Take an Excitebike cartridge, blend it with a copy of Tony Hawks Pro Skater and a zip disk containing Elasto Mania and what do you get. The least appetising smoothie ever – unless you’re into eating 20-year-old grey plastic mixed with sharp shards of CD. Take each of these games then combine their best elements with the code chefs at Roll7 however, and you’re gifted with one of the PS Vita’s most impressive indie titles to date. A tasty morsel of OlliOlli.
On the surface, OlliOlli is a side scrolling skateboarding game where you grind and flick your way to the end of each stage. When the grip tape starts to peel away on this preconception though, the base elements are revealed to you in an epiphany of nostalgia and fascination. What at first looked like a simple side scroller has blossomed into a deeply technical tribute to the chosen past time of kids around the world, with enough challenges to keep the most ardent completionist glued until their eyes pray for mercy while fulfilling the casual pick up and play charms every handheld game needs to succeed.
Starting up OlliOlli, the striking spectacle of its visuals instantly burn imprints of themselves on your eyes. A marriage between a fast pace and contrasting colours soothes the eye through stages which would normally play merry havoc with your retina. Each of the five areas differentiates itself from the other by flinging a bevy of flotsam and jetsam for you to traverse through a series of nosegrinds and laserflips. These range from a beachside promenade to a snow-covered airbase and all the way to a Tokyo-inspired neon sign metropolis.
The accompanying soundtrack is nothing to be sniffed at either. Music moves between hints of the soundtrack of “And Yet It Moves” with trance-imbuing ambient sounds and thumping inpsirational rock tracks before drifting back into more techno and dance beats which usually reverberate around the circuits in Wipeout 2048. This selection of swinging tempos adds delightful variety to each of the stages when your spending run after run crusading towards that specific challenge.
OlliOlli looks much more approachable than its 3D counterparts, the Tony Hawk and Skate franchises, thanks to its 2D gameplay. While you’re still going to be doing the same crazy impossible stunts we’ve all seen in other skateboarding titles like 720 Kickflips leading into 3 Tailgrind, they are all mastered without the need for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome-causing claw motions by your hands. The seemingly simple controls all revolve around this little nubbin of interactivity. The trick or grind performed is linked directly to whatever motion you make on the thumbstick before letting it go to see the move fly into action. These can range from a basic pull down then release to rack up a simple Ollie right to a complex 3’o’clock to 9’o’clock circular motion followed by a flick. Get used to flicking that stick, you’ll be doing it one hell of a lot.
Landing tricks is done by holding the X button down at the correct time or initiating a grind with good timing to get the score and not fall on your probably tarmac riddling backside. The timing is crucial with these landings. Time it badly or not at all and you’ll receive a measly amount of points and nearly crash out. Get the timing half right and you’re treated to an ok. However slam that landing home at the exact right time and you’ll receive a healthy perfect bonus. This seemingly simple act is both a joy to master and a constant irritation to a new player. It may only take you the better part of 60 minutes to get this act into your cerebellum but getting it there requires some failure along the way.
Stages start out fairly simple with a few grinds and a smattering of jumps with very little consequence to failure. By the end of the first five stages though you’ll be expected to step up your game as hitting perfect grinds to maintain your speed and quickly flick tricks to avoid obstacles becomes the challenge. That’s before you even look at the challenges. The first line of gameplay is to simply complete each stage which leads you to the next and so on until you unlock all of the amateur mode stages. Within each of these stages is a selection of challenges. These will generally range from the simple ones like grind these signs or perform this trick – a task which can be completed with the help of the games inbuilt tricktionary – to some which at first seem impossible. These crazy ones come in such deliciously despicable flavours as don’t grind on a course made for grinding or pick up this one spray can which is between two obstacles which you can’t see on approach so you’ll need to remember each part of the stage.
Defeating every challenge can prove to be arduous at times as you repeat a level over and over again due to small mistakes on your part but they are all possible and most importantly, all fun. For example I spent over 90 minutes trying to complete one particularly difficult stage which was hard for me to grasp,so hard in fact I tweeted the level designer and screamed “WHYYYYY” at them. After a quick sleep I woke up bleary eyed and figured I’d try the stage while waiting in the typical morning bathroom queue, only to complete said stage in one go. At no point does the game get so frustrating that you regret purchasing it. OlliOlli compels you onward by taking the gaming form of a drug dealer (bear with me on this one). You will take a go at a challenge only to find it too hard to complete. Instead of OlliOlli making you dig around in the menus to restart it dangles the option to try again mere centimeters from your left thumb so all it takes is a quick tap and boom, you’re hooked in for hours. My Vita actually still has the grease mark where the reset button is, and I’m in doubt as to whether I ever want to clean it off.
a deep and brain-bending game which can absorb hours of your life
When you’ve got all five challenges on a course done you advance to pro level. This is a more difficult version overall of its corresponding stage and still isn’t the end. There’s a rad level, and not one which can be cured by a friendly dose of Radaway, which is more but harder. Tag onto it Spots which are single combo stages where if you land or mess up part of your combo you’re done plus the Daily Grind, which is a worldwide challenge mode version of these Spots and you’ve got a whole host of modes to sink your skateboarding teeth into.
If OlliOlli has any short comings it’s the lack of player-to-player interaction. Leaderboards are present and seeing the top guy in the world with a score which could eat your best points total on a stage five times over for breakfast is a frequent occurence. However you can’t see what scores your friends have achieved and do a little e-peen waving via PSN or your chosen social networking platform. This is a sore loss for OlliOlli and one that would hopefully be implemented via a patch soon. This however is the only gripe one can have with this title which overall, is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying on Sony’s little black touchable oblong.
Addiction at its finest. Compulsion at its most extreme. OlliOlli doesn’t just present you with a great portable time-killer to while away a few minutes between odd jobs or while relaxing on a train journey. It adds a deep and brain-bending game which can absorb hours of your life in the quest towards that one second of pure rewarding joy at hitting that grind perfectly to complete your latest score challenge.
Roll7 have been able to achieve greatness in the skateboarding genre in one amazing game. By striking the perfect score combo of verifiably artistic visuals with a stellar soundtrack and spellbinding gameplay, OllOlli is so addictive it would make a viable cheaper alternative to methadone replacement therapy.