Session. Skater XL. Skate 4. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 and 2. All four of these skateboarding games have either been released or announced within the last six months, and that's more than we can say for the last several years' worth of skate games.
With two cracking indie games out, the reaction to the Skate 4 announcement at EA Play (the tweet from EA has over 142,000 likes at the time of writing), and the excitement around the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 and 2 remaster, it's clear that skate games have stepped to the fore once more. It helps that skateboarding has simultaneously dropped back into the half pipe that is mainstream culture, as well. It was set to make its debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics before COVID-19 delayed the competition – yes, skateboarding is now an Olympic sport, and the butterfly effect that has on pop culture cannot be understated.
Are we on the precipice of the second coming of skateboarding games, one that can rival the first movement kickstarted (or kickflipped) by Tony Hawk's Pro Skater in 1999? It certainly seems so. Let's break down why that is.
The indie transfer
It's safe to say that indie developers lit the match that led to AAA studios recognizing the embers of a skate game renaissance. Both Session and Skater XL have been in development for years, both are from teams composed of current and former skateboarders, and both build off of the left foot/right foot joystick mechanic first popularized by EA's Skate. They know what skate game fans want, and they've provided.
In November 2017, crea-ture studios released Session as a free demo before launching a Kickstarter campaign to help build a fleshed-out game – as PC Gamer reported, the campaign reached its initial goal in just three days. Last year, I went hands-on with Session ahead of its Steam Early Access release, and discovered how the team at crea-ture was making a hyper-realistic skate game with a learning curve as steep as skating IRL.
Then there's Easy Day Studios' Skater XL, which debuted on team Early Access in December 2018 (it'll release in full on PC, Xbox One, PS4 and Switch later this month). As we previously reported in our Skater XL hands-on, Easy Day Studios head Dain Hedgpeth was so dedicated to capturing the particular vibe of West Coast skating that he moved the entire team to SoCal. Skater XL also uses the joystick-as-feet game mechanic, but the devs consider it more of an instrument to be learned rather than an insurmountable feat to be bested.
Both studios were hell-bent on delivering a game that authentically depicts the modern skate era while nodding to its past: Skater XL has iconic skate spots built into its maps while Session has a very '90s camera option that will instantly bring you back to classic skate montages. Session, Skater XL, and the near-constant demand online for more skate game content was indicative of a shift in the video game industry tide, and publishers like Activision and EA could ignore it no longer. That's why the Tony Hawk Pro Skater 1 and 2 remaster was revealed in May and Skate 4 was announced right before the end of June's EA Play. We're undeniably in the midst of a revival – but just how did that first skate game movement begin?
The kickflip era
1999's Tony Hawk's Pro Skater was a revolution. Developed by Neversoft and released not long after Hawk himself landed the first ever 900 at the '99 Summer X-Games, THPS 1 is a pillar of the late '90s/early-aughts skateboarding zeitgeist. The PlayStation versions of the game and its sequel were the first and second highest selling console titles of 2000, according to The Magic Box. And skateboarding exploded onto the mainstream scene shortly after – in 2002, MTV debuted Jackass' skateboarding hooligans and The X Games was broadcast live on television for the first time.
But the arcade quality of the THPS games left something to be desired for gamers and real-world skateboarders alike. Enter 2007's Skate, EA's realistic response to the standard-bearer that was the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater franchise. Skate's "flick-it" control system was its thesis statement that was in development long before other elements were even considered – and it was a winning thesis. As IGN reported in 2008, Skate performed better than Tony Hawk's Proving Ground on PS3 and Xbox 360 – it should come as no surprise to learn that EA quickly put sequels into production, with Skate 2 and Skate 3 releasing back-to-back in 2009 and 2010.
But other than the OlliOlli series, the last game of which was 2015's OlliOlli2: Welcome to Olliwood, the past decade has been a skate game wasteland. The last several Tony Hawk titles were almost uniformly bad and EA deactivating Skate's servers in 2016 was a nail in the proverbial coffin. As Hawk said in a 2018 interview with skateboarding podcast The Nine Club, "It was tricky to reinvent the wheel every time. And then once EA Skate came out with a different control scheme, it split the market. And then we both had a good run, but I think by then both companies were like we're fighting for a smaller piece of the pie and that's why they're not happening. The market became so diluted and it just became shooters, and then that was it, that was the monster, and no sports games are really going to infiltrate that."
The railslide renaissance
But 2020's energy is ripe for the resurgence of skate games. It's not unlike the vibes of the early aughts - nihilistic, disenfranchised youths look to escape a world on fire and have some good, clean fun. Right now, the news is scary, we're all stuck inside, and sports are cancelled. With heavy games like The Last of Us 2 preaching about the horrors of the violence it makes you commit and battle royales taking the shooter to its logical conclusion, there's room at the metaphorical video game park for a half-pipe.
The skate game resurgence has never felt more real, or more diverse in form and style. With Session you can attack NYC's concrete jungle for hours, trying and failing to trigger the game's "catch" function that requires you to push on the joysticks to catch the board while executing a trick. With Skater XL you can coast across plazas under the SoCal sunshine, visiting famous skateboarding landmarks while learning how to play the game's controls like you'd learn an instrument.
With Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 and 2 you can retread memory lane, nailing a Boneless while blasting Primus' "Jerry Was a Race Car Driver" – except now you can do it with a much more diverse roster composed of both the OG THPS 1 and 2 team and today's top skaters. And nobody knows what the hell you'll be able to do in Skate 4, but at least it's happening. And as GamesRadar recently reported, we the people "commented it into existence".
If the skate game renaissance is here, consider me its Da Vinci, the Italian archetype of the movement clad in checkerboard Vans.