“You press X to push off, flick the left stick to jump and then you’ll want to hit X again to nail the landing.” This simple set of instructions is how Roll7’s Tom Hegarty introduces me to OlliOlli in the little space we’ve managed to find at E3. While the TVs nearby are endlessly occupied by people trying to get a glance at the so-called next generation of gaming I stare down intensely at the Vita that Tom’s handed me, its screen showing a pixel art skateboarder smashing into the floor as I utterly fail to be any good at the game.
If you haven’t heard of OlliOlli before, it’s a Vita exclusive 2D title that lies at the odd intersection of platformers, infinite runners and skateboarding games. Stylistically it’s likely to bring to mind what Canabalt would look like with colours and better parallax scrolling, and while the gameplay’s similar in some regards to the king of infinite runners, OlliOlli is certainly doing more than enough to set itself apart from the competition.
For a start, the infinite runner comparisons are a little misleading. While Tom told me that while they’re considering some kind of endless mode, it’s certainly not their main focus for the game. Instead it’s more like a traditional 2D side scroller, with you having some control over your speed but lacking the ability to change direction.
While surviving a level is certainly one aim, the larger one is to jump and grind your way through every level, creating huge combos to maximise your score. Roll7 are putting a lot of effort into building levels in such a way that you can get an absolutely massive score if you get to grips with the layout of grindable objects in the world and manage to mix in some spins with the L and R triggers as you hop between them.
For example, Tom showed me one of the game’s harder levels, called Combo-tastic. Although he told me that the level names aren’t final, I absolutely begged him to keep this one.
Anyway, the level itself starts off simply enough, but quickly evolves into a series of grinds that you have to nail perfectly if you want to keep your combo going, or indeed keep going at all. Jump a little early and you won’t have enough speed to hit the top of the ice cream van that you need to, causing your combo to end and your board to become stuck in a section of grass.
Despite the fact that I pretty much constantly failed to nail the jump onto the ice cream van that I needed to, it never once stopped me trying. That’s the aspect of OlliOlli that Roll7 have really nailed, if you fail you really feel that it’s your own fault. I’m not saying that the game isn’t difficult, I would be lying to you if I did, but it’s always clear what you need to do to make the next jump or improve your combo; if you can’t reach it then the blame lies squarely on your shoulders.
The game’s set to feature five stages set in different locations, and each stage will contain a number of levels. You’ll progress through the stages in the game’s main career mode, unlocking the next one by moving through the previous one.
On top of this central mode, and the aforementioned possibility of an endless runner style mode, there’s also the Spots and Daily Grind modes. These will draw short chunks from levels, as well as introducing bespoke sections, where there’s the potential to nail ridiculous combos by chaining together grind after grind.
In the aptly named Spots mode you’ll be able to play each spot as often as you’d like, posting your high score to the game’s leader boards, with new spots being unlocked as you progress in career mode. The Daily Grind mode is pretty similar, but with a small difference. Each day Roll7 will release a different Spot for everyone to compete on, aiming to climb to the top of that day’s leader board.
The twist? Well, although you can practice on each spot as much as you’d like, you only get one chance to register a score. Before you start a run through of the day’s spot you have to specify if it’s going to be the score you submit, and once that’s locked in then that’s it. If you miss the first jump and end up face planting then you won’t get a second chance to get a good score and you’re out of the running. This extra level of pressure is a nice touch, and I expect it to lead to a good number of people staring at their Vitas in disbelief, having fallen at the first hurdle.
Unfortunately I didn’t get to play Spots or Daily Grind, but it’s features like this that keep people coming back to games day after day. I really can’t wait to try them next time I see the game. Hopefully I won’t embarrass myself too much.
Beyond the game itself, Tom was extremely vocal about the support they’d gotten from Sony as an indie studio. It’s always good to hear about this kind of thing and, to be perfectly honest, it’s the indie titles that are drawing me towards a Vita more than any of the larger games it hosts. Games like OlliOlli or Velocity Ultra really sink their hooks into me and make me want to play them as much as physically possible.
As someone who’s drawn endless hours of fun from the Tony Hawk series, OlliOlli has a huge amount of appeal. I absolutely loved what I played of the game, and am now looking cautiously at my bank balance to see if there’s any way it can support the purchase of a Vita before the game’s released, hopefully at the end of the year.