I am not a big skateboarder, I first tried to become one when I was given a skateboard on my 6th birthday but to no avail. Even though I would hardly characterize myself as easily scared, the idea of having to use my face as brake was stronger than the appeal of surfing the asphalt. Fast forward more than ten years to where I am in my late teens and you could occasionally find me hanging out with a group of “skater” friends.
Sometimes we hung out together at a local skatepark or we went touring the city and as time passed some of my friends managed to hone some impressive skill, pulling of these increasingly difficult tricks. Long story short I wanted in and I tried for a while but as it turns out becoming good at skateboarding requires a lot of practice and you should expect to fall a lot.
I never became good at the sport, luckily the magic of games allows us to experience some of the things we will never be able to achieve in real life, silly things like grinding a pink dinosaur.
At its core the appeal of OlliOlli comes from the way the game feels and plays. It is a skateboarding game and even though the game is presented in a 2D side scrolling style, tricks and combo’s are at the heart of the experience. The essence of skateboarding is captured really well and the choice for 2D levels over a free roaming 3D world make sure the focus lies on executing these tricks and combo’s while traversing the levels. These levels feel like both friend and foe, rails and fences lend themselves happily to be grinded on and you will definitely need them to get to the otherwise out of reach collectibles or the cheering crowd at the end of a level.
Like I explained in my preview of OlliOlli the controls and scoring system are the beating heart of this game. The left analog stick (or if you really want to the directional buttons) is used to execute tricks, the moment you let go of the stick your skater performs a trick, and with over 120 different tricks and grinds there are a lot. The bigger the trick the more difficult it will be to pull off, but obviously the more rewarding in terms of points it will be. The crux is in the landing of said trick and timing is of the essence because a perfect landing will not only score you the most points but it also makes sure you have the best possible approach for taking on the next obstacle. Anything less than a perfect landing (or grind) will reduce your score and speed (and in the worst case scenario will plant your face in the asphalt).
Sure, with the press of the (X) button you can “push off” and regain speed (doing so two times will even get you back to maximum speed) but the levels (especially later in the game) have been designed in a way which greatly encourages players to hone their skill with timing and control. In your chase to get the highest score, clear level objectives, and sometimes just to reach the end of the level you will feel the need to squeeze a trick in every second of “airtime” you have with the risk of blowing it all.
OlliOlli can be quite unforgiving and frustrating at times, not because the game does something wrong rather the opposite, it points out where you as a player lost control or simply lack the required skill. I often clutched my fists after ending a magnificent forty plus string of perfect tricks with a sloppy landing.
The looming doom of your own failure is especially present in the Daily Grind, a mode which offers a unique level each day. Because you will soon learn that knowing your way around a level goes hand in hand with getting the better score you are allowed an infinite amounts of practice runs before you decide to go at it for real. However once you do you have only one try to make it all count and I can’t help myself but every time when the sh*it gets real I hear Eminem’s Lose Yourself in the back of my head. I couldn’t summarise the tension of Daily Grind any better he did;
“Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted. one moment. Would you capture it or just let it slip?
His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy”
In terms of content there is enough to keep you busy for a while; in total fifthy levels, with 250 objectives. There is the Spots mode which similarly to the Daily Grind only allows for one big combo. The aim there is again to pull off the biggest possible score because even a perfect landing will end your “run” and will need to hone your grinding skills to reach the end and maximise your score.
Highscores are obviously a big thing in OlliOlli and you can immediately see how your score ranks online and what score you need to beat to become king. Normally I don’t care much getting the absolute highest scores on leaderboards but OlliOlli manages to pull me in on the leaderboard chase. The only other game on the Vita that had that effect on me is Spelunky.
I do think that there is room for improvement in OlliOlli for example you can’t compare your friends score from within the menu. Your score is compared to the best out there which is great if you have the skill to compete but I can imagine some will feel overwhelmed when they see the highest score.
The soundtrack of OlliOlli is a total beast and it really adds to the feel and flow of the game. I said it before and I’ll say it again after a few hours with OllOlli if I felt like buying a skateboard or go clubbing. Heck, I might even go clubbing with a skateboard.
In short OlliOlli is a game any self respecting Vita gamer should have in their library. When I wrote a preview of the game a few months ago I posed the question if OlliOlli could become the next indie hit.
Now after extensive playtime I feel like I can answer that question with a full-hearted YES! And I should add the indie part isn’t really important (well at least for the gamer it isn’t). I can understand that the visual style might put some off, but I would strongly recommend anyone to buy this game. I feel like if this game was made in the late 80’s or during the 90’s people would be begging for a remake now. Luckily the game is here now. And if you are smart and can spare some pocket change OlliOlli comes with a nice “release discount” making it a more than excellent quality for money purchase.
Let me close with a pair of tweets one from PlayStation’s Shid Shuman and my own “random “reply.
— italkgame (@italkgame) 20 januari 2014
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