I’ve never paid much attention to stance in a skating game. Riding switch–what’s normally your back foot in front, and vice versa—might get you a few extra points, but beyond that, in every game I’ve played, it’s superficial to the point of being unnoticeable. My skater faces whichever way they’re facing as I come out of my last trick, and nothing changes. In my limited experience skating in real life—many, many years ago—stance is crucial. Trying to do even something as simple as an ollie with feet in the opposite position to what you’re used to, to what feels natural, is like trying to learn to write with your non-dominant hand. Session: Skate Sim is the first game I’ve played that actually captures that feeling.
That’s no coincidence: authenticity is Session‘s stated focus, and that’s the driving force behind a unique dual-stick control scheme. The right stick controls the right foot, the left stick controls the left foot, and real-life skating for movements translate as closely as possible to those sticks. An ollie isn’t the simple press of a button; its kicking down with your back foot’s stick, then flicking the front foot up to pop the board. Kick flips and heelflips are similar, though now you’re kicking the front foot up and left or right, depending. For a pop shuvits and varial flips you’ll need to sweep the back foot instead of simply kicking the tail down, and trickier tricks like laserflips dial up the complexity of those stick movements even further.
It’s a lot to wrap your head around, even before you get to things like switch stance reversing those inputs—when what’s usually your front foot becomes the back, the inputs reverse accordingly. If you’re more used to the arcade-style shenanigans of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, or even EA’s comparatively more realistic Skate games, it can feel like learning to walk all over again. There’s a steep learning curve, especially in the beginning, but that’s intentional: it says as much when you load it up, but more to the point, skateboarding has a steep learning curve. Session sets authentically recreate that, and succeeds.
Which isn’t to say it’s just difficult for the sake of being difficult, or that it’s unfair. Session is a game if practice, mastery, discovery, and creativity. Those initial hours can be tricky, but seeing that effort bear fruit is immensely satisfying—not just finally nailing the trick you’ve been practicing, though that’s exciting enough in its own right, but when it becomes second nature. Once those tricks that seemed impossible become things you can just do, at will, without thinking, and start stringing them together into beautiful, exhilarating lines? When you can start to really experiment and get creative with them, and gradually add more complex tricks to your arsenal? That’s the beauty of street skating, and the learning curve is an important part of that. Session nails it.
To that end, Session also stays far away from scores, mechanical progression systems, and other such “gamey” things. Instead, it’s about the freedom to just explore, in terms of both the map and what you can do with your board. Find a spot, skate it until you get bored, then go find another. Maybe record some footage, if you come up with any lines you want to show off—there’s an impressive, robust set of video editing tools built into the game. There’s little in the way of objectives to chase, other than a series of tutorial missions with a light narrative touch and daily/weekly challenges that mostly revolve around landing certain tricks a set number of times. Depending on your style of play, that can either be liberating or oddly constricting, but it is absolutely true to the creative spirit of street skating.
The trade off to all this is that Session is not going to be a game for everyone. The learning curve and lack of prescribed direction, intentional and thematically sound as they are, will inevitably mean it doesn’t click with some people. That’s not a criticism—indeed, I commend crea-ture’s commitment to vision over mass appeal here—but it’s something to be aware of going in. There are some settings you can play around with to make certain aspects of user game more (or less!) forgiving, but ultimately, it’s a sim of a sport that requires a lot of practice, a lot of picking yourself back up, and a willingness to go with your own flow as you turn the city streets into a playground.
For all its authenticity and finesse in the little details, Session does fall short in some of its more superficial aspects. Uninspired voice performances and a dull script make that little narrative touch forgettable at best and actively annoying at worst. When you have to get off your board and walk, movement feels sluggish and awkward. The mission tracker for the tutorial mode has an unhelpful tendency to hide itself when you need it most, forcing a lot of digging into menus to confirm objectives. Minor physics and graphical bugs still crop up on occasion, rarely interfering with the game in any substantive way but causing a distraction all the same. There’s an absolutely rock solid foundation here, but some more attention on the finishing touches wouldn’t go amiss.
Still, if you’re after an authentic skate sim and don’t mind some rough edges, Session: Skate Sim absolutely nails it. No other game has captured the feel of skateboarding quite like this, and the steep learning curve baked into the unique control scheme—frustrating as it can be at times—only helps sell that idea. Because, hey, skating is hard, but the excitement that comes with it makes all the falls worthwhile, and that’s what Session gets spot on.