Helskate

Preview: Helskate

Skate Your Way Through Hell

Over the last few years, many genres have blended roguelites into their mix. Card games, tactical RPGs, action games – even God of War and The Last of Us introduced new roguelite modes. Helskate blends the roguelite structure with action skateboarding gameplay in early access. The biggest question – does it kickflip into greatness or fall flat on its face?

Helskate Or Die

The answer is that Helskate has much going for it, though it does earn its early access tag. You’ll control Anton, a skater who kicks things off on top of a trash heap with a wing he doesn’t recognize, a new sword, and a skate deck. Anton is trying to fight through the Vertheim labyrinth, take down the king, and skate at the beach. Through each run, you’ll fight through waves of enemies.

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Take down enough monsters, and you’ll move on to the next stage while doing tricks on your board. Each level has several side objectives you can do before moving on, including collecting letters scattered throughout the level, hitting high scores, and smacking security camera birds. Each map feels distinct and different from the one before while sharing a cool art style. It feels very downtown skate punk while blending in hell-ish attributes like lava. The art style and graphics are some of my favorite parts of Helskate. The music is also incredible, capturing the skate punk and pop punk roots of the late 90s and early 2000s. I’d hang out on certain levels to listen to the songs.

Each level also hides a vault, which presents a different challenge to complete. These range from really cool to just okay but offer tremendous rewards, including stat upgrades and crafting resources. Wallriding through challenging courses is fantastic and fun, but some are more frustrating than challenging. One in particular, a grabbing vault that has you hold on to moving platforms, doesn’t seem mechanically together. You have to jump off each platform rather than drop off, which can lead you to fall in the wrong direction and fall. This feels even worse when trying to go from one moving platform to another, as the grab prompts wouldn’t show up or register the action. The vaults are fun, quick add-ons to each level that are always rewarding, but some need work.W91oYS6

Kickflip to Freedom

The actual skating mechanics are also fantastic. For anyone who’s played Tony Hawk, you’ll immediately be familiar with how Helskate plays and feels. While a better tutorial to help learn your way around is needed, it only took me a few minutes before I was grinding, popping manuals, and tricking my across every level. The physics are tuned perfectly as you learn to pull off excellent combo strings and slice and dice through the enemies. The combat is simple but effective and cleverly plays with the formula.

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Your main kit includes a light attack, heavy attack, and dash. Enemies will have brightly colored areas of effect before they attack, letting you dash through before spinning through them with your sword. The enemy diversity is off to a strong start, as my favorite so far is a worm snake thing that glides across the level. You’ll need to hop on to them and grind across them, taking out nodes to deal damage. It marries together both the skating and combat in a creative way.

Completing each level offers different rewards, including upgrade currencies, more health for that run, and different gear that can give you special attacks. The currencies feel decently tuned so far, but some items felt tough to find as it’s never really explained where to find them.

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The gear changes up each run significantly, adding different attacks and modifiers. Dashing through enemies may cause explosions, performing certain tricks can boost your next attack, and so on. Not all land well, though, as the jetpack, in particular, really makes you feel the early access. Holding the jump button can make you take off and glide, which can help grab collectibles and send you flying out of bounds, taking damage. It needs to be looked at, as it ended runs for me more than once.

Some stickers add new abilities. Doing a kickflip can shoot off a missile that hits nearby targets, or doing a grind may add electricity stacks to your next move. Both the gear and stickers help each run feel different than the one before.

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Still Early

The most significant issue with the Helskate was the early access label. Levels sometimes load in without textures, leaving just the outlines to skate on. Helskate’s hub can feel lifeless, as there are only a few NPCs to interact with. The ones there are cool, including a shop that sells new boards and weapons and a tattoo parlour. Sometimes, though, the tattoos wouldn’t show on the character. The UI was on top of itself at points. There are only a handful of bosses, so runs can feel predictable, even though fighting them is awesome. All of these are fixable with time, and with a substantial road map already unveiled, I hope developer Phantom Coast sticks the landing across all the issues and promised features.

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Helskate has a really solid foundation on which to build. The skating feels fantastic, the combat is fast and fluid, and the music is great despite technical issues. It helps that the game runs well on Steam Deck despite still being unverified at the time of writing. There is much to love here for roguelite fans and even more for anyone craving a new skateboarding game. I’m enjoying the game so far and look forward to seeing it grow to 1.0.

[This impression article is based on a preview code offered by the publisher]

Previewed on: PC, Steam Deck

Helskate
Preview: Helskate
Summary
Helskate does a lot right, despite the early access tag. The skating feels great, combat is tight, and it has a strong foundation to build on.
Liked
Combat is fun
Music and visuals are awesome
Skating feels fantastic
Didn't Like
Technical Issues in Early Access