls. The sticks are reversed in fakie and switch, and the animations for that look good. A lot of games don’t really respect your character’s stance. It’s just a mirror image either way. I get that, but I feel like this style is more authentic. There’s no confusing switch and regular in the footage you record.
And speaking of recording footage, this is a big deal in the game, and it’s important that it works. It’s a bit confusing at first, but I’m happy with it.
At any point in your gameplay, you can hit the back button, which brings up the editor. You can trim the clip, change the camera type (for some reason… just leave it on free), and you can change the field of view and add keyframes. The field of view slider is crazy. You can go from long lens, to fisheye, to crazy GoPro fisheye, to impossible fisheye. But hey, why not? I’m never going to use that, but maybe someone will come up with an interesting use for it.
Making keyframes is kind of weird. You actually have to turn keyframes off to use them. But you can scroll through the timeline, change the angle, and hit x to set a keyframe. To actually preview your animation, you have to turn keyframes back on. I don’t know why they did it this way, but it’s fine after you get used to it.
So, that’s basically all you do in the game. Skate around in levels, record footage, and share it with friends. There’s no online mode, no story mode, and only a few levels. But most of the levels they have are good. Let’s take a look at them.
First is the school. It’s got all the classic school type stuff, like benches and stairs and picnic tables. Hips, banks, all that stuff. The layout is really good. There are tons of spots and potential for lines. This might be my favorite place to skate. Pick a spot to skate, land your trick, then hit Y to place your pin somewhere else and skate there too. I could do that all day.
The next level is the big ramp. Which is the best and the worst, in certain ways.
Let’s talk about the good first.
The Most Realistic Miniramp Skating
This is the only game I’ve ever played where you can skate a miniramp like you would in real life. In most games, a mini ramp is basically a kicker. If you do a trick, you just fly out of it. In this game, you can pop early and gap up onto the coping to do a kickflip blunt, or you can pop at the last second to land back in the transition. Doing flip in flip out stalls is a lot of fun.
You can carve into different grinds, and click the sticks to pop out on either side. So you can 5-0 and pop out onto the deck, or pull it to fakie back into the ramp. No game has ever allowed you to do a 5-0 to fakie in a ramp, without it looking really weird. To be fair, it’s really hard to do it and make it look okay, but it can be done.
Vert skating kinda blows
But if one of the strengths of this game is miniramps, the vert is somehow one of the biggest weaknesses. There’s not a lot to love about it.
First, let’s look at the spins. If you ollie on transition and hold the trigger, you’ll start off incredibly slow and then eventually speed up and spin faster. That doesn’t make any sense. On street, when you’re doing 360s, it kind of makes sense, because it can look like you’re sliding out the last few degrees. But on vert, it’s clear that you’re just accelerating in the air. That doesn’t really make sense. You start fast and slow down a tiny bit because of air resistance.
Another issue is that a lot of the grabs have to be done late. Stalefishes and mutes are both done with a frontside shifty, and then you grab with either your front or back hand. It makes sense, and it’s the same thing they did in the Skate series. But here, doing a shifty is the same control as a hardflip or inward heelflip. So to safely do a stalefish, you have to ollie, wait a second, then start a shifty, then do the grab. It’s tough to make that look seamless at all.
In one of the challenges, you have to do a 900 mute. But the shifty goes against the direction of the spin, and it’s late so you can avoid doing a hardflip. So it’s not really possible to make this trick look smooth.
This wouldn’t be a problem if the game had more vert tricks to do. If there were inverts, varials, one foot grabs, fingerflips, and stuff like that, you could still come up with interesting lines.
Let’s be honest. I’m not going to spend a lot of time skating vert in a video game. So I wouldn’t care that much. But, one of the few levels in the game is a mega park with lots of vert. If this level didn’t make the cut, it wouldn’t matter that much.
Why is there a megaramp?
Speaking of the mega ramp, it’s really hard to skate. I dare you to do 5 airs in a row without something weird happening. If you ollie too soon, you hang up. Usually, it’s okay, because the game just counts that as a micro grind and you roll away. But you’re not going to film and edit like that. If your timing is a little bit off, you’ll land up on the deck. This happens a lot. If you miss the ollie completely, you fly all the way over the deck and land in the desert. This doesn’t make any sense. The ramp is fully vert. If you didn’t do anything, you’d land right by the coping. You might hang up if you straightened your legs out, but you’d at least be nearby. Ollieing will push you away from the coping a little bit so you can land safely in the transition. But in this game, ramps shoot you way out into Timbuktu, and a full force street ollie keeps you straight.
Even if you land the air, sometimes you skip a little bit and it just acts weird.
All in all, I just don’t think the vert and mega stuff feels that good.
The next level is downtown LA, which is really cool. The big draw to this level is that it’s got a ton of real life spots. There’s the Staples Center, JKOWN, the car wash bank, and even this gap to ledge. This was a big deal back in the 90s. There were a lot of tricks there, like my man Chad Muska doing a crook to fakie, and switch frontside flipping into some cops. They put the gap in, and even a cop car. This level is so cool. As someone who’s never skated in LA before, it feels like sightseeing, because the spots are familiar, but I finally get to check them out myself. It’s a lot of fun.
The only issue with the real life levels, like this one, is that they’re too easy. It’s a video game. I can go full speed and ollie waist high 100% of the time. Clearing really big gaps just isn’t hard. So that’s why I prefer the school a bit more. But they’re both really good.
Speaking of real levels, the next one is the courthouse. This is a small level, and there aren’t a ton of lines to do. It was in the beta, but it really feels like a demo level. I wish they rolled this into the LA level and just made that one even bigger.
The last official level is the ‘California skatepark’. Fun fact. After they released this level in the beta, they said they realized that real life spots weren’t that fun. For the same reasons I just talked about. There’s a rail for kids to learn their first boardslides on in a real life place. You, as the best skater in the world in a video game, don’t have that much to challenge you. You probably won’t spend much time here.
There are some official unofficial levels too. These were made by modders, and the developers promoted them to the final game, on PC and console too. That’s pretty cool. I’m hoping they keep adding new stuff. I don’t mind installing mods and getting into the nitty gritty and using weird utilities, but ultimately I want to just play on the couch with my Xbox. If they keep officially porting these fan levels, that’ll be really cool. Let’s take a look at the ones that shipped with the game.
The first of these levels is Hudland, which is a little skatepark. It looks cool, with the orange color scheme. You’ll have some good times here…. But just not a lot of them because there are only so many lines you can come up with.
Next is Streets, which is great. I wish this level was bigger too, but there are lots of details and spots that you can play around with. I hope they hire this guy to make a few more of these levels in the future.
The last one is Grant Park, which has a cool fog effect. It’s a good park! I like this one quite a bit.
Let’s talk about the challenges. These aren’t really the point of the game. The point is to just cruise around, come up with your own lines and tricks, and film them when you’re done. But I’m glad there’s something here at least.
The challenges start out basically as a tutorial. Do an ollie. Okay, now do a nollie. Do a kickflip. Now do a heelflip. Now a nollie kickflip. It’s not the most exciting stuff in the world, but they do at least put you in new spots so you can learn the levels a bit better.
It starts really basic and boring – although keep in mind that I had 29 hours logged in the beta before the game came out. You’ll find plenty difficulty later, but not in the way it was intended, and if you’re like me, you’re going to end up cheating a fair bit.
One thing that you can do in this game that’s new to skateboarding games is powerslides. But, like, a lot of them. Frontside and backside with flat, nose and tail variations. This is a cool addition to the game, because it gives you more options. Landing things in a powerslide looks good, and doing powerslides on obstacles is fun too.
But here’s one of the challenges. Ollie up and do a nose powerslide on this bank. No big deal, I just did it. The game didn’t agree with me though. The secret is that the game doesn’t care where you are though. As long as you don’t take too long, you can basically just check the boxes anywhere. So I just did it on flat.
I ended up having to do it with this one too. He does a 360 into the bank, but slides out the last part. The game calls it a frontside 180 to switch backside powerslide. But I couldn’t get it to accept it when I did a slid out 360 like that. So I did it on flat.
The school level actually has the hardest challenge in the game. This one. Do a nollie double heelflip, then a nollie double kickflip. No joke, I tried this for an hour. Making the board spin that fast is nearly impossible. Here’s the thing. A flick straight to the side should be flat, and a flip toward the nose should be rocket, and a flip toward the tail should be like a dolphin flip, right?
Well, no. If you do a nollie heelflip and just let go, it does a dolphin double pretty much every time. And in a way, that makes sense. You’re leveling the board out from the pop, so a straight nollie heel has a bit of dolphin action to make it flat when you catch it.
So what I’m trying to do is do a rocket heel as hard as I can. But how do you flick ‘harder’? Do you have to hold the stick up, then let go and move it over as fast as possible? Can you start flicking it as you pop the nose? What if you do it kind of late, as if you’re waiting to clear your foot, maybe? I have no idea. I tried it over and over and over, and I could land a nollie double heel about one in ten tries after some practice. The problem is, I couldn’t possibly get the nollie double flip.
But seriously, I left the controller overlay on for all my gameplay just so you can see. If you compare a land to a dolphin, to a really slow single flip, it’s hard to tell that I’m doing anything different at all. I can’t tell you the best way to do it. Every time a double or triple flip comes up, I just have to try it for a good long while.
So how did I cheat? Like this. I wasn’t recording, so this is the replay, which is why it’s doing that slowmo thing. But I skated down here and used the table to get more airtime. That was the only way I could possibly squeeze in that double flip. Also, fun fact. The game only crashed twice in all the time I played it. Both times were during this challenge.
I later bought the Xbox One version of the game, and had no problem with the double flips. It appears to be a controller issue, but you’d think it would be compatible with regular Windows controllers.
Aside from that one, most of these challenges are fun. Ollie manual tre flip to ollie nosemanual nollie tre flip is a good one. The advanced lines are probably the only challenges I would recommend you do, as long as you have the tricks all figured out and you don’t actually need the tutorial side of it.
I ended up doing all but 4 of these. A lot of them are really fun. There are a lot of lines with technical flip to grind lines, like this one at the courthouse. The trick recognition system isn’t perfect though. This one requires a 180 to lipslide. Of course, that doesn’t exist. You have to do a 270. So if you do the trick, but the game thinks it was a 360 and not a 180, then it won’t count. It’s not a big deal though. It’s not like it matters if you do these.
But something I really struggled with too was the manual lines, but it was mostly for realistic reasons that I can appreciate. Like with this tre flip nose manny nollie tre out, a lot of the difficulty comes from having to do both tre flips perfectly. If you land at an angle, you’ll turn and hit the coping. So you have to land as straight as possible. If you under-rotate the nollie tre out, you’ll turn and end up in the bank. What other game has that level of variation to the tricks? Either you do the trick perfectly or not at all, but here, there are a million different ways you can land.
But two of the other challenges I struggled with were manuals in the Grant Park level. Not only is it a 360 flip again, but you also have to ollie between all these benches. Landing in a manual at all is really hard. I never end up with the sticks in the exact right spot, and I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing wrong either. It feels like it’s random. Just one in ten tries or so, I’ll land in the manual. So to do a perfect tre flip, land in the manual, then ollie and land in it again and again was a bit much. I cheated on this one.
This one was really hard, but completely fair. Kickflip noseslide, kickflip tailslide 270. The kickflip noseslide is hard for the exact same reason it’s hard in real life. You have to flick, pull your foot back to catch, and then land back on the nose. When I casually try the trick in real life, sometimes I flick and just put my foot straight on the coping. But you have to flick, wait a second for the flip, and then put it back. So that felt really good. The kickflip front tail was tough at that angle, and getting the whole rotation was impossible with a windup, so you have to powerslide a bit to pull it off. When I finally did it, it felt really good.
But with that, I’m basically done with the challenges. Would I have liked more to do in the game? Sure. But I’ve played a ton of Skate 3. I beat it 3 times. Once when it was new, once to review on the channel, and once again when I got the backward compatible Xbox One version. And yet, I’d say that at least 95% of my playtime on that game is just skating around. If they put a ton of effort into a story mode or more sophisticated challenges, it wouldn’t have been worth it. Putting as much time and effort into physics and gameplay was the right call.
So that’s Skater XL. A handful of levels, and a lot of potential. If the devs add some DLC later to give you some more levels, multiplayer, and maybe make double flips actually possible, that would be cool. The majority of the work, making the physics and the filming mode and all that, is already done and it’s solid. But it’s just a little light on content right now.
The game is a lot of fun, and I do recommend you play it. But what about Session? Session seems to have a lot more going on. There are a lot more tricks, like pressure flips and impossibles. But it’s in a lot rougher shape at this point. If they actually finish everything they promise and it’s as solid as Skater XL, it’s going to be a serious contender. But for now? This is one of the best skateboarding games you can get. Skate 3 is still fantastic. But if you’re like me, you’ve played it to death. You’ve skated every single spot, and you need something new. If that’s where you’re at, I’d definitely give Skater XL a shot. It’s on PC, Xbox and PS4 right now, and Switch at some point in the future.