If you’ve been hankering for a little 2D side-scrolling skateboard action but Roll7’s OlliOlli series is just a bit too hardcore for your liking, Agens and Room 8’s Skate City might just be right up your vert ramp. There’s no precisely timed landing of tricks required here, no sweaty palms, complex combos or finger-twisting barrages of inputs to worry about. This is a much more relaxed affair and one that, for the most part, sells its dreamlike, laid back take on urban skate action rather well.
Originally released on Apple Arcade back in 2019, Skate City is certainly a rather slight affair, with just three small locations to ollie, nollie and grind your way around but, with all-important online leaderboards present and correct alongside a handful of unlockable special tricks, upgradeable skills and a skate shop from which to purchase trendy gear for your little ragdoll avatar, there’s still a decent amount of fun here for avid skaters to sink their teeth into, especially given the game’s budget price.
If you’ve played OlliOlli or its sublime sequel on Switch in the past you’ll pretty quickly get a feel for the ins and outs of the controls in Skate City, with the same rhythmic stabbing of the ‘A’ button propelling your skater forward and various flicks of the right and left thumbsticks instigating a bevy of slick jumps and tricks. Grinding is contextual, simply pushing a direction with either stick near a railing, bench or other grindable surface sees you attach to it, and pulling off sick mid-air spins is as easy as hitting either the right or left bumper buttons to rotate your character in the direction of your choosing. You can also add manuals to the mix, hitting ‘ZR’ or ‘ZL’ when airborne allowing you to land down on either the back or front of your board and, as with grinding, you’ll then need to balance yourself in order to sustain your chosen move by using both shoulder buttons to keep your body weight centred.
It’s all pretty intuitive stuff and, once you’ve got the hang of a few moves and a feeling for how tricks flow into one another, it feels pretty great to put together little runs through Los Angeles, Oslo and Barcelona, pulling off combos, nailing jumps, grinding rails and discovering new ways in which to bend the simple environments to your will — and the environments here, from a gameplay and stylistic point of view, really are rather simple; spartan, even. With muted colours, very little in the way of detail and a breezy, minimalist soundtrack that matches the look and feel of what’s happening on-screen, Skate City rolls with an aesthetic that gives the whole thing an appropriately chilled skater vibe. However, it’s also one that results in locations that feel a bit too similar to play through, with very little in the way of surprises or even switching up of the game’s atmosphere — besides a basic day/night cycle — as you traverse each of the three areas on offer.
Having said that, there is a nice flow to how these locations progress the game’s difficulty, with Los Angeles introducing you to the basics, giving you a tour through the various types of challenge on offer, before Oslo and Barcelona slowly begin to crank up the heat with a little more complexity introduced to the feats you’re expected to nail. Types of challenges on offer range from the usual (pulling off of a range of specified tricks and besting of set scores) to more unique stuff (like running away from the local cops, racing against a CPU challenger and even putting your skills to the test by avoiding pedestrians by hopping onto grindable rails and walls in order to get out of the way before you send yourself and any hapless bystanders sprawling across the asphalt).
Beyond these challenges, each city also comes complete with an endless mode where you can feel free to just chill out, explore environments for potential trick spots and practice your moves. There are also thirty bespoke challenges to take on per location within this endless mode and it’s here you’ll need to spend accumulated points in order to rank up your abilities if you’re to fully succeed — you’re not gonna land that Nollie Heelflip BS 540 if you haven’t maxed out your spin ability, for example. You’ll also need to fork out for each and every one of the eight special board skills available if you’re wanting to 100% each area, as you’ll be tasked with the likes of pulling off Airwalks over sets of stairs or even performing Melon Grabs over picnic tables, which isn’t nearly as raunchy as it sounds, we promise.
To top all of this off, Skate City also comes with a photo mode where you can place your skater around levels, pause, zoom and tilt in order to capture your tricks, skills and whatever clothing you’ve happened to purchase from the game’s skate shop. It’s a simple offering, and one that doesn’t really hold up quite as well here given the Switch version’s rather muddy visuals, but it’s still nice to see its inclusion. Touchscreen controls also make the jump fully intact from the game’s Apple Arcade incarnation, although we doubt anyone is going to prefer this method as it just doesn’t feel quite as reliable as a good old controller.
So far it’s all sounding reasonably good on paper, then, with a decent enough mix of challenges to get stuck into. Unfortunately, the chilled out nature of Skate City does tend to leave things feeling a little lacking for much of the game’s duration, though. Tricks here are just that little too easy to pull off without any really precise timing involved, and so the various obstacles laid before you tend to blend into one another quite quickly as you rather easily blow through them all. Sure, there’s some longevity and a deeper level of challenge to be found in hitting the very highest scores and securing your position at the top of the various online leaderboards, but overall there’s a lack of variety here; a lack of spice and surprise that makes the whole thing feel a little too one-note, a little too breezy for its own good, perhaps.
It’s certainly the vibe the developers are going for — this is a skating game to chill out with rather than something designed to make you fling your controller at a wall out of frustration, but it’s worth noting that it won’t take you long to grind your way through everything it’s got to offer, especially if you’re not looking to perfect each and every stage. We should also point out that this Switch port rather disappointingly fails to hold a steady framerate, an issue that sees a few of the game’s races and more obstacle-laden areas prone to annoying stutters that make things feel a little less slick than they ought to. It’s not a major problem, and hopefully a patch can get it fixed up in pretty short order, but it’s worth noting that this version of Skate City is certainly not the smoothest of the bunch.
Skate City is a laid back, chilled out alternative to the more hectic skateboarding action of the likes of Roll7’s OlliOlli series. The various tricks and skills here won’t take you long to master, putting together little runs through Los Angeles, Oslo and Barcelona feels satisfying and the overall aesthetic suits the rather simple, straightforward nature of proceedings. However, there’s an undeniable lack of actual challenge and variety here, alongside a few niggling framerate issues on Switch, that result in a game that’s reasonable enough value for a quick bash, especially given its budget price point, but one that won’t last anyone beyond the most avid of skateboarding fans for much longer than a couple of hours.