What instantly springs to mind when you consider skateboarding video games? If it’s effortlessly pulling off super cool tricks, grinding rails at high speed, doing flashy spins off the top of huge vert ramps and putting together sick combos for rad scores, then you may need to pump the brakes on that board of yours a little before deciding whether or not to nollie your way into Crea-ture Studios’ Session: Skate Sim.
Where the likes of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series and OlliOlli World have you blasting along bespoke courses and pulling off big-time tricks from the get-go, this is an experience that focuses resolutely on the simulation aspect of the sport, making for a game that nails the frustration, repetition and constant failure that’s required to pull off even the simplest of tricks on a real-life skateboard. It revels in its difficulty and requires you to dig deep and assume a proper skater mindset if you’re to overcome its technical demands, get good, and make the most of its various urban playgrounds.
The control setup here will take some getting used to for players who are familiar with the more arcade-style mechanics found in other skateboard efforts, with both your left and right feet set to the 'Y' and 'B' buttons respectively for pushing off in order to accelerate, as well as being mapped to both the left and right thumbsticks in order to pull off tricks. Pull down on your right thumbstick and then press left on your left thumbstick to crouch down and then flick up into a heelflip, for example.
Turning is done with either the left stick or the left and right triggers, you’ll need these to spin out of the top of jumps, too, and braking is set to the 'A' button. It takes some adjustment, but the controls do feel fairly intuitive and begin to make more sense in your head when you’ve got a few basic tricks under your belt.
On the one hand, you’ve got to hand it to Session: Skate Sim, it's delivering what we would assume is a fairly accurate representation of what it’s like to grab your board and set out into the unforgiving concrete streets in search of places to perform tricks. There are no handily highlighted grinds or out-of-place ramps to gravitate towards here. You’ll need to explore your surroundings and make the best of realistically placed benches, kerbs, steps, rails and so on, in order to then start pulling off your best moves. However, in terms of a fun gaming experience, well, it’s all gonna come down to how much patience you have and whether or not you want to put the time required into starting from scratch, very slowly mastering the basics and building towards the fancier end of the scale.
Fair enough. There’s definitely a place for this sort of hardcore skating sim within the genre (not to mention the simulation genre itself) and we can totally see how getting stuck in here could be very rewarding as you overcome obstacles and improve to the point where you begin to master your environment. At least that would be the case if it weren’t for the fact that this is a game — and especially in its Switch form — that compounds the frustration of failure and repetition with blurry visuals that make reading terrain more difficult than it should be. Bland urban environments lack any sort of joy or spark. Dull mission structures feature a bunch of mute NPC characters who serve only to dish out the next list of tricks to conquer. And then there are the aforementioned controls, which could benefit from much more refinement given how much punishment Session: Skate Sim expects you to put up with.
Yes, as much as we’re ready and willing to endure the trials and tribulations required here, it all feels like a little bit too much of a headache, too much of an uphill struggle when faced with technical shortcomings and a total lack of atmosphere or enthusiasm to keep you coming back for more. The three sandbox playgrounds you’ve got to explore, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia, are certainly big enough and provide plenty of scope to experiment but — and you can see this very easily from our screenshots, really — on Switch they're just far too low res, blurry and bland to make us want to explore them.
Even excusing the visuals, there are also mechanical issues and bugs to deal with. You'll come to a stop at kerbs for no reason, grind to a halt whilst rolling over gratings, automatically jump out of a crouched position without having moved your thumbstick and often find your character falling over on the street for no real reason at all. Honestly, we spent the first few hours blaming ourselves for a lot of this stuff but, as we grew more accustomed to the controls, it became apparent that there are underlying issues here. Even just performing a simple ollie up or down a few steps can be an excruciating procedure when the combination of blurred visuals and clunky controls get in your way.
Once you start getting into more technical stuff, well, we can see people giving up in the early tutorial stages as they struggle to land out of tricks into manuals that require perfectly precise movements of the thumbsticks when it's so hard to read what's going down on the screen. We also had issues with certain missions which designate a small area in which they want you to pull off a set number of tricks but then fail to register you performing these tricks unless you skate a precise, unmarked line within the area they assign. It's hugely frustrating stuff when you're already struggling just to wrap your head around the inputs required to do the moves.
Further to this, missions in general tend to be poorly explained and there's far too little in the way of communicating the moves required to pull off your next laundry list of manoeuvres, no way to quickly call up the required inputs beyond digging into the menus and guessing at things. This is stuff that should be right there onscreen at all times in a game as punishing as this.
There are also a series of experimental features within the options menu that allow you to switch on beta-style features that haven't made it to the game proper yet. But we found that, for example, turning on pedestrians so that there are some people walking around the empty environments, led to the frame rate beginning to chug quite noticeably in both docked and handheld modes.
In the end, what you've got here is a game that you've got to applaud for its dedication to a very straight-laced, po-faced simulation of the art of skateboarding. We can imagine that playing Session: Skate Sim on a platform which enables crystal clear visuals and more responsive controls could be a deeply rewarding experience for players who really want to dig in and spend time learning to master what's on offer. There's definitely a place for a no-nonsense sim of this sport, for sure. However, this Switch port is just too sloppy, the visuals are muddy, there are control issues, random bugs and it all becomes too much of a struggle to ever really call fun.
