I still remember all the way back to 1999, that first time I played Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. It was on a demo disk from some random magazine and it was only the first level of the later released full game. I played that level 1,000 times over and then played it some more. When the full game hit, I spent more hours playing than I may have spent on any other game that generation.
I loved the series so much I was even willing to try anything that had the same formula and was released by Activision. I even played Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer (spoiler alert, it was not good).
Somewhere along the way Tony Hawk and Activision let the series get fatigued, which is a polite way of saying they kept coming out with games and they kept getting worse and worse. Eventually the Skate series came during last generation and took everything Tony Hawk’s games were doing wrong and made them right. Tony Hawk responded with “Ride”, then “Shred” which introduced yet another plastic piece of junk for your living room to go with all those instruments you weren’t playing anymore (but you might be breaking out again, because… Rock Bank 4). Another spoiler alert, these games were bad, too.
All of this is significant for 2 reasons. First, there hasn’t been a skateboarding game worth playing since Skate 3, all the way back in 2010 (God, that’s longer than I thought, come back Skate!). Since I missed out on OlliOlli’s first iteration I can’t count that, but if it’s anything like OlliOlli 2, we now have our skateboarding game that is more than worth playing. Second reason. OlliOlli has made me feel the same thing I felt the first time I played the first Tony Hawk and Skate games. It’s hard, addictive and my eyes hurt because I play it for too long, but it is everything I could want in a skateboarding game.
OlliOlli actually takes a little bit of Skate and Tony Hawk’s games, mixes them together and then turns the areas you skate into side-scrolling levels more akin to Mario than a skateboarding game. That is not a negative. Roll7 has made the left-to-right stages packed with grinds, jumps and plenty of opportunities to fail.
And fail you will. I consider myself okay at skateboarding games, I am one of only 3,000 people to have plat’d Skate 3 out of almost 100,000 gamers, per PSN Profiles (that means less than 3% of the people who’ve played it have gotten the platinum trophy). So I don’t think I’m a slouch when it comes to virtual skateboarding. Let’s just say that Roll7 has made me feel much less skilled. Emphasis on much.
The reason behind that is their most innovative (and most frustrating) addition to any skateboarding games. To do tricks you use the left stick in the same way you did with the Skate series. You hold it down and release while moving it in various directions to simulate what your feet would be doing to kick the board in all the different directions you’ll be sending it in this game. That isn’t the innovative part. You can combo an entire level via grinds, flip tricks and manuals, but if you don’t hit that X button right when you land, everything you did in that combo won’t even matter. It may sound silly to say that pressing X to get a perfect landing is innovative, but it makes all the difference in the world. It truly separates this game from every other skateboarding game in a positive manner.
For every trick and combo you want to pull off, you have to master pressing X to land. Press it too early or too late and you get a “Sketchy” rating which slows you down and more or less can nullify whatever trick or combo you thought you were going to pull off. Grinds (which are performed by pressing the left stick in various directions while landing on a rail), manuals and launches all need to be timed right as well. Get them perfect and you increase your score.
When I first started playing I thought the timing to get various actions “perfect” was going to drive me crazy, and it does, but in the best way video games can drive one crazy. The constant falling or bad landings forces me to hit the Triangle button (which they wisely use as a level restart button) to start over again to try get it perfect this time. I will do a level 50 times in a row just to get it right.
Getting it right is an interesting proposition. I compared this to the old-school side-scrolling Mario games earlier, but OlliOlli is actually much more Sonic than it is Mario. The levels move left to right at high speed and there is only one way to figure them out, by repeating them over and over again.
Just like the speedy side-scrolling platform games of generations past, you don’t get to see what’s coming next until it’s there. Roll7 has taken advantage of the widescreen format TV’s have, something Sonic and Mario didn’t have the chance to do. Despite that, the levels move fast enough that you’re not going to have a lot of time to react. This means that not seeing what’s coming often times results in failing. Other times you’ll react quickly enough to keep your combo going and feel like friggin’ rockstar.
This is where the beauty and frustration off OlliOlli comes into play. You really only can become good at this game by replaying levels over and over again to get perfect runs, higher scores and complete challenges. The silver lining in the difficulty and repetition is the length of time you’ll put into each level.
Similar to the first Hotline Miami game, you’ll encounter brutal difficulty at times, but the time you spent in failing doesn’t matter because you can quickly tap a button and start over again. You’re never really “wasting” more than 30 seconds at a time.
This makes the difficulty far more palatable (as it did with Hotline Miami) and also can be the reason this game sinks its hooks into you. Since you can so easily restart a level without wasting much time in failing, you fall into the loop of “One more time!” You’ll see exactly where you messed up, start over and tell yourself you get it this time. Sometimes you do, sometimes you do not. It doesn’t matter, because if you fail, you’ll tell yourself all you need is one more time, for the 38th time in a row.
Each level (and there are 50 spread over 5 “worlds”) has challenges which you must complete, very similar to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Each level has 5 stars to obtain, one for each challenge. Challenges range from pulling certain tricks, getting a specific highs score or picking up items (while grinding or manualing, at times) to get these stars. Once you 5 star a level on amature difficulty, you open the professional (hard) difficulty levels, which truly test your skills.
The 5 areas you skate are ideas taken from various movie genres, hence the name “Welcome to Olliwood”. First off is what you’d think of Sunset Drive in Hollywood and you’ll go to sci-fi and western themed levels as well. I found that the look of these levels didn’t really make much of an impact to me, because you are so hyper-focused on what you are doing that it’s all just background noise. This isn’t a negative or to say the levels aren’t pleasant to look at, but their visual appeal is secondary to what you are doing in these levels.
Other than the standard levels, you have “Spots” in which to set scores, the “Skate Park” to learn the game’s moves and also the “Daily Grind” which is a spot set up for people to compete and get a high score to see how far up the leaderboard they can make it. You’ll see people getting astronomical scores that you will have no way of contemplating how they were achieved, but it’s fun to see where you rank, regardless.
Something that kind of surprises me in its omission is a level editor and sharer, something we’ve seen in LittleBigPlanet or ModNation Racers, to name a few. It seems logical to have, because it would infinitely expand the replayability of the game, but I have no idea how easy it is to implement from the developers end. No points lost in my book because of the lack of a level editor, but it would be really cool to see as DLC or even in the next game.
Graphically, the game isn’t overly impressive, it’s a small indie title, mind you, but that’s not to say it doesn’t look good. The emphasis is on speed and fluidity and the game delivers on that.
I started playing the game on the PS4 which I assumed to myself was the best way to play. The DualShock 4 is great and I thought the larger sticks (when compared to the Vita) would give more control over tricks. After a while, I switched to the Vita (wasn’t able to get cross save to work, however) and enjoyed it quite a bit more there. If you have an option, this is the perfect Vita game, but by no means is a bad play on any of Sony’s other systems.
This is a game that any hardcore platforming addict should play. People who love skateboarding games should play it. I got such a kick of nostalgia when I first booted this thing up, but nostalgia alone isn’t going to keep my coming back. It’s the gameplay that keeps me hitting reset. Roll7 nailed it on the that side and I can see myself pouring hours into this one. Controls are tight, the game is fluid and they have perfected the loop of dying and restarting without making you want to throw your system against a wall.
Should you play this?
A great game from a small developer. If you’re reading this in March 2015, the game is free on PS+, you have no reason to not give it a shot. If you read this anytime after March 2015, buy the damn thing. There are many hours to waste here and you will have a blast trying each level over and over and over again.