OlliOlli, from British developer Roll7, is a skateboarding game built on nostalgia and frustration, but both in the best ways.
If you're a hardcore fan of the PS Vita, you might be wondering why you're seeing a review for a game you played 8 months ago. If you didn't play it 8 months ago, what the heck were you doing?
OlliOlli released originally for the PS Vita back in January of this year. Last month, it hit the much bigger Steam platform and is now available on PlayStation 4 as well, opening the game up to a wider group of gamers – myself included.
A look at the menus might remind you of Angry Birds: A series of unlocking levels of increasing difficulty, each marked with a series of stars below them to taunt you, reminding you of how much more there is to do back in those first levels, but the similarity stops there.
OlliOlli is a hardcore twitch game that demands absolute precision from the player to the point where it borders on being game-breaking. The controls feel a bit clunky and unintuitive, something that's probably much worse if your fingers still have the slightest memory of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. You'll only use a few buttons: The left analog stick is used to trigger tricks, the left and right bumpers give your moves spin, and the X button is used to ensure you land on your wheels instead of your face. For the first hour or so, I would find myself reversing controls, trying to initiate grinds with the face button, and eating dirt every time I tried a spin over 0 degrees.
But just when I thought I was ready to throw the controller at the wall, something clicked. Once that learning curve is surmounted and basic controls are grasped, levels became easy to pass, and the challenges that account for those stars I mentioned above became fun to pursue even when they seemed near impossible.
The game is populated with 25 amateur levels, 25 Pro levels, as well as 50 "spots" and something called the Daily Grind. Amateur levels are unlocked by beating the previous level, while Pro levels require that you obtain all five stars in the corresponding Amateur level. Each level has what's called a Spot, where you get to execute one combo. Once that combo ends – meaning you touch the ground, whether on purpose or not – the level's over and your score is up on the leaderboards. Finally, there's the Daily Grind. Each day, a new Spot is posted. You get to practice it is as much as you want, but then you only get one chance to log a score on it. Whatever your first score is, that's your score for the day.
Finally, if you can somehow beat all of the Amateur and Pro levels, you unlock Rad mode. I definitely haven't unlocked Rad mode.
Building on that classic arcade-y feel is a visual style that feels almost like a high definition take on a Sega Genesis game. The color palette and detailed pixel art both remind me vividly of the sorts of games I was playing the early 90s, and only the analog stick under my left thumb is reminding me that it's something different.
The throwback graphics are more than just nostalgia, though. They're stylish and each of the five environments is memorable in its own right. The simple graphics do a lot to assist the timing-intensive gameplay, as well. They move with a speed that might look out of place in a 3D setting and make those short moments between jumps and grinds easier to work with.
Finally, the game and those visuals are tied together by some very good sound design and one of the best game soundtracks I've heard in a game this year. I've been listening to it not just while I play, but even leaving it on in the background for a few hours before finally putting together a playlist on my PC. As much as we've been trained over the years to associate skateboarding with punk rock, the smooth electronic jazz that makes up the soundtrack for OlliOlli provides a perfect backdrop for the constant restarts that come with a game like this.
The soundtrack and gameplay come together to give what initially seems like a small package a lot of replay value. Short levels and fast restarts keep things moving and make the game tough to put down. It has the same sort of "Just One More" feel that the Trials series of games is so good at. OlliOlli has been given a second lease on life with this new release, and it's a great addition to the PlayStation 4's indie library.
We received a code for the PlayStation 4 version of the game from the developer and played through all amateur levels and spots as well as many pro levels before starting the review.
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