Skateboarding is a subculture that often breaks into the mainstream for long periods at a time. Back in the 90s, there was almost no one who didn't at least pretend to be into it, and that led to games like Tony Hawk's Pro Skater becoming so popular that it sold over 1 billion copies across all the games. Even in modern times, the subculture still breaks into the realms of gaming with titles like Session and OlliOlli doing the rounds on Steam. Now we've got Skate City, a chilled-out skating title making its way to PC and consoles after relaxing on Apple Arcade since 2019.
Skate City is a bit of a hard game to pin down. Obviously, it's a skating game, but it's not quite in the same vein as the Pro Skater or Skate games. The game isn't about pulling off the sickest lines or showing off the coolest tricks, it's about completing a bunch of challenges on a linear map. I supposed you could call it a skating puzzle game, but the easiest way to quantify it is as "a bit like OlliOlli".
The game is spread across three cities, LA, Oslo, and Barcelona, and you have to compete in a series of 21 challenges for each city. Each challenge gives you a rating of one-to-three stars depending on how well you do, and you have to get at least a single star in each group of 3 challenges to unlock the next set. There are various different types of challenges to choose from, including your standard point-scoring challenge, performing specific lines, and even races against other skates or police officers.
Controls-wise, Skate City, gives you two options, at least if you're playing on Switch. Because it used to be a phone game, you can elect to control your skater by swiping the touch screen in various directions to perform tricks. If you prefer physical controls, you can basically get the same effect by holding your control sticks in various directions, then letting go to perform the tricks instead. Both of these control methods work surprisingly well, and after a while, it's not difficult to string together some pretty decent-looking combos.
The bulk of the gameplay consists of making your way through the various challenges, earning money you can spend to unlock new locations, as well as customizing your skater. Some of the things you can buy are purely cosmetic, such as the outfits and different board parts, but you can also level up your skater. You have levels in speed, spin, pop, and balance, with each increase making various challenges much easier to complete, as maxing out any given skill increases your ability in that area to an incredible level.
A big part of the appeal of Skate City is how chilled-out and casual it is. As you skate around the various cities laid-back hip hop plays and combined with the various warm hues of the game world it's easy to see why this might start to feel like a zen experience for some players. Unfortunately, the gameplay itself does sort of work against that a little. It's alright in free-skate when you can do what you like and choose where to place your skater, but in the challenges, the gameplay has a horrible tendency to verge on the frustrating.
The race challenges are a part of why things are so annoying, but they're just one aspect of it. Without leveling up your speed stat, you can still win, but you're basically not allowed to make a single mistake or it's game over. That's fine though, just level up your speed stat, right? The issue then becomes that on 'pedestrian' challenges you have to avoid knocking over any pedestrians, and with your newfound speed you'll find that much hard to pull off. The increased speed also makes it hard to land certain grinds.
You need to be grinding for a certain amount of time for a grind to count, but if you're going too fast you tend to just kiss the rail and get nothing. Grinding in general is a bit of a bugbear. Because it's automatic, you have no control over whether or not you magnetize to a rail or not, so if you're trying to do a non-grind trick then you're basically screwed. It also just feels like some of the challenges aren't well-thought-out. One of the checkmark challenges asks you to link grinds together with manuals but then starts you off with no rails to grind for ages, eating away at your strict time limit.
Considering Skate City has such a laid-back design philosophy, it would have been much better if I could just play any challenges I wanted. It's very clear that the game was designed with a laid-back, play for 5 minutes at a time, kind of attitude. That would be fine if you had a list of challenges and only had to play the ones you enjoyed, but since you're forced to complete challenges before you unlock more of them, you absolutely have to complete the annoying races and checkmark challenges to get to the more interesting ones like the line challenges.
After everything else, the biggest weakness in Skate City is just how bloody anemic it feels. 3 cities with only 21 challenges per city mean that you'll through all of the content in the game in just a few hours. That might have been fine for a game that was on my phone and was only being played during a bathroom break, but when you're sitting down at a console to play this thing, you'll be done before you've really got into it. Then you're just left with vague lo-fi music and a sense of having wasted your time.
Despite all of my complaining, there's nothing really wrong with Skate City. It's incredibly short and doesn't really hold a candle to many other skating games, but it's relaxing and if you're bored but don't have time for a long game then it's a perfect bite-sized chunk of entertainment. If you're looking for something you can really get stuck into then you won't find it here, but you will find a game that at least controls well. If there were just a few more locations, and you weren't forced into challenges you didn't enjoy, it might have fared a little better.
TechRaptor reviewed Skate City on Nintendo Switch with a code provided by the developer. The game is also available on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and iOS.
- Chilled Out Music and Visuals
- Simple Gameplay
- Easy to Pick-Up and Play
- Not Much Content
- Various Challenges can be Annoying