The next time you shrug your shoulders and mutter under your breath, when faced with an obvious truism like “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, remember this review. If there was ever a title that captured the essence of that saying, it would be indie UK developer Roll7’s PlayStation Vita exclusive, OlliOlli.
At first glance, OlliOlli looks and plays like a retro side-scrolling 2D platformer – from the late 80s to early 90s. The graphics are simple (yet charming and colourful). There’s even a catchy soundtrack to please the ear, but – most shockingly it is all about skateboarding. Some may even see it as a “lone new entry into a genre that’s long since faded into memory” or “an ambitious new project to reawaken an interest in skateboarding games”.
To be honest, I would love to see skateboarding games return to their former glory, and a part of me hopes that OlliOlli will drive a skateboard game revival. However, Roll7’s title doesn’t claim to be as realistic as EA’s Skate games or as over-the-top as Activision’s beleaguered and ill-fated Tony Hawk’s games. In fact, it’s unapologetically retro – complete with a pixellated skateboarding dude.
I was pleasantly surprised by the game’s tight controls and slick trick system. Skateboard tricks (flips and grinds) are mapped to the PS Vita’s left analogue stick, with additional modifiers applied via the shoulder buttons. You can perform a simple kick-flip or an Ollie with a single flick (or rotation) of the stick or you can add a rotational spin by holding down one of the shoulder buttons. You aren’t limited to only a few skateboard tricks, because a quick glance at the game’s “tricktionary” shows an expansive list that will boggle the mind.
At its core, OlliOlli isn’t just about performing tricks. The real challenge is in the landings. You have to quickly tap the “x” button just before your skateboard touches the ground. Depending on how close you are to the ground, your trick will be rated as either “sloppy” or “perfect”. Perfect tricks are rewarded with the highest possible score, whereas a sloppy landing will ruin even the longest and most extravagant trick combos. I was surprised that manual tricks were omitted, which means once your skateboard touches ground, your combo ends. Therefore, the best way to rack up a decent score is through grinds and modifying your aerial tricks.
In addition to the tricks, OlliOlli features a respectable number of themed levels. There are 25 Amateur campaign levels. Each level has five different challenges that vary from collecting specific items during a run, or landing a perfect trick, to even reaching a specific score. If you complete all the challenges for a level, you unlock the “Pro” version of that level (and eventually the “Rad” version once you’ve perfected the “Pro” version). In addition, each campaign level is also paired with a “spot” stage. During the spot challenges, you’re only allowed one uninterrupted combo run, with your highest score either bringing bragging rights or the shame of a hilarious YouTube skateboard wipe-out. There’s also a daily grind mode, where you’re pitted against other players for the highest score on a specific level. But there’s a catch, you can only attempt it once a day. You are allowed to practice before a run, but it’s still a nerve-wrecking experience.
The individual levels aren’t very long. For the most part, they’re essentially bite-sized (less than a minute or two in length), but the difficult nature of levels (and the fact that a face-plant ends a run) will leave you replaying, revisiting and restarting individual stages. In fact, you’ll want to replay it.
There is a sense of simplicity about OlliOlli. I don’t mean it in a disparaging way, but rather along the vein of the following: “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” (a quote generally attributed to Leonardo da Vinci … or Apple Computer). The game design, controls and gameplay are simplistic, yet as a whole you’re left with a surprisingly challenging title. However, OlliOlli isn’t flawless. For one thing, the current build is unstable and prone to occasional crashes. I am confident that the instability will be fixed with a future patch, but the one aspect that does annoy me is the lack of a leaderboard for your PSN friends. The current leaderboard is lacklustre. There is no way to see where you rank relative to your PSN friends. You get a sense of where you stand globally, but it still feels like a wasted opportunity.
Regardless of the crashes and the lack of a comprehensive leaderboard, OlliOlli is a fantastic title. It’s extremely challenging and perfectly suited to Sony’s little handheld. I can’t recommend it more.