It’s hard to say whether or not you will enjoy Skater XL. It is clunky, messy and could do with much more polish, but it also manages to offer a totally unique skating experience. Whilst you may not like it, you should definitely give it a go.
Skater XL is so unique, and that is down to its control scheme. You control one foot with one thumbstick and the other foot with the other. This is nicely coordinated with red designating one and blue the other. This is further clarified with a diagram of a controller present on the screen as you learn how to interact with the board. As you push each stick, the diagram moves and shows you the colour you have chosen. Whilst initially a bit confusing, this control scheme becomes very interesting to use, especially when you start to combine them with the bumper buttons and triggers to sway from side to side and grab your board through tricks. Skater XL has a very interesting sense of progression, as you slowly learn trickier and harder moves.
Naturally enough, the tutorial serves as a good start to Skater XL and teaches you some very basic ideas of movement. You start without a board in a space where a controller on the right side of the screen indicates how to do certain moves. You must action them in order to finish the tutorial. Perhaps one of the best moments in Skater XL happens just as you finish the small challenges set by the tutorial. The world fades and you are greeted to the familiar sight of a school with only the sounds of Modest Mouse, Built to Spill, Interpol and more to accompany you. The soundtrack is perhaps one of Skater XL’s greatest additions. Skating around abandoned schools, parks and ramps with ‘90s and ‘00s-styled rock channels classic skating games in ways that bode well for the overall package. If it can evoke an atmosphere from games long lost, it must be doing something right. It does just this.
Skater XL’s attempt at no-nonsense skating is captured in every little detail, sometimes to its detriment. The lack of any other players or pedestrians occasionally leaves the entire experience feeling a little hollow, and Skater XL doesn’t have enough modes to really keep you entertained for long if the base gameplay doesn’t draw you in too much. You are given a handful of maps to skate around in (a few more if you include community maps) and that’s about it. There isn’t a story or predefined objectives to complete outside of challenges. Challenges are optional objectives that show you a move and asks you to mimic them. These start simple with general movement or the odd ollie, and end with complex moves involving 360 jumps, nose grabs and whatever skating lingo you can think of. Unfortunately, these do not keep you entertained for too long. Many challenges repeat themselves, tasking you to perform the same stunt in a different location, and the controls often don’t feel quite tight enough for consistent grinds and spins.
The controls in Skater XL vary quite a bit in consistency. Small jumps and tricks work just fine but grinding feels very clunky, and your character often clips on items that aren’t even there. You can jump with a simple flick down or up on the sticks and can perform moves by navigating them in the air, but the grind mechanic isn’t nearly as concrete. You have to land on the object from certain angles to grind but this doesn’t flow well as you go through environments – clip on the wrong part and get thrown off randomly. While tricks work just fine, mediocre grinding mechanics bring your combos to a ‘grinding’ halt, often accompanied with a nice faceplant. This issue of inconsistent environments permeates every map, with each containing small items you fall through or entire gaps of the floor that just don’t exist. In this sense, the game at the centre of Skater XL starts to fall apart the more you play. The atmosphere whilst skating around listening to music can, at points, be fantastic, but you are brought out of this consistently.
Ultimately, Skater XL on Xbox One offers a vision of something that could be excellent in the future. It has a great but lonely atmosphere and downright revolutionary controls, but this is brought down by the sheer lack of content and mediocre performance. It is too messy to be able to call it technically good, but it is definitely a game that is worth keeping an eye on. As a full experience, you might be let down, yet as a demo of what it could become, it is very promising.