There’s a new challenger in the skating genre with Skate City, but does it spin a big sexy 900, or is it a feeble grind and a face plant?
Muscle memory is a big part of games. It’s always there in the background, helping us out as we boot up new games. We, the players, have expectations when it comes to games, and developers know that they need to cater to those needs. In shooters, we know before we fire a gun that the left trigger is to aim and the right trigger is to shoot. Likewise in racing games, left trigger to brake, right trigger to accelerate. And in skateboarding games, cross is the jump button, at least if the Tony Hawk series is what your muscle memory is built upon.
SkateCity will force you to forget those in-built responses, and if you’re as old as I am, that’s decades of muscle memory being pushed to the side by a newcomer. My brain doesn’t like it and Skate City suffers because of it. It doesn’t make it a bad game, mind you, but I do wish the developers had tried something a little more traditional with its controls.
Skate City is born from mobile origins, too, where the primary input was a touchscreen with taps and swipes. It had to translate to a controller somehow, and the best way to do it was to put the tricks on the sticks, at the cost of familiarity.
I spent my first few hours of Skate City stupidly mashing buttons and flicking the sticks in a feeble attempt to pull off even the simplest of combos. Forward momentum is gained by holding down the cross button, and then you hop over gaps and obstacles by pulling off a trick with the left and right analogue sticks. All it takes is a simple flick to get the board off the ground, but changing it into a combo means remembering to tap either L2 or R2 to land on a manual, and then using those same triggers to balance the manual. Every instinct I have tells me to adjust the balance meter with the left stick, not the triggers, so more often than not it threw me into a poorly-timed flip trick followed by an unexpected grind, and the eventual faceplant to the floor.
Skate City’s biggest obstacle is its controls, then. It’s doing what OlliOlli did a few years earlier, and that extends from the off-book controls to the simplistic gameplay.
Skate City offers three cities for you to roll around in; Los Angeles, Oslo, and Barcelona. They’re nice enough and full of challenges, especially as you move further away from L.A. The American city is the easiest of the three, Oslo is the middle-ground, and Barcelona is a hell pit of fire with selfish European pricks who will happily stand in your way. By that I mean the Barcelona level is really difficult with the pedestrians littering the stage, forcing you to navigate around them by grinding and not grinding at the right times. Given the side-scrolling perspective, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. People were rarely a problem in the Tony Hawk’s series, but here they’re an absolute nuisance. There’s a reason they’re not found in OlliOlli…
Progression is through the set challenges on each stage, and the better you do the more money you’ll be rewarded. Cash can be used for new tricks, stat upgrades and to unlock the subsequent levels. You start off in L.A with Oslo and Barcelona being locked behind progression paywalls.
Thankfully, it’s not all that difficult to scrape together the cash needed to escape Hollywood as the set challenges are fairly simple, providing you can adjust to the game’s control scheme. Each level also comes with a free-skate mode where you can roll around at your own pace and complete any of the free-skate objectives whenever you want. This is a great way to earn some extra dollar, too, but the tasks aren’t always clear, and more than a few of them were done by nothing more than luck, while others were done after constantly checking the move list.
Skate City is a bit light on content with just three levels to play through. To be fair, there is a lot to do in each one, but my experience was cut short by the Barcelona level being ball-achingly annoying, so I only really played through the first two maps extensively, but I did have fun in them during the periods where I was able to perform the finger and thumb gymnastics required.
I like what the game does and how it feels a little like a more grown-up OlliOlli, but inconsistent goals, controls that are awkward at best, and a very barebones skating tour of three cities means Skate City bails, but not too hard; it still keeps its teeth. It’s fun when you can get your head into it, but even coming back the next morning had me struggling to play as well as I did the night before. Muscle memory is everything, and Skate City has a lot of work to do if it ever wants to stake its claim inside my head.
Skate City PS5, PS4 Review
Skate City isn’t the next great skating game, unfortunately. It falls over itself far too often with its awkward controls. There’s also a serious lack of content with just three maps to play in. While the challenges are rewarding and feed into the progression, some are overly difficult to pull off or too vague to understand. There’s a good game within Skate City and I’m sure some will find it.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game provided by the publisher. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Primary version tested: PS4. Reviewed using PS5, PS4 Pro.