Session: Skate Sim is a valiant attempt to recreate the trials and tribulations of actual, real-life skateboarding that eschews the arcade flashiness of other skating games in favour of slow and methodical repetition and mastery of both your board and your environment. There's a deep and involving game here for skate fans who want something to really sink their teeth into, or at least there would be if it wasn't for blurry visuals, control issues, poor mission design, and frame rate issues that make for an uphill struggle that just doesn't feel worth the pain in the end. If you've got a ton of patience there's still some joy to be found here, but it's gonna take some patches and updates to get this particular port to the place it needs to be in order to earn a full recommendation.
having loads of nostalgia for games similar to Tony Hawk, i'm tempted to play this on the go, but i'm gonna wait until a patch irons things out graphically
That looks really bad. Not just the graphics which are on par with GTA San Andreas but the game looks completely empty. Why can't we get a game populated with people and cars. Remake of THUG 1&2 or even TH American Wasteland. I'm surprised no one's made a game with skateboards, BMX, Rollerskates/blades and scooters. Best of all worlds.
The skating game coming out from Devolver Digital is the only one I've been interested in awhile, forget the name though and don't know if it's coming to switch or not.
Ah that's a shame. I had this on my wishlist because I felt it had potential. I'll stick to Tony Hawk. Control issues are the biggest turn off here for me and the feeling of general "unfairness" in trying to master the obstacles and manoeuvres. You can't have this in a skate sim at all one feels.
Cheers for the review.
Well I will stick with my PC version then. There it is my beloved game I was dreaming about since first THPS game.
Maybe it's negative bias (or whatever the term is where you only remember the bad stuff and not the good stuff), but I feel I'm reading this a lot lately 'good effort, but didn't hit the mark' type stuff. Sometimes because of Switch hardware, other times because of the game at its core.
@Sam_TSM that's a fair observation. Sometimes i consider the possibility that we as consumers simply have too high standards, that can never be met fully. But then i get reminded that a certain level of scrutiny can be justified, otherwise the quality of games will plummet.
@Yannis I'm with you on that one. I try and stay away from too many reviews where they go in to frame rates and stats. I recently played the N64 version of Ocarina of Time and the notion that it wasn't running at 60fps quickly passed me by. On paper I get in to the 'well it should be at 60', but when I'm playing these graphical issues quickly pass me by. I was commenting on a post on the Xbox site about Outer Worlds and how when it was first released there was a lot of comments on loading times, frame rate drops etc. I never noticed any of them. I need to remember that more often.
Man I wish they could just port Skate 3 to modern consoles, or make a Skate 4.
Was it skate story? the one with the glass guy.
As it is there seems to only be PC/Mac listed.
it can be hard to tell what is and isnt viable for switch with how many technical factors go into making games especially in cases like this game where it feels like things like framerate and resolution have an effect on gameplay.
For me i do feel like technical aspects are easier to measure, for example if you asked someone whether a game has trouble keeping 30fps they could give you an objective answer but if you ask whether a game has "a good story" or "feels good to play" the answer would be subjective (though a higher framerate would generally result in a more responsive game)
with some reviews it does feel like the game would have scored higher if it wasnt for technical issues.
I think I would really like the gameplay of this game, but don’t know if I’ll commit to getting it.
@Dualmask, Skate 4 was announced as in development maybe a year ago now, or more. And there have been some update messages since. The biggest thing, which scares me, is that they announced it’s gonna be a free to play game. Looks like it’s gonna milk the game as a service model which doesn’t have me looking forward to it
Bummer, was hoping this turned out good on the Switch when I saw it on the Eshop. I've been craving another modern skateboarding game after those amazing Tony Hawk 1&2 remakes. It's a huge shame that the other Pro Skater games won't get any remakes anytime soon because of the closure of Vicarious Visions.
I'll either wait for this game to get patched up on Switch or play it on a different platform. I've heard a lot of good things about this game. It looks better than Skater XL. Which was a disappointment for me.
@Grim ah, now that you mention it, I recall reading something to that effect too. Sigh. Another "live service" game that will be dead on arrival because developers are so desperate to milk every penny from consumers in every way possible except the one that works: just making a good game.
They ought to port Skate 3 to test the market.
For something that goes this far into the weeds to simulate the experience of learning to skateboard, wouldn't one rather, I dunno, actually learn to skateboard?
@Yannis i doubt a patch will do much this looks the same it has on steam forever
I think i remember refunding this on steam, the controls are too complicated and not fun might as well learn how to skate for real, the graphics and locations are very dull and boring. Its not a game but a skateboard simulator
@Dualmask you can already play it in 4K 60fps on Xbox Series X
i wonder if they can optimize it further so it can run better, perhaps with fsr or something like that to improve image quality
@wild_lil_horse I'm not buying an Xbox just for that. Steam (Deck), PS4 or Switch are my options.
I'm pretty sure I'm going to end up picking this up, I just wish it wasn't $49.99. Ive had it on PC since it hit early access and followed it on crowdfunding before that, and I have complaints about it for sure, but it definitely is going for a simulation and does pretty good with that. It's not for everyone for sure. Shoot, it's probably not for most.people, but it's a neat thing. it's made it hard for me to go back to the skate games because I feel like I have so much more control over the board in Session. And even the PC version is buggy, which also makes it hard to justify the price
@Randomarcadedude It's definitely got some appeal about it. Main issue with this port for me was the visual sacrifices make it hard to read the environment, especially in handheld, so tricky moves can become a real issue in places when you can't see the top of a step or a grating coming your way, for example.
I definitely had my doubts on how this game would even run on the Switch, and how it would look, as the Steam Deck can really struggle with it at times, and some compromises need to be made there to get it to run smoothly. One of those miracle ports that might have been too ambitious.
@ParadoxFawkes oh well let us hope that will not be the case, this game looks genuinely fun
Yikes. Those are among the worst graphics I've seen on Switch. o.O
Well, for a retail game at least.
@NinjaNicky I feel like they could do more memory related optimizations, so they can increase the texture quality, optimize the physics and AI to reduce CPU load, and most importantly use a better upscaling method such as FSR 1.0 to improve overall image quality.
@Dualmask you can also emulate it using RPCS3 on Steam Deck https://rpcs3.net/
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