As a longtime fan of skating games, I have been disappointed with what the genre has had to offer in the last few years. Rightfully so, I would say, as the selection has been far from satisfying. It has been seven years since the last main entry in the Tony Hawk’s series, not including 2009′s dreadful peripheral-based Ride, and nearly four years since the last Skate entry. Needless to say, the skating game genre has teetered off of its once high pedestal.
Roll7′s OlliOlli, however, seeks to fill the hole left by Tony Hawk and Skate with its simple to learn but difficult to master 2D side-scrolling gameplay. But is the shift to 2D the direction that skating games need to go?
What made the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games so absorbing were their focus on achieving the highest score possible. Levels would often have side missions which would give players more incentive to replay and reach their desired score. In that respect, OlliOlli is very similar. Each of the game’s six locations feature two difficulty levels, Amateur and Pro, and each difficulty level contains five stages. Each one of the stages contains five goals that you can meet; anything from doing a cool trick, landing a big combo, or hitting a high score. It is difficult to not want to shoot for fulfilling all of the goals in OlliOlli.
As you further into the game, the stages become harder and harder to master. As well as additional obstacles, the stage challenges become increasingly difficult to complete. When you beat a level and complete each of the five challenges, you can attempt to do the level in Pro difficulty which adds even tougher challenges and levels. The seemingly endless amount of potential challenges and experiences are enough to keep you hooked on OlliOlli for hours on end.
Precision Based Gameplay
In the same vein as a side-scrolling free runner, you move from the left side of the stage to the right. You are offered platforms to grind on and obstacles to avoid, but not much else. The design is far from marred by its simplicity; rather the simplicity of it accentuates what should be the focus of a skating video game: addicting gameplay, tight controls, and the potential for high combos and scores. OlliOlli hits these notes with resounding virtue.
At the heart of any skating game are the tricks. Roll7 managed to cram nearly every skating trick you can think of into the Vita’s left analog stick and shoulder buttons. Depending on which way you flick the stick, your skater will do a different trick. The more tricks you can do in succession, as well as landing it successfully on the ground, the higher your score.
That being said, OlliOlli is definitely not an easy game to play. It took me maybe an hour to fully get acquainted with all of the nuances within the controls, and even then it wasn’t easy. While not Dark Souls or Super Meat Boy, you will fail a stage countless times before you complete every challenge or hit your desired high score. Each time you attempt a trick (be it a grind or in air) you need to press X just before you hit the ground or you will lose what is essentially your multiplier. The closer you get to the ground before you hit X, the better your combo score will be. While this sounds simple, in the midst of the precision demanding gameplay your fingers may get tied up as you’re attempting to land a sweet combo. This results in simple yet difficult and immensely satisfying gameplay.
Small Analog Stick
In general, OlliOlli is a very fluid and well-controlled game. However in some occasions, the small analog stick, which represents the majority of the control scheme, shows itself as OlliOlli‘s and the Vita’s greatest weakness. I would occasionally run into trouble when trying to land a set of particularly difficult tricks in quick succession using the analog stick. My thumb isn’t particularly large and I rarely if ever have this sort of problem in slower games like Uncharted: Golden Abyss or Tearaway, but the fast paced action demanded by OlliOlli is sometimes shaken by this problem. This shouldn’t be a deterrence for those looking to buy as the merits definitely outweigh this potential issue.
To qualify, I don’t want to say that OlliOlli is a bad-looking game. The retro psuedo-16-bit visuals and bright-colored menus are easy on the eyes and do nothing to hinder the experience. My only qualms lay with the environments themselves. Each location just re-skins old elements, such as grind rails and stairs, and features a relatively bland scrolling background. The rapid gameplay keeps your eyes from caring too much, thankfully.
Without a doubt, this is the best thing to happen to skating games in many years. While lacking in substance, it is definitely made up by the addictive formula, responsive controls, and satisfying gameplay. It takes the best parts of what you loved in old skating games and infuses fast paced 2D side-scrolling splendor. It is the perfect game to pick up and play for either a few minutes or a few hours.