What is a game? It’s actually quite difficult to make a comprehensive definition that includes everything generally considered a Video Game. For example, my personal definition, ‘An interactive media where the player makes choices in order to progress towards and complete a stated goal,’ rules out Minecraft and other, similar endless survival games, or games like The Sims. It also rules out the subject of this review, The Ramp. Developer Coatsink seems to agree, referring to the game as a ‘skateboarding toy’ on the Switch store page.
In many ways, The Ramp is the perfect title for this game. It tells you almost everything you need to know. There is you, a skater, and there is a ramp. And that’s all that matters.
The Ramp advertises itself on the fact that it is a toy, interestingly enough. The lack of unlockable levels or skaters or missions or scoreboards is highlighted in the trailer and the store page. What you’re left with is a skater person in one of four different levels, a halfpipe, a drained swimming pool, what I’m pretty sure is an actual skate park, and a giant ramp to fling yourself from.
Each of the four levels has its own unique terrain compared to the others, like how the pool has a curve to it, or how the skate park has a second smaller section you can reach by skating through a door.
Like most of the game, you can experience all of the gameplay there is to offer in approximately five minutes. This is, like the rest of the game, by design. The Ramp is meant to be played until mastered rather than until completed. Knowing that you perform tricks by pushing the right stick in midair is very different than actually building up the speed necessary for height, or steering in midair to keep your flow going.
The Ramp has incredibly simple controls, but they take time to get to grips with. Building up speed requires very precise timing of lowering yourself to your board (a single button being held down) and releasing when on sloped terrain. The halfpipe level that is also where the tutorial takes place is excellent for teaching you this, and using that stage was the right call.
The entire game is played with the two sticks, one face button, and one bumper. That’s it. But this simplicity gives The Ramp the freedom to be built entirely around using these controls to their utmost. I am not a skateboarding fan, nor have I ever really played skateboarding games. Even I can see how you can chain these moves together into impressive combos and maneuvers.
As someone who isn’t very interested in skateboarding, I would actually have appreciated a scoreboard, for more feedback on my performance if nothing else. Given the game advertises the fact that it doesn’t have one, I assume there was a discussion in Coatsink about whether or not to include one. Without asking the developers directly, I can only speculate on why it wasn’t added, but my assumption is that they believed it would detract from the pure indulgence of mastering the controls.
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As it is, your only performance review is that the game name-drops whatever trick you performed (and how many degrees you rotated, if possible, or how far you grinded along the edge). You also know you did it wrong if you fall off your board, though you probably already knew that, given you only fall off your board if you fling yourself out of the park and into the endless void beyond, run into something, or fall off of something, which is hard to do.
The Ramp claims to be a minimalist experience, and that’s true. I’ve already talked at length about how the gameplay had all the fat trimmed until it was purely the skating mechanics. But the art style is also fairly minimalistic. There’s a reason I refer to the title as being apt.
I was however surprised by the level of detail in the minimalism. While each of the four skate parks are free-floating in and endless void of a single, solid color, the skate parks themselves look excellent. The character model is a low-poly skater without a face, coming in four variants. But the levels are fully fleshed out, with smoothed edges that wouldn’t look out of place in a much higher budget title. And there’s a level of unnecessary but welcome detail, like how the giant ramp has a staircase to explain how you got up there, or how the pool had a ladder and beach chairs.
There is also a lot of effort put into the textures. The endless sprawling void which has consumed the world beyond your current skate park is a single, solid color, yes. But the actual skate parks have loads of little details. Worn tiles. Marks from athletes and skaters before you. Fading pain jobs, exposed to the elements. It’s legitimately impressive.
I’m sure you’ve already guessed this by now, but the sound design of The Ramp is minimalist. Shocking, I know. There is exactly one song that I heard, and it’s a minimalist song.
Your wheel rolling across the ground has a sound effect associated with it, as does when you leave the ground on a jump and land again. These sounds are nice and crunchy so you always have audio feedback to accompany your visuals and better cement your actions in your mind.
Wiping out also has a sound effect that I can best describe as taking a sledgehammer to concrete. It’s an incredibly dramatic sound, even if you fell over from falling off of a slight incline, or by bumping into something. I also appreciate that wiping out causes the music to cut out until you reset. It’s a nice detail that gets an occasional laugh out of me from the sheer comedic timing.
The Ramp is a simple skateboarding toy. It’s one of those ‘minute to learn, lifetime to master’ games. There are tricks in the trailer that I have no idea how to do yet. Being on the Switch is perfect for it. It’s an easy time killer on the bus or public transit of choice. I could easily see The Ramp getting popular on Twitch or YouTube as a way for people to show off their skill with it. But it’s definitely a game made with skating fans in mind, even if they’re only fans of skateboarding games.