There was once a time where I had the fattest Frontside Flip on the block. A time where skateboarding was all I did, and a time where getting “SKATE MORE” tattooed on my wrist was a good idea. But then you get married, gain a little bit of weight, and the prospects of skating is outweighed by the fact that you are sure to roll an ankle whilst doing it — calling off from work because you rolled your ankle skateboarding is a sure fire way to be dismissed. Yet, I still love skateboarding deep, down in my cholesterol filled heart, and most of that love is vicariously played out through skateboarding games like OlliOlli for the PlayStation Vita.
If I was being a reductionist, I would describe OlliOlli as a runner/skateboard game hybrid, and that definition holds some truth, but OlliOlli requires a certain level of dexterity and mastery most runners don’t — a level of mastery that is sure to make you contemplate throwing your Vita. OlliOlli doesn’t care about your feelings, your hand cramping from holding the Vita so tight your wife thinks you’re strangling it; it just wants you to cry salty tears of agony. To ease some of the pain, OlliOlli is wrapped in some great pixel art and a soundtrack with some jams on it that makes you forget the game has its foot on your throat.
OlliOlli has a career (don’t expect a story, because there isn’t one) mode that is setup in a way perfect for gaming on the go, even though I played all of it from my couch. Urban, the first level of the game, for example, has a series of pro and amateur challenges, with the pro challenges being locked until the amateur ones are completed. Each of the individual pro and amateur levels have five challenges, which range from performing a specific trick to collecting spray cans and finishing the level — these two challenges account for the easier portions of Olli Olli.
Additionally, OlliOlli has more than the “career” mode, there are Spots that are smaller levels that are focused score challenges, and furthermore, there are Daily Grinds, which are along the same lines as Spelunky‘s Daily Challenge. However, OlliOlli’s Daily Challenge allows you to practice the course as much as you want before your official attempt that is uploaded to the leaderboards.
Skate, from EA’s Black Box, proved how well thumbsticks work as an abstraction for a skateboard, and OlliOlli takes that basis simplifies and perfects it. Flicking a stick in a quarter circle to perform a Backside Shove just feels natural, but it isn’t easy. It took me hours of playing OlliOlli to consistently throw 360 Flips, which is shockingly representative of actual skateboarding. In addition to how natural the thumbstick feels as an input to manipulate a skateboard, Roll 7 puts a heavy emphasis on one of the basic, and probably most important parts of performing a trick: landing it.
In order to land a trick perfectly, or bolts as me and my friends would call it, you have to hit the X button right before the faceless, pixelated skater hits the floor. The same can be said for grinds; in order to not lose momentum, it is imperative that grinds are performed perfectly and landings are just as flawless. Combining these mechanics to chase high-scores with combos creates a gameplay loop that is engaging, challenging and most of all rewarding when you master them, like your mother saying she loves you after a spanking.
Perfection, perfection, perfection, OlliOlli demands perfection, and it is apparent in the level design of the game. Challenges are setup in such a way that you have to complete the level with a certain flow. The game is built off momentum, and your momentum only continues if you land grinds and tricks perfectly. For example, “The Big One” requires the level to be completed in one combo, which may sounds easy enough, but if you don’t find a specific line and hit that line perfectly the pixel skater will eventually lose his momentum, come to a complete halt, and fall on his face; resulting in you playing the level over, and over, and over, which turns out to be fun. Luckily, Roll 7 are level design wizards, and finding the right line isn’t the hard part. The game communicates it excellently, the issue is nailing the timing.
OlliOlli pays an odd amount of attention to detail for a game that lets you kickflip over dinosaurs at some point. All of the tricks are accurately animated, and properly represent how the trick would actually be performed. For instance, pixel skater dude places his left arm across the front of his body when performing any kind of backside spin. To me, a retired amateur skateboarder, it was a much appreciated touch, even though, pixel skater dude blasphemously pushes mongo while skating switch. The great animation when combined with the landing mechanic creates an accurate, yet, surreal picture of skateboarding that I adore.
OlliOlli is a damn good albeit, difficult and trying game that demands accuracy. The great art style, music, and impeccable mechanics make it a game worth the frustration. Roll 7 has somehow made a game that respects the sport of skateboarding and lets you kickflip over a Gundam at the same time; for that they deserve some kind of award.
[+ satisfying challenge] [+ peerless animation and art style] [+ captures some of the most important elements of skateboarding] [+impeccable controls/mechanics] [- faceless skater dude pushes mongo while skating switch]