I make no qualms in saying that I absolutely adored the original OlliOlli from the first moment I played it at E3 2013. Back then it was a skeleton of the original Vita version of the game, but the core mechanics and art style were already present, and it was clear that this was the game for me.
Although it’s just been announced today at the same time as this goes live, my first experience with OlliOlli 2 came a few weeks ago and was much the same, although this time it came in London rather than LA and on a PS4 rather than a Vita (the sequel is set to launch on both platforms). Much like the original, it’s clear that what I was shown was meant to demo the core mechanics and art, highlighting what’s changed from the original. While the core idea of a 2D, sidescrolling, combo heavy, hard as nails skating title remains, a lot has either changed or been added to.
For a start, the pixel art style that was one of the original’s hallmarks has been replaced by a more cartoon-like style. What particularly stood out for me is the way your skater’s shirt now billows slightly as you begin a trick, giving him a much more dynamic look. Given how significantly the art style has changed, this is a relatively minor point, but it just encapsulates the game’s visual changes in a single animation; everything in OlliOlli 2 just seems to flow more than it did in the original.
Of course there may be some that decry the move away from the original’s pixel art style, but Roll7’s Simon Bennet explained that the new graphics come from a desire to expand and improve the game’s mechanics. “Basically we wanted to expand the combo system for more mastery and twitch shenanigans,” said Simon. “In order to do this, we needed a far clearer art style that very clearly shows what the skater is doing in any split second.”
The main driver behind the art style is Manuel Hirai, the game’s art lead. While the original title had five different artists working on various aspects of it, Hirai is overseeing the whole process for OlliOlli 2, something that should, hopefully, see the new art style flourish across the various settings that will feature in the game.
Beyond the changes to character and level art, the UI is also set to receive an overhaul to match the updated style. While much of this wasn’t in the build of the game that was on show, one of the most promising additions comes in the form of a combo counter. This sits just under your score and shows you what your combo would be worth if you landed it perfectly right now, something that will come in useful in the game’s new multiplayer mode.
That’s right, the game is set to feature full on, synchronous multiplayer, coming in the form of Combo Attack. This is a four player mode (split screen on the PS4 or via ad-hoc play on the Vita) which sees you trying to hit the highest possible score on the same level as your friends.
While I know that OlliOlli doesn’t necessarily seem like it’s the best fit for synchronous multiplayer, I can actually see this being a lot of fun, and getting pretty tense. Do you land your combo now and take the points, or do you cling on a little longer to push ahead of your friends? Is making that last gap really worth it, or will it cause you to bail and lose everything?
As mentioned earlier, the combo system has also been expanded, seeing a number of new mechanics introduced. First among the additions are manuals, where you lean forwards or backwards on your board, keeping only one set of trucks on the ground. Not only does landing with a manual boost your combo score, it keeps the combo going, allowing you to chain together chunks of the level that simply wouldn’t have been possible in the original game.
However, if you’d rather get a bit more variation in your grinding, then the new grind switching system will be right up your street. This is only an option if you land a perfect grind, but it pretty much does what it says on the tin, allowing you to switch to a different grind without having to leave the rail. Of course if you’re over ambitious and try to switch as you reach the end of the rail then you will, in Simon’s words, “eat concrete.”
Eventually, though, all combos have to be landed, and this is where reverts come into play. If you’ve played Tony Hawk’s titles in the past then you’re probably familiar with reverts, but for the uninitiated these are where you switch the direction of your board, flipping it 180º. Here, of course, you’re endlessly heading from left to right, but that’s not going to stop you riding backwards. Nailing a revert isn’t going to be easy though, as you’ll need to hit a shoulder button along with X as you land, and only those with perfect timing will be rewarded with a revert and a nice boost to their combo.
As well as the new gameplay mechanics on show, the game’s level design has had an overhaul. Most notable amongst these is the presence of curved surfaces, something that seems relatively small but allows for new twists to the way the game is put together. More importantly, it allows for the introduction of ramps, which boost your speed and fling you up into the air. Of course it’s not quite that simple, as you’ll need to prime your trick by holding the left stick in a direction, before releasing it at the very last second if you want to get the best boost from the ramp.
On top of that, levels are now set to feature split paths, Sonic style. Much like the multiple grind paths towards the end of OlliOlli, you’ll sometimes need to make sure you’ve really nailed earlier parts of the level if you want to get to the higher path, like taking a ramp at maximum speed.
In addition to going to new heights, you can now go lower than you ever thought possible, with some sections of the game being set underground. Making this even trickier are the obstacles on the ceiling, along with your typical assortment of floor fodder, giving them that extra edge in the difficulty stakes.
As for the game’s scale, Roll7 are saying OlliOlli 2 will feature five new worlds, comprised of fifty new levels (split across amateur and pro). Given the game’s subtitle, Welcome to Olliwood, we can expect to see some movie magic when it comes to the game’s locations, and the screen shots we’ve been sent clearly show a Wild West theme for one world and an Indian Jones/Aztec theme for another, along with Olliwood itself.
It’s fair to say that while OlliOlli 2 changes a lot from the original, it really does keep the important elements in place. The overhaul to the art style is significant, but it works, and you can really see the attention to detail that’s already gone into the new graphics even at this early stage. The additions to the gameplay mechanics are what will really push this game beyond its predecessor, particularly with the manuals – being able to extend your combos with these is clearly going to be key if you want the big points. Alas, we’ll have to wait till next year to see the full gamut of changes, but what’s on show now looks more than promising.