In the weeks since Gamescom 2023, skate combat game Helskate has been grinding round and round in my brain. I fell for Helskate within 60 seconds flat, sitting down next to lead designer Steve Swink and effortlessly rolling around a skate bowl with muscle memory picked up over a decade ago.
The inspiration, explained Swink, was to get something that felt like the classic Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater experience but also layered in some hack-and-slash combat. Which is probably how I'm deftly grinding, manualing, and bouncing off of walls near instantly. It really does feel like Neversoft’s classic skateboarding franchise. Swink would know, he worked on Tony Hawk’s Underground.
But there’s a little bit more going on here. Much like Roll7’s sublime rollerskate-and-shoot-’em-up Rollerdrome, the skating is what you’re doing in the background as you fly around the place battering enemies. Most of the time during my hands-on, Helskate was asking me to divide my time half-and-half between pulling off tricks and bashing enemies with my skateboard.
The combat isn’t perfectly polished yet, and a slightly wonky camera makes it hard to attack things because of the sheer speed you’re plowing around at. This is a work in progress, admits Swink, but it’s hard to fault it when it’s the only part of Helskate that doesn’t ooze kineticism.
You can equip different boards to change up your weapons, too; something I did when replacing my melee weapon with one that gave me shurikens to throw at enemies instead. This felt a lot better for me - a man terrible at melee combat games in the first place - but there are several different attacks all tied to their own skateboards and it feels, much like Zagreus’s loadout in Hades, that every player will have their own favorite.
This core loop already works well. Helskate already feels right when you’re skating around and there’s a nice balance to the grinds and manuals that make them feel easy to control even when you’re concentrating on dodging projectiles or homing in on enemies. Your opponents are well-designed too: you can grind along the back of a giant worm while bashing it repeatedly, for example. There’s also a giant boss that will let you ride up his arms to smash him in his big skeletal face.
Hell is a halfpipe
The world is surreal and plays into the metagame - you’re a skater trying to battle the evil gods of skating in Vertheim through the power of shredding. The art style is cool, and it plays with the theme of the end game: each run returns you to a hell-based mall to fiddle with your character, slap stickers on your board for special abilities, and customize your run in different ways.
We didn’t get to see that much of this metagame between the runs, and it feels like this is going to be a big part of making the skate-’em-up actually work as a roguelite title. However, despite all of that, I think the core fantasy of blasting around on a board is going to scratch a nostalgia itch for fans of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, but also for players who have been looking for an approachable skating game.
It's worth checking out our list of best indie games if you're looking for more quirky titles from smaller studios to jump into.