Session: Skate Sim Review - Screenshot 1 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

What instantly springs to mind when you consider skateboarding video games? If it’s effortlessly pulling off super cool tricks, grinding rails at high speed, doing flashy spins off the top of huge vert ramps and putting together sick combos for rad scores, then you may need to pump the brakes on that board of yours a little before deciding whether or not to nollie your way into Crea-ture Studios’ Session: Skate Sim.

Where the likes of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series and OlliOlli World have you blasting along bespoke courses and pulling off big-time tricks from the get-go, this is an experience that focuses resolutely on the simulation aspect of the sport, making for a game that nails the frustration, repetition and constant failure that’s required to pull off even the simplest of tricks on a real-life skateboard. It revels in its difficulty and requires you to dig deep and assume a proper skater mindset if you’re to overcome its technical demands, get good, and make the most of its various urban playgrounds.

Session: Skate Sim Review - Screenshot 2 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

The control setup here will take some getting used to for players who are familiar with the more arcade-style mechanics found in other skateboard efforts, with both your left and right feet set to the 'Y' and 'B' buttons respectively for pushing off in order to accelerate, as well as being mapped to both the left and right thumbsticks in order to pull off tricks. Pull down on your right thumbstick and then press left on your left thumbstick to crouch down and then flick up into a heelflip, for example.

Turning is done with either the left stick or the left and right triggers, you’ll need these to spin out of the top of jumps, too, and braking is set to the 'A' button. It takes some adjustment, but the controls do feel fairly intuitive and begin to make more sense in your head when you’ve got a few basic tricks under your belt.

On the one hand, you’ve got to hand it to Session: Skate Sim, it's delivering what we would assume is a fairly accurate representation of what it’s like to grab your board and set out into the unforgiving concrete streets in search of places to perform tricks. There are no handily highlighted grinds or out-of-place ramps to gravitate towards here. You’ll need to explore your surroundings and make the best of realistically placed benches, kerbs, steps, rails and so on, in order to then start pulling off your best moves. However, in terms of a fun gaming experience, well, it’s all gonna come down to how much patience you have and whether or not you want to put the time required into starting from scratch, very slowly mastering the basics and building towards the fancier end of the scale.

Session: Skate Sim Review - Screenshot 3 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Fair enough. There’s definitely a place for this sort of hardcore skating sim within the genre (not to mention the simulation genre itself) and we can totally see how getting stuck in here could be very rewarding as you overcome obstacles and improve to the point where you begin to master your environment. At least that would be the case if it weren’t for the fact that this is a game — and especially in its Switch form — that compounds the frustration of failure and repetition with blurry visuals that make reading terrain more difficult than it should be. Bland urban environments lack any sort of joy or spark. Dull mission structures feature a bunch of mute NPC characters who serve only to dish out the next list of tricks to conquer. And then there are the aforementioned controls, which could benefit from much more refinement given how much punishment Session: Skate Sim expects you to put up with.

Yes, as much as we’re ready and willing to endure the trials and tribulations required here, it all feels like a little bit too much of a headache, too much of an uphill struggle when faced with technical shortcomings and a total lack of atmosphere or enthusiasm to keep you coming back for more. The three sandbox playgrounds you’ve got to explore, New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia, are certainly big enough and provide plenty of scope to experiment but — and you can see this very easily from our screenshots, really — on Switch they're just far too low res, blurry and bland to make us want to explore them.

Session: Skate Sim Review - Screenshot 4 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Even excusing the visuals, there are also mechanical issues and bugs to deal with. You'll come to a stop at kerbs for no reason, grind to a halt whilst rolling over gratings, automatically jump out of a crouched position without having moved your thumbstick and often find your character falling over on the street for no real reason at all. Honestly, we spent the first few hours blaming ourselves for a lot of this stuff but, as we grew more accustomed to the controls, it became apparent that there are underlying issues here. Even just performing a simple ollie up or down a few steps can be an excruciating procedure when the combination of blurred visuals and clunky controls get in your way.

Once you start getting into more technical stuff, well, we can see people giving up in the early tutorial stages as they struggle to land out of tricks into manuals that require perfectly precise movements of the thumbsticks when it's so hard to read what's going down on the screen. We also had issues with certain missions which designate a small area in which they want you to pull off a set number of tricks but then fail to register you performing these tricks unless you skate a precise, unmarked line within the area they assign. It's hugely frustrating stuff when you're already struggling just to wrap your head around the inputs required to do the moves.

Session: Skate Sim Review - Screenshot 5 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Further to this, missions in general tend to be poorly explained and there's far too little in the way of communicating the moves required to pull off your next laundry list of manoeuvres, no way to quickly call up the required inputs beyond digging into the menus and guessing at things. This is stuff that should be right there onscreen at all times in a game as punishing as this.

There are also a series of experimental features within the options menu that allow you to switch on beta-style features that haven't made it to the game proper yet. But we found that, for example, turning on pedestrians so that there are some people walking around the empty environments, led to the frame rate beginning to chug quite noticeably in both docked and handheld modes.

In the end, what you've got here is a game that you've got to applaud for its dedication to a very straight-laced, po-faced simulation of the art of skateboarding. We can imagine that playing Session: Skate Sim on a platform which enables crystal clear visuals and more responsive controls could be a deeply rewarding experience for players who really want to dig in and spend time learning to master what's on offer. There's definitely a place for a no-nonsense sim of this sport, for sure. However, this Switch port is just too sloppy, the visuals are muddy, there are control issues, random bugs and it all becomes too much of a struggle to ever really call fun.

Conclusion

Session: Skate Sim is a valiant attempt to recreate the trials and tribulations of actual, real-life skateboarding that eschews the arcade flashiness of other skating games in favour of slow and methodical repetition and mastery of both your board and your environment. There's a deep and involving game here for skate fans who want something to really sink their teeth into, or at least there would be if it wasn't for blurry visuals, control issues, poor mission design, and frame rate issues that make for an uphill struggle that just doesn't feel worth the pain in the end. If you've got a ton of patience there's still some joy to be found here, but it's gonna take some patches and updates to get this particular port to the place it needs to be in order to earn a full recommendation.