For a decade now, even before the remastered Tony Hawk’s 1 & 2 were released, skateboarding fans were clamouring for a new skating game. Whether that was another Hawk-like one or one based on the more realistic Skate series, didn’t really matter. The truth was, we all just wanted to grind again.
Developer Crea-ture Studios stepped in to fill that gap with Session: Skate Sim. After spending a couple of years in early access on PC, the game saw a full release for PC and most consoles in September 2022. Six months on, the Switch version has finally seen the light of day. With no shortage of issues with the prior release, the question is if this is a skate-or-die situation.
Supposedly developed “by skaters for skaters”, Session: Skate Sim‘s goal is to throw you straight into the ultra-realistic deep-end of skateboarding – a feat that only getting on a board in real life could beat. There are no Tony Hawk-style big airs or crazy combo tricks here. Session: Skate Sim is as down to Earth, relatively speaking, as you’re going to get where digital skateboarding is concerned. It’s about teaching you the art of skateboarding through the tried, true, and tested method of try, fail, and try again, which any skill you need to master entails. All, of course, without the real-life scrapes and bruises.
Session: Skate Sim employs a dual stick method of control, with each analog representing your left and right foot, respectively. Your board control and tricks are linked to this, with the types of tricks you can pull off determined by which foot you’re using that, in turn, is linked to your stance. Ollies and Nollies are pulled off by flicking your analogs down and up, depending on which foot you’re jumping with, while flip tricks are determined by how you roll your foot and therefore your stick. And all of that is before you can even get to pull off complex moves while moving. Once you add in grinds, 180s, and lip tricks, you’ll be overwhelmed before you know it.
If it all sounds confusing, that’s because it is at first. You see, Session: Skate Sim aims to replicate that on-the-board experience, and to do so, it requires you to commit a ton of time to learn its convoluted systems before you’re going to see and feel any kind of improvement. The more time you put in, the more complicated it gets and, conversely, the easier it gets. It is, after all, a simulation and not an arcade experience and, like any good simulation experience, the more you practice, the better you become.
The good news, and presumably based on feedback from the previous releases, Session: Skate Sim‘s Switch version comes loaded with some better design choices – that have also made their way to the other platforms.
Gone is the truly awful tutorial from the base release that had me scratching and wanting to bang my head against a wall with just how counterintuitive it was. A new NPC takes over the reins in getting you up to speed, while the original awful NPC has been relegated to an advanced tutorial/quest giver.
The new tutorial is a breath of fresh air that breaks down Session: Skate Sim‘s systems into easier-to-understand bites before combining them together for more advanced maneuvers. It goes a long way toward getting novices up to speed quicker.
Some issues remain and although this new tutorial gives you a great breakdown of the stick maneuvers needed during that opening sequence, they aren’t replicated in later advanced tutorials and you’re expected to remember all the prior inputs. Even with my advanced knowledge of the game having played the PS4 version, I still found myself trying to remember exactly what inputs I needed to pull off a Pop-shove it or a Fakie Manual. There’s a lot of lingo to remember in Session: Skate Sim, even for the skateboarding aficionados amongst us.
As a result, how much you enjoy Session: Skate Sim is going to be determined by how much frustration you’re willing to put up with. The control scheme and mechanics aren’t intuitive and require actual effort to get a literal grip on. If you do take the time, you’ll be rewarded with a wonderful sense of accomplishment once you master pulling off a maneuver, whether simple or complicated. Session: Skate Sim is at its best when you’re rolling around the environment, pulling off tricks, and just generally, well, skateboarding – there’s just a massive gap between starting out and getting to that point.
Now Session: Skate Sim runs pretty well on Switch – but that comes at a cost: the visuals. While it was never a particularly good-looking game on console, with its empty environments and flickering visuals, the Switch version is downright ugly.
The game runs at a very low resolution, with low-resolution textures, low-geometry models, and barren environments. There’s also aggressive dynamic resolution scaling in play, which drops the already abysmal resolution even lower at times. Textures and models exhibit awful flickering but the biggest offender is that distant objects only resolve into what they’re meant to be when you’re practically on top of them. Is that a staircase or a sloped texture? Is that a piece of garbage or a ramp? How high is the curb? Is that an actual slope? There’s no way to know until you’re practically on top of it. And for a game designed around absolute precision, that’s nearly game-breaking.
It certainly doesn’t help either that the game has a fair amount of bugs present when it comes to character movement and inputs on Switch. It feels too easy to get stuck on grates or fall over for no reason when pushing about your board.
Skate or Die?
There’s a lot to like about Session: Skate Sim as a concept. Practice feels suitably rewarding when you begin skateboarding with ease and pulling off tricks successfully and repeatedly. The developers have even ensured the Switch version feels feature complete with experimental features like cloud and crowd simulation if you want to liven up the environment. However, while nice, it all comes at the expense of its already compromised visuals and performance, and that makes playing the game even more of a chore than it should be.
As it’s clear that the developers are still working on Session: Skate Sim, they need to work some magic on the resolution to make it easier to recommend. Right now, if you really feel the need for Session: Skate Sim‘s particular brand of unforgiving simulation, you’d be better off picking it up on the beefier console or PC. Until I can tell the difference between a set of stairs and a ramp from a distance, it’s difficult to recommend this version.
Session: Skate Sim was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a code provided by the publisher. It is also available on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series, and PS4/PS5.
Session: Skate Sim (Switch) ReviewSession: Skate Sim (Switch) Review
- The sense of accomplishment at pulling off a move
- Decently sized environments to explore
- A much better tutorial than original release
- Plenty of movement and controls bugs persist
- Awful resolution often makes the environment incomprehensible to read
- Frame rate chugs with experimental features enabled