Introducing: Skate City Switch Review
The skateboard game as a genre has had a lot of ups and downs over time. From breakout games to unwanted peripherals its safe to say there have been a plethora of titles on offer. The genre seems to be having a bit of a renaissance recently. “Newer” titles such as the OlliOlli series have taken skateboarding into the 2.5D platforming realms. The most recent offering is from Norwegian developer Agens with Skate City. Originally an Apple Arcade title, now ported to consoles with the promise of capturing the authentic street skating experience. So I guess my question during this review is, does Skate City play like Rodney Mullen, or is it more like watching me fail to Ollie at age 15? (I burned the pictures before you ask.)
The premise of Skate City is similar to most skateboard games that have gone before. Complete a number of objectives in a time limit across various locations. Here, there are three locations to explore. Whether it’s the sun drenched sidewalks of LA, the cosmopolitan metropolis of Oslo or the Gothic architecture or Barcelona.
There are two main game modes, Challenges and Endless skating. Both have goals to complete, but with endless mode the feel is more closely resembling the Tony Hawk games. Goals can be completed in any order at any time, with the ability to end and restart at will. The goals in endless mode differ from challenges, which serve initially as more of a tutorial than anything else. Challenges differ in that they have one specific goal, with a set time or distance in which to complete them.
The variety of challenges range from performing tricks as they’re called out, to completing a specific chain, to gaining points while escaping from the police. These are graded, with smaller scores gaining smaller money rewards. Eventually completing challenges unlock more before moving you to a new location. The Oslo and Barcelona levels up the complexity of tricks needed to pull off as you go but the format is very similar.
The mechanics of Skate City are fairly simple to pick up. Pressing A causes the skater to push off, with tricks mostly being controlled by the left and right control sticks. The left stick controls “regular” flip tricks and the right controlling “Nollie” versions. Unlike some skateboarding games, maintaining speed with the A button is important. This took a little getting used to for someone who was used to it happening automatically.
Grinding happens automatically when near an appropriate rail. Once in mid air and when not in mid trick the player will just merge into the background or foreground and complete their grind. Balancing is an important part of grinding though and the ZL/ZR buttons are mapped to this. Swinging too far right or left will cause you to bail, obviously. Similar mechanics are applied to manuals, but using the L and R buttons to achieve the same effect.
The controls are relatively simple to pick up. Though for anyone who hasn’t played a skating game in a while, developing muscle memory may be a barrier. This is more prevalent when trying to chain moves or complete a specific sequence. The other real issue is that grinding sometimes happens whether you want it to or not. This is kind of problematic when trying to chain combos and definitely caused some frustration early on.
The game relies on building up in game currency/points. Cash is gained for completing goals and this is used to purchase upgrades in the Skate Shop. These range from cosmetic elements to improving skills and buying tricks. Some of these upgrades are required in order to fully complete areas.
The general difficulty of the areas doesn’t change. With each area having similar challenges the difficulty lies in executing the tricks rather than the terrain or obstacles. Bailing in a trick causes you to lose time as the character resets to an earlier position. This, unfortunately gives the game a very shallow quality that quickly reminds you that you’re playing a ported mobile title.
The game played OK in both docked and handheld more, with handheld looking a little more foggy overall. There were some sluggish movements at times, but they were far enough apart that I had forgotten about them. Sort of. The file size isn’t huge at just under 800MB so its a perfect title for someone to add to a small digital library for travelling for example.
Artistically the game has a heavily stylistic view, whilst still looking realistic. Levels are relatively simple with just enough assets to look the part and a filter that makes the whole game feel like an instagram story. Whilst this fits with the chilled out vibe of the game, the assets are so limited that you can often find them repeating as you travel through. This is seen more in endless mode obviously.
The accompanying music is a very Lo-Fi affair. Lots of drum beats and simple rhythms all contribute to a relaxed affair, again fitting with the goals of the game. The music does begin to feel like an elevator at times and i quickly muted it in favour of my own soundtrack. Sound effects are kept to a minimum too, with a few accompanying environment sounds combined with the obvious reaction noises when you crash face first into a garbage can!
All things considered during my Skate City review, the aesthetics just felt, lacking. It’s clear not much has been added since the game’s original release and what is there would be ideal for a small mobile game that is designed to be dipped in and out of between meetings or while travelling on the bus. But as a home console release, I expected more.
Comparisons to previous releases
A lot of the misgivings could have been forgiven with my Skate City review had it not been for this issue. The price of the game is higher than is offered through the original release on iOS. Which you would probably think is fair. Added time and work needed to bring a game to additional consoles etc. But the price of the game is only half of the argument I am trying to make here.
The iOS ports of the game also contain more levels than their Nintendo Switch counterpart. With a Miami setting to explore. Hopefully these will be included in a free update for players at a later date as more content would at least go some of the way to justify paying for the port.
Whilst it sounds like I’ve been quite negative with my Skate City review, and believe me I feel it too. It is safe to say the game meets its objective. At no point does it try to claim an adrenaline fuelled adventure across the world. The gameplay is relaxed, the majority of the tricks are more realistic than previous games in the genre and it does feel more like you are filming someone as they complete a skate video.
My main issue is that the game just feels very shallow for a Nintendo Switch title. This is certainly a title that is best enjoyed in short bursts rather than attempting to power through in as quick a sitting as possible. The repetitive nature of the art assets and challenges is only brought to the forefront really when played as a full console title. But there is certainly a fun and relaxing title here for fans of skateboarding games.
- Simple, short challenges can be completed in downtime
- Satisfying feeling when getting a chain going
- Lot of customisation options
- Controls are simple, but not always intuitive
- Challenges aren’t particularly deep and are repetitive
- Less content available than on other platforms