OlliOlli will always be a handheld game for me. It started on PlayStation Vita, but its success saw Roll7 aiming higher, bringing the sequel to the then fresh-faced PlayStation 4, and onward to all other platforms. Coming out this week on 14th February for Nintendo Switch, OlliOlli And OlliOlli 2 have been brought back to where I first fell in love with them: the palms of my hands.
Skateboarding fans have been starved of a good game for a long, long time. Tony Hawk’s heyday gave way to Skate, but while THPS was left to descend into abject mediocrity, Skate 3 has lived on in the hearts and minds of fans. It was amidst the eagerness for a fourth game that never came that OlliOlli showed up from plucky New Cross skater/devs at Roll7.
The first hurdle with any sports game is how you translate button taps and stick twiddles into replicating the real world actions. It’s here that OlliOlli makes you feel like a newborn deer that doesn’t have a concept of what legs are. You flounder around following the tutorial, get your fingers and thumbs in a muddle as you try and do more advanced tricks, before realising that, actually, it’s not that hard. This is a game about patterns and timing. It’s a rhythm action game where the slightest misstep wipes you out and sends you back to the very start.
All you really need to know is that pulling the left analogue stick down and releasing will make your little 2D skater ollie, and that you need to time a B button press to successfully land the most basic of tricks. It’s hard to get the timing right, unusually tricky to bend your mind around such a simple control conceit, but it only gets trickier as you add more and more layers into the mix. There’s different types of tricks, enabled by moving the analogue stick around the circle before releasing, there’s grinds, there’s grind-switches, and by the time of the sequel, there’s being able to land into a manual so you can continue your chained tricks.
You’re rewarded for trick variety, and this is where the pattern-building rhythm action elements of the game come to the fore. the different directions and angles through which you spin the analogue stick give you a certain number of tricks to pull, but that’s tripled by holding either of the triggers as you do so. You can work your way around the clock face, get halfway through a level and then start working on the right trigger tricks, then the left. Getting to the end of a level might take a few attempts just sticking to basics, but throw in the mental gymnastics of trying to keep track of pulling as many varied tricks as possible, and you can easily come a cropper.
The levels gradually build in complexity through each game, giving you longer chains of rails to grind down, more hazards to avoid, more intricate sections that demand more intricate timing to keep your skater’s speed up. Alongside that you have five challenges, sometimes just to get a high score or combo, other times to pull a specific trick or grab collectibles. Complete all five on a level and you unlock a Pro version, with the ultimate Raid levels pushing the difficulty even further.
There’s a great sense of how Roll7 managed to evolve their game from the first to the second. The art style is a dramatic shift from simplistic pixel art to smooth vectors that look fantastic, while the environments trade the humdrum of a Spanish port for the glitz of ‘Olliwood’. The second game does a much better job of teaching you the controls and how to trick, ironically making it the better place to start in Switch Stance, but it’s difficult to go back to the first game without having manuals when you land.
The only real annoyance with OlliOlli Switch Stance is that you can’t seemingly switch games without quitting and starting again. There’s no added main menu item in either game, no way to press ‘B’ one more time to go back, or button combos like – and + at the same time. It’s a minor point, but at the same time, what the hell?
As much as OlliOlli Switch Stance brings back the greatness of these games, hopefully exposing them to a new audience on Switch, I hope it’s a gateway to seeing what Roll7 can come up with in a third game.