Inside Pulse 12

Review: OlliOlli (PC)

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OlliOlli
Genre: Skateboard/Score Attack
Developer: Roll7
Publisher: Steam
Release Date: 7/22/2014

I’m going to make a terrible analogy to start off this review because why not. There was a time when junk food was created, processed and sold to meet the demand of people who wanted a sugary snack. Now it’s a multi-billion dollar empire where they’ve done the science to know exactly how much salt and fat per chip triggers an addictive response in your mind to keep you eating chips. The junk food of today has measured out what flavors work the best for each bite you take to ensure you’ll keep coming back for more.

I mention that because it came to mind when I was playing OlliOlli. I’m a fan of the Tony Hawk series of skateboarding games and all of the other kind of score attack games that were inspired by that series. They were addictive and fun to play. OlliOlli is also addictive and very fun to play and it takes some of what was so great about older skateboarding games and focuses it into an almost weaponized addictive experience. I played for hours without even realizing it and it made me wonder if like the junk food companies were the developers behind OlliOlli had a report on gamers like me that helped them take what I like and merge it together into a game I would have a hard time putting down.

Not to imply that the developers are insidious masterminds bent on world domination, just that even when my hands hurt and it was too late at night I’d find myself starting up a game of OlliOlli. My wife would ask me why I was playing it when my hands hurt and I’d say ‘I don’t know, I just want to see if I can improve my score on a level. Should take a few minutes.’ Two hours later I’d still be playing.

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OlliOlli is a 2D sidescrolling skateboarding video game with retro looking character sprites and an enthusiastic soundtrack. Calling it a 2D version of a Tony Hawk game wouldn’t really capture the game entirely, however it wouldn’t be far off either.

In the game you control a skater moving left to right. Like the Infinite Runner genre of video games you start the levels with the character already moving. I played the game with an Xbox 360 controller, as a controller was recommended right in the initial loading screen. In the game you control the skater with the left joystick on a controller. Flicking a direction or making quarter and half circle motions will make the character sprite jump, and depending on the motion, also do a grab trick or kickflip. Much of the game is attempting to get the best combo and score possible, which is done by extending a trick through grinding off of objects in the different levels. Grinding is as easy as holding the left joystick in a direction when landing on an object. Different angles will produce different grinds. Landing on the ground instead of a surface you can grind on requires pressing the A button to stick the landing.

Sticking a landing well and grinding at the perfect moment are key things to learn since depending on how well you land can affect the momentum of the character player. It is possible to press A to make the character regain speed but as the areas get tougher there are also fewer places to take a moment and do so.

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While the controls seem easy enough getting the timing down can be rough. Also as a person who has played multiple skateboard titles I found it difficult to remember to press A when landing, and there were moments I perfectly landed several grinds and tricks in a row only to mess up the landing which significantly screws up the amount of points you received. In addition to all of that the left and right bumpers on the controller serve as trick modifiers and to add spin to tricks.

The game has basically three modes. There’s the Career mode, which involves playing through individual levels that each have 5 distinct goals to accomplish within them. Typically things like reaching a certain score and/or combo, along with pulling off certain tricks and grinds or finding collectables. There are multiple difficulty levels, Amateur, Pro and Rad. In order to unlock the Pro version of a level you have to accomplish all five objectives. Just completing the Amateur and Pro modes will take some time as they get increasingly difficult to do. Aside from Career there are also Spot challenges to complete. These are individual challenges to try and get one long combo and the highest score you can to place on a high score list. If you beat everyone the game announces you’re king of that spot. Then there are Daily Grinds. These are new daily challenges that are also meant to challenge you to get the highest score, however while you have infinite amount of times to practice you only have one official chance at it. If you’re like me you’ll practice until you’ve got a great line and then blow it on the official challenge.

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This game is hard. I must’ve bailed 