Helskate: Shredding Demons and Skateboards, But Not Quite Finding Its Groove | GAME3A
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Helskate: Shredding Demons and Skateboards, But Not Quite Finding Its Groove

Helskate: Shredding Demons and Skateboards, But Not Quite Finding Its GrooveWhen I first heard about Helskate, I was stoked! Being a fan of the Tony H...

Fay Watson Jan 30, 2024
Helskate: Shredding Demons and Skateboards, But Not Quite Finding Its Groove

Helskate: Shredding Demons and Skateboards, But Not Quite Finding Its Groove

When I first heard about Helskate, I was stoked! Being a fan of the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater (THPS) games in my younger days, I couldn't resist the idea of chaining sick combos and tearing through levels like a god on wheels. So, when I got my hands on the Steam Next Fest demo, I was ready to dive into the world of Helskate. However, after spending some time with it, I realized that this game hasn't quite pulled all its parts together yet. It's still a pre-early access glimpse, so there's hope for improvement.

Helskate is undeniably a THPS game, but with a twist - combat. The controls are almost identical, except now you're being attacked by demons. Instead of using the R1 and R2 shoulder buttons (which you should definitely be playing with a controller, it's a THPS game), you swing a katana to fend off the demonic foes.

Throughout the game, you'll unlock tapes, stickers, and gear that grant you special abilities. For example, one upgrade allowed me to fire homing missiles whenever I performed an indy grab. There are also passive effects, like a damage buff to your next attack after pulling off a specific grind. In theory, it all sounds pretty tubular, dude. Radical, even. However, in practice, I found myself unsure of what Helskate actually wanted me to do.

Here's the problem: THPS is all about flow, whereas roguelikes typically focus on managing health, weighing risk and reward, and battling through levels with a defensive mindset. Even action-heavy roguelikes like Hades demand a delicate balance between aggression and evasion.

Helskate wants you to tear up the asphalt, but it also wants you to stop and fight some demons. You get a dash and a lock-on function to deal with these foes, but trying to weave brawling with skating often left me with a headache. I couldn't just ignore the demons, though. More than once, a giant bird monster would swoop in from off-screen and smash me to bits while I was pulling off a Christ Air. And that's just bad park etiquette, really.

To make matters worse, the enemy telegraphs in Helskate struggle to make an impression. There are floor markers and warning beams, but those pesky demons pop up in the strangest places, and they're mostly silent. Solid sound design would have gone a long way in giving players more situational awareness. Instead, I found myself having to knock over enemies before I could focus on pulling off combos, which felt like admitting defeat. Helskate can't just be a chain of decent THPS levels that you can play once you've dealt with some decent action-skater combat. That's two games, not one.

Admittedly, part of the issue could be my lack of skill. While I still had some muscle memory from the good ol' days, the THPS formula is inherently fast-paced. If you're not fluent in manuals, you're going to struggle. There's definitely potential for enjoyment here if you can blitz through Downtown with your eyes closed and want an extra challenge. But I'm not sure if getting comfortable with Helskate's core controls would solve its current design issues.

It feels like indie dev Phantom Coast is trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Incorporating enemies into the fabric of THPS is a good idea, but the emphasis on avoiding damage is a bit too much. If you try to play fast and aggressive, aiming for big combos right from the start, you'll get annihilated. There's no real incentive to nail the longest, sickest chain while also defeating enemies.

However, I can't shake the feeling that there's a version of Helskate that can strike the right balance. Perhaps getting a high score should be the primary way to heal, becoming your go-to move once the game enters early access on February 15th and we get a better idea of its progression mechanics. It could even be something the developers pivot to in a later revamp. Early access is, after all, a time for experimentation. But as it stands, the demo feels undecided and uncertain.

Don't get me wrong, though. I don't want Helskate to fail because I genuinely believe there's a nugget of a good idea here. Everything else about Helskate screams potential, and I'm already a fan of its acid candy aesthetics. I just want its mechanics to pull me into that classic THPS flow without having to deal with demon clean-up duty first.