There's something almost ASMR-y about The Ramp's take on skateboarding. Maybe it's the clack of wheels as they hit a half-pipe as you come down or the game's stark and bright background colors that mix with its otherwise warm, natural art design. Perhaps it's because playing this indie is less an experience of trying to see how far your skill can take you and more allowing its distinctive and relaxing rhythm to take hold of you.
Don't let my comparison scare you off though, as The Ramp also provides a moreish take on 'boarding as well. In fact, this might just be one of the more realistic takes on the sport since Skate first skidded onto the scene. In indie developer Paul Schnepf's game though, the focus is on skating in half-pipes, bowls, and the occasional mega-ramp, rather than point-scoring or completing challenges.
With that comes a renewed focus on the movement of skating, which is all about building momentum and building speed by timing button presses of A. Once you've grasped its singular rhythm, the result is an experience that is simple yet captivating. There are no score reminders, objectives, or time limits. Just you, your board, and the chance to lose yourself to the flow.
Airwalking on Sunshine
Speaking to Schnepf, who has been skateboarding for 18 years now, he tells me how he first came up with The Ramp. "I always found skating in a halfpipe or bowl to be among the most thrilling sensations skateboarding has to offer. There is just some kind of unmatched flow to it. However this particular feeling seemed to be missing in all the skateboarding games I played over the years, since they were mostly focused on street skating (jumping downstairs, grinding on handrails, that kind of stuff). So the idea for The Ramp was born out of my wish for a game that captures the true feeling of halfpipe skateboarding."
Throughout every session I have with The Ramp, that ethos shines through. Being able to drop into a bowl and immediately just try out tricks – whether that's seeing if I can push my skater to do a 900 Airwalk or just grind across the lip of the half-pipe – without the pressure of feeling like there's something you need to be doing or trying is wonderful. At a time when gaming can feel like a second job, The Ramp is simply a good time for however long you need it to be.
There's something both relaxing and engaging in this, which I ask Schnepf how he managed to nail. He tells me: "It was my goal to capture how real skating feels to me. The emphasis here lies on 'feels' since I didn't want to develop some kind of simulator. I rather tried to evoke similar emotions when skating in The Ramp. The key was, I believe, in making it as realistic as it could possibly be on the physics side, but keeping the controls simple and accessible so that everyone can pick it up easily."
Heaven is a half-pipe
It also comes at a time when skateboarding games are enjoying something of a cultural renaissance. In 2020, we had the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1 + 2 Remake, which helped to remind us why we all got so obsessed with the series in the first place, and later this Winter will have Olli Olli World to grind and shred our way through, with EA's Skate revival looming on the horizon as well.
When I ask Schnepf why he thinks there is a return to skating in gaming, he says: "I've noticed this kind of 'revival' as well, but I can't really tell what's the cause for it. Maybe skateboarding gaining a broader community with being added to the Olympics and all? For me, it was mostly the [aforementioned] personal reasons that got me into working on The Ramp. It was something I wanted to do for a while now and in the last year I finally found the time to get on it."
And thank goodness he did. Games can be at their best when we put aside the notion of completion and just enjoy something for what it is. The Ramp is a reminder of just how much fun it can be to lose yourself to the flow of a game, rather than the structure around it. If skating games lost their way in the late-'00s, it's because they became too convoluted, too busy, too desperate to prove they were innovative without actually being innovative. And yes, those of you who remember Tony Hawk's Ride or Shred will know what I'm talking about.
The Ramp, on the other hand, is light, breezy, and presents you with a chance to switch off the noise and just enjoy trying to go up and down a half-pipe. 6 months since its release on PC, that is all I've needed to go to my own personal happy place.
The Ramp is available now on PC, iOS, and Android devices.