A Different Take On The Genre May Polarize Fans
It’s interesting how things can change over the course of a half-decade. When Session was first announced in 2015, it felt like we were in desperate need of a big new skateboarding title. Tony Hawk hadn’t released a proper new title that wasn’t for smartphones or required a skateboard peripheral in eight years, and the soon-to-release Pro Skater 5 wasn’t going to fill its hole in the industry. Skate had been dormant for five years as well, and OlliOlli, while a fun game, wasn’t pressing the same buttons. This all remained the case in 2017 when the game went on to have a successful Kickstarter campaign and in 2018 when it drew a lot of attention thanks to a featured spot in Microsoft’s E3 press conference. A real deal skateboarding game like Session felt like just the game we needed.
Things somehow feel a bit different in 2022. It’s not that there are too many skateboarding games out, but the tides have turned. We’re a little over a year out from a highly successful revival of the Tony Hawk series, and while that was only thanks to an excellent remake, there’s hope for more. OlliOlli is back for the first time in seven years, reminding us of its unique charms. Even Skate is coming back, though we still don’t know when we’ll get to jump back into that series. Session is no longer releasing in an industry desperately in need. We’re not exactly drowning in skateboarding games, but the drought is over. In 2022, Session has to stand on what it specifically can offer.
That’s why it’s so great that Session offers such a unique take on skateboarding. Within minutes of starting my time with it, I could tell that this wasn’t quite like any other skateboarding game I’ve played. While it offers many different control options to choose from out of the gate, I went with the default, wanting to experience it as the developers expect players to today.
Dropping you into a tutorial off the bat, Session takes no time at all to introduce you to its systems. Built on letting each of your analogue sticks control a part of the board, this is a far more realistic take on skateboarding than even a game like Skate has offered. You really feel like you have control over that skateboard in a fascinating way. Fans who have played a lot of skateboarding games may be used to being able to feel a little comfortable when starting off a new game, but there’s none of that here. As my guide introduced me to flips, ollies, grinds, and more, I had to work hard to pick up each part.
In truth, I never got as comfortable with any of it as I would have liked. Part of that’s on me. For a player who has played far too much Tony Hawk over the years, I had to push past my natural inclination to fall back on old habits to grind, or turn, which don’t work here.
Session clearly has a high skill ceiling, and I can imagine players who take the time to really master its controls will have a lot to learn, but in the early moments, I felt a bit overwhelmed. You have to somewhat get down each skill before moving on to the next, but the repetition required wasn’t enough for me to really feel comfortable. I got there a bit with flips and jumps, but even now, I struggle to land even a basic grind. I feel like I’m struggling to hit even a basic line. I also wish the game could find an alternative to using the shoulder buttons to turn in the default control scheme. I get that the options are somewhat limited with the two analogue sticks so tied up with controlling your board, but it never felt as precise as I wanted it to.
Still, that didn’t make me want to stop playing strangely. Once you complete the tutorial, the initial city opens up, and I was able to explore a bit. Session makes it clear early on that there are no points in this version of skating, the goal is simply to land cool tricks for the sake of doing them. There are absolutely goals and challenges to find around the city, but they’re about nailing certain tricks, and your rewards are things like clothing and boards you can unlock. Even when things are hard, I love the mechanic that lets you reset back to right before you began your last run in a spot of your choosing as well. It means no long period of getting things lined up again when you’re trying to do something difficult.
Skateboarding fans will need to invest some real time into getting into the flow of Session, it isn’t the casual experience so many flock to this sort of game for. Still, there seems to be a lot to master for those willing to put in the work. I’ll definitely still have my eyes on Session when it goes into full release this September.