Skepticism doesn’t even begin to describe my initial anxieties toward a 2.5D sidescroller that embraces the ollies, backside grabs, and nose grinds of skating. What always reeled me into this genre was its openness for traversal and exploration, chief among the greats being Insomniac’s Sunset Overdrive, but Skate City opted for an approach that took the board to the same place Trials took the bike. It paid off in spades. Getting a high score, doing stunts for style, and embarking on the typical races you’d expect is all good fun, but Skate City pivots toward something else entirely with its police chases.
Races pit you head-to-head against an AI skater as you attempt to earn a good time and land tricks for the gold medal, beating them to the punch. It’s bog-standard but works so well because of how fluid Skate City’s movement is. However, those moments are an expectation with a title like this. Races help you get to grips with how much you’ve nailed the controls and the ability to build up speed as you grind on walls and flip over perilous gaps, while also giving an incentive to constantly grab the timer and yank it down like you’re dunking a basketball. There’s nothing wrong with them – they’re great in their own right, hence why so many games still have racing – but the police chases in Skate City offer that and so much more.
You get a little headstart, flung into the sidescroller view like a camera zipping away down a straight, narrow line. Like a race, you have to stay in front, but there’s more risk in that if the cop catches up, that’s it. You don’t fall into second place with an opportunity to grind your way back up to first. It’s like being rammed off the side of the road with your tires firing off in all directions – it’s over. With that, you have to get that speed built up and keep the momentum going all with the optional objectives for silver and gold medals lingering on your mind, the stunts you have to somehow worm in while a lone officer stumbles behind. It’s more gripping than a race, and certainly lets you try out what you’ve learned throughout the other courses in a similar way, albeit with far more pressure bristling behind the wheels.
Races have a lot of pressure but that’s primarily when they’re online, pitting you against other players. However, with offline, single-player jaunts akin to Skate City, the punishment is that you have to try again to get first place. With that, the bulk of the pressure comes from trying to stay in first or, at the least, getting back to it when it’s ripped from your tightly clenched hands. It’s electric and certainly engaging, but getting back into first isn’t too hard unless you completely cock up and end up a good few meters behind.
That’s why – in a solo environment – the police chases work so well. It’s akin to those races that have you challenging the clock as opposed to an AI, where if you go too much over, you land a whoopie cushion of a DF or N/A in place of a score or a medal. The police chasing you is that timer constantly on your back, visualized and brought to life, adding to that anxiety of having to stay on top.
The timer itself is chasing you and the margin for error is visible in a way that it otherwise wouldn’t be. In that regard, it’s less of a chase and more of what we’ve come to expect from games like Skate City and Trials, albeit better represented on screen. The shame is that the police chases aren’t really a focal point of Skate City but rather a blip in its otherwise fantastic catalog of challenges.
Perhaps in the future, we’ll see more added, but if not, it’s a great thing to learn from with this genre – maybe, on top of the expected timer-based and AI-competing races, throw in a few challenges where the game sticks an angry, tightly wound character behind the player at all times, pushing them harder to avoid any blatant screw-ups.
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James Troughton is a writer at TheGamer. He’s worked at the Nintendo-based site Switchaboo and newspaper TheCourierOnline and can be found on Twitter @JDTroughton.
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