OlliOlli is a frenetic, hardcore game which has one goal: to make skateboarding cool again. It’s a genre which has fizzled away in recent years, with the Tony Hawk series dwindling in quality and Skate going missing in action after its third instalment.
But OlliOlli isn’t your traditional skating game, instead taking the tricks, jumps and speed and placing it into a 2D side-scrolling template, which borrows from many conventions of endless runner games. Though to think that OlliOlli would work as a mobile game is underestimating what it really is – this is a full skating experience, with dozens of tricks and grinds, just sideways and flat.
It’s in the trick system that the game excels, as the left stick is used for a multitude of flips and grinds, while the shoulder buttons modify these with spins. You’ll have to hold the left stick in a direction, or give it a twist and then let go in order to start your jump, and then by holding one of those shoulder buttons while in air you might go from a standard ollie or kickflip into something much more impressive. And dizzying.
From there, it’s all about landing the trick perfectly – or as near as possible – by tapping X as close to the ground as you can. You’ll be rated on how stable your landing is, with everything from sloppy to sick (the good kind) to perfect, and that, along with the multiplier which increases as you chain tricks together will give you your final score for any given combo.
The key to those combos is grinding (there’s no manuals, so when you land, the combo finishes) and this combines both the mechanics of trick pulling and landing – you’ll still use the stick to activate different grinds, but it’s once again about how close to landing on the rail you can pull these off.
It’s a great system, which is only let down by the Vita itself. With its small sticks, less than forgiving shoulder buttons and cramped feel, the game doesn’t quite work how you’d like it to all the time. Pulling off tricks which require a twist of the stick before lifting off can prove challenging, and then trying to use the left shoulder button for spinning can be quite uncomfortable.
While OlliOlli might seem like the perfect formula for an endless runner game, each level has a designated end point, as you skate into a cheering crowd. It’s much more complex too, due to the tricks and scoring system, so you’ll be replaying levels to try and better your score and perhaps even get to number one in the world. And that’s not the only reason to replay – there are five challenges per level, which include getting high scores, high combos, collecting items, grinding section X, landing perfect tricks and so on, which net you stars for the level and unlock Pro versions when completed.
With core mechanics based entirely around scoring points, it’s extremely odd that there are no listed leaderboards. After each level or spot, you’re able to see your position in the world and the top score, but you can’t compare with friends or anyone else directly. It’s even more strange when you realise that the functionality is obviously there if the game manages keep track of your position.
There’s still a lot to do in OlliOlli, with 25 Amateur campaign levels, and 25 Amateur spots, each of which has Pro variations and then Rad mode, which only allows for perfection in landing and grinding rails. There’s even the nifty Daily Grind, which sees you practising before taking one – and only one – attempt at getting the highest score in the world on a specific level.
It’s not about how much content there is however, but the fact that you’ll want to play it over and over again; there’s a suitable degree of challenge which simply makes replaying to beat your score or complete a star quite addictive. Progression does not have the same sense of reward however, as you’ll have the set of tricks from the start, rather than building up your repertoire as you go.
It’s great for pick up and play too, as the levels are often very short. Just don’t expect to be able to put it down very quickly – OlliOlli hooks you in for a long time once you’ve began playing.
And the music can be just as catchy as the gameplay, with a superb and varied soundtrack which ranges from a chilled beat to an upbeat and frantic tune. It’s very modern and electronic, far from the chiptune that you may expect from the game’s visuals. The graphics are really nothing special, although there are some lovely parallax scrolling effects and the aesthetic is often spot-on, varying from section to section.
We found it quite prone to glitches and crashing however, which means that the game might just throw you back to the Vita’s home screen completely mid-level, or that the restart button will stop working completely, with finger presses failing to register far too often for a menu system that’s exclusively controlled through touch.
OlliOlli is a great game, with a brilliant trick system which is clearly well thought out and has had a lot of development time. It’s unrelentingly fun, and at times unforgivingly hard, but you’ll find it hard to let go as you trick, grind and spin your way through the plethora of levels included, trying to get the highest score.
It’s just ultimately let down by how it feels on the system it’s made for, and the fact that there’s no sense of challenge against your friends, which is arguably the draw of an arcade-y high score challenge game such as this.