A Love Letter
Most people have tried their luck on a skateboard at least once. Maybe like me, they pulled off their first ollie and felt that sense of pride. Regardless of how simple a move it may have been. Then they took things a step further and had their first spill, scraped a knee, and decided, “Well, that was fun. Let’s leave it at that.”
Or perhaps after that spill, they got up and tried again. Whether it was immediately or until they healed from a scuffed-up knee and a small blow to their confidence. Perhaps every fall was a lesson, or simply part of the thrill. The risk and reward. The freedom of expression, and excitement. Maybe they fell in love with the skating community and culture. Session: Skate Sim really evokes the feeling of the latter. A love for skating, and a translation of that love into this title. It may not have been a perfect product. But it’s a damn good one. The beauty of it all is, you can fail, bail and try all over again, without the need for a first aid kit.
Watch Your Footing
Something that really set Session apart from other titles was the balance between simulation and casual fun. On one hand, it’s a game with extremely responsive, intuitive and somewhat complex controls. But on the other, there’s no scorekeeping for tricks. Nor is there any pressure to excel or outdo yourself. You simply skate, and try to pull off strings of tricks and grinds as you manoeuvre around an open world. That being said, it’s not as simple as pushing off and being the next prodigy. You ought to be prepared to land on your ass. Sometimes more than you land on your board.
Skate’s control scheme is a mix between complex and simple without leaning too hard in either direction. Each stick essentially controls a foot. Push up on the left stick to focus on the nose of the board. Push down on the right, and the back becomes the focal point. As you hold one end down, you then move the opposing analog stick to pull off a trick. You can also switch ends at any time with a double tap of a trigger to mirror this control scheme. This forms the basis of the movement and controls. Much like real skating which end of the board you shift weight to decides if it’ll be an ollie or nollie.
Now thankfully, this isn’t a gruelling sim where pushing too far to the nose of the board results in you falling over. It keeps things simple by using these controls as the deciders of which tricks you’ll do, and what kind of manuals or grinding you’ll be going for. There is an abundance of moves to try and pull off, and the satisfaction that comes from executing a string is absolutely heavenly. Mixing things up as you manoeuvre around the city never loses its allure.
Prepare to Fall
However, these strings are where things become a bit more challenging. You’re going to fall. A lot. Especially in the beginning. I’ll go to the grave never revealing how long it took me to pull off a trick into a grind and safely dismount my first grinding mission. This is where the simulation aspect of Session comes into play. Just like IRL skating, actually doing these moves and landing safely is not as simple as it might have been in EA’s Skate series. You’re going to have to take a good couple of L’s before you get the hang of it. Getting the timing and speed right, and choosing the right trick to make it up to the edge won’t come easy at first. Especially if you’re not an avid skate sim player. Sure you’ll fall, but with practice it’ll click, and the physics of the world will begin to make sense.
What really surprised me was how addictive this loop was. I fell time and time again, but I kept on trying. Now a big part of this is that I wasn’t the one getting hurt. However, I wasn’t getting as frustrated as I assumed I would. This is because the sim was never unfair. I knew the mistakes I made were on me, and that I could land them. And I did. Man, was that satisfying. Also, I never got tired of the many ways my poor avatar wiped out. Classic slapstick comedy.
Something else that helped me stick around, was the marking mechanic. At any point, you can mark your current position. And at any point, you can teleport back to that position. This was beyond useful for retrying jumps, as I’m sure without it I’d have rage quit. I can’t imagine hauling ass over and over to the top of some stairs, knowing there’s a good chance I’m just going to fall again. This is probably why I never skated more than a handful of times in my life.
Will Skate For $$$
As with any skate game worth its salt, Session has a great number of customisation options. From your personal drip down to the trucks of your board, it’s all available to personalise. I, for one value this greatly in these kinds of games. And Session delivers. All you need to access these is to do some of the missions around the city.
This is where a good chunk of your time will be spent, when not freely skating. As they unlock new customisation items, but more importantly they make you cash. Which, of course, you’ll need to get yourself some gear.
These missions are given to you by your fellow skaters. They’ll have you perform tricks and jumps, that not only presents a little challenge for you, but also serves to help you learn new moves. Missions also give you some background on your avatar, as mission givers recount days past and shoot the breeze, while employing a healthy dose of skater lingo.
On the topic of skaters, something that bothered me about Session, was how empty the world felt. No moving cars and no people outside of mission givers. It felt a bit strange. I mean sure, in terms of gameplay you can’t have traffic hindering your fun. But at least give us a couple of NPC skaters or pedestrians, however little. It would have made the world feel less like you were outside during the height of the COVID-19 lockdowns.
While you’re falling on your ass there’s some excellent music to enjoy. A selection of lo-fi beats forms a nice easy-going background for an otherwise painful display of gravity’s power over us. I really enjoyed the soundtrack and it just kept the good times rolling.
Session: Skate Sim is a game any skating enthusiast will love, and any curious gamers ought to try. Once you accept the inevitability of failure, it becomes a great example of the satisfaction that comes from perseverance.