The Resurgence of Skateboarding Games in 2020

The year is 2000. Y2K was a bust, Aaron’s having a party soon, and you’re still jamming to NSYNC’s hit album “No String’s Attached”. You just got back from EB Games with a fresh disc and pop that bad boy in your Playstation. It’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2, and life is good. You spend hours skating around School II, New York, and Venice learning new tricks, busting out wild combos and taking on each level’s challenges. Tony Hawk is back, and better than ever.

The beloved formula continues from here, with standouts such as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, Tony Hawk’s Underground, and Tony Hawk’s American Wasteland. Each game feels vaguely similar, with various mechanics added to each entry. Pro Skater 3 added the revert, Underground added a real story and the ability to get off your board, and Wasteland added one seamlessly connected world.

About a dozen Tony Hawk games later, we’re at 2007 on the brink of a revolution. EA and Black Box are here to shake up the formula with EA Skate, adding a level of control and fluidity that is unparalleled by the dwindling Tony Hawk series. With new flick controls, you no longer press triangle or Y to grind, you just grind. You no longer press a button to ollie or hardflip, you just flick the right stick and do it. It was a momentous innovation in skateboarding games, and one that brought a level of realism that was absent in the genre. As an avid skateboarder, the Skate series scratched an itch that the Tony Hawk series didn’t. It’s a series that, to this day, I still revisit and give Carverton a run for its money. I say revisit because we haven’t had a new Skate game since 2010’s Skate 3. EA’s Black Box division has since been shut down and the series has remained untouched until now.

Skate (captured on Xbox Series X) – Crook Grind.

Pivoting back to Tony Hawk for a second. After the release of Proving Grounds in 2007, development was handed-off from Neversoft, series veterans, to Robomodo. After this transition, the franchise struggled with failed experiments such a Tony Hawk Ride, Shred, and the new team couldn’t capture the magic of earlier games with Tony Hawks Pro Skater HD and the critically panned Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5. It was clear the franchise was at its low point.

Looking at both franchises as of 2010 onwards, they were struggling. The Skate franchise is essentially dormant, and the Tony Hawk franchise is with a developer who doesn’t understand what makes the series great. Luckily, in 2015, the same year that Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 released, an early-stage skateboarding simulation game called Project: Session was conceived. This was a game made by skateboarders, for skateboarders that aimed to capture the feeling of having a session at a skate spot. It was meant to be a simulation game – no challenges, no story, just skating and filming clips. A demo was released in November 2017, and featured a realistic control system that utilized the left stick as the left foot and the right stick as the right foot. Developers Creature touted Project: Session as the most realistic skateboarding sim ever made. The game was fully kickstarted in three days.

Session (captured on Xbox Series X) – Overcrook Grind

Coincidentally, around the same time, Easy Day Studios was working on a follow up to their mobile game, Skater. The console and PC version would come to be known as Skater XL, and was eventually released on PC early access in late 2018. At the time of release, the game had one map, and hauntingly similar controls to Project: Session, albeit with more simplified control options. For the uninitiated, the spectrum of arcade vs simulation starts with Tony Hawk, then proceeds to Skate, Skater XL, and finally Project: Session at full simulation. More maps were gradually added to Skater XL by the developers, but the game was mainly supported by a community of modders who created extensive maps for the game.

Skater XL (captured on Xbox Series X) Frontside Smith Grind

The same story applied for Session when it came to PC early access in late 2019. The sad part for me, however, is I didn’t have a PC so I had no outlet to play these games. 2020 rolls around, and promises of a console version for Skater XL and Session have gone unfulfilled. In a desperate attempt to play Session, I downloaded Windows on my Mac and ended up locking myself out of my computer for two months. Bear in mind, we were in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, so getting an Apple Genius Bar appointment was next-to-impossible. In the meantime, I played Skater XL on my partner’s laptop. It didn’t run well, but it was fun nonetheless. However, I still sought after a legitimate way to play these games that didn’t involve a struggling laptop.

Around the time of my laptop struggles, Activision dropped the announcement of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2, a remake releasing in late 2020. Not only did this remake look phenomenal, but it was being developed by Vicarious Visions, who had a great track record with remakes (Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy). Robomodo was out, for the better. My heart was full and my mind was blown: three skateboarding games were releasing in 2020.

Finally, Session released on Xbox One in June 2020 and Skater XL released on Xbox One and PS4 in July. I was on top of the world. I had my first real choice between skateboarding games since 2007, and things were looking up. I sunk my feet in both, appreciating the complexity, ever-expanding catalog of tricks, and thoughtfulness that went into every detail of Session, and the overall simplicity and gradual expansion of available maps in Skater XL. Both of these games gave me a similar feeling that Skate did when it launched in 2007. They were truly innovative experiences and ones that could co-exist with one another. This was not the time to take sides.

A few weeks later, a new player re-joins the ring. EA, in their summer presentation, announces a new entry in the Skate franchise. No further details were given, and no gameplay was shown, but the announcement was enough to send waves through the gaming community. Skate was back, we just didn’t know in what form. Skate 4? A Remake? A Reboot? To this date, we’re still unsure.

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 (captured on Xbox Series X – Xbox One Version) – Combo

Fast-forward to September, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 is released. My friend gave me a call, excited as ever and told me the game was releasing at 9PM on a Thursday instead of midnight. Those three extra hours were put to some serious use. Dripping in nostalgia, the remake captured the hearts of fans old and new. I skated through the game in a weekend, completing all goals for each level and achieving a million point combo on Warehouse to close out my time with the game. It was short lived, but a cherished experience nonetheless.

By the end of 2020, I was satiated but was still left wanting more. We received three skateboarding games in 2020: Skater XL, Session, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2, and had even more on the horizon. With EA’s Skate, the inevitable remakes of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 and 4, and of course, Skate Bird, things are looking up. Skateboarding is back.

Session (captured on Xbox Series X) – Casper Slide

Everything has a cycle – ebb and flow. When skateboarding games dropped off the map in 2010, it was just a matter of time until they grinded back. Skateboarding forever.

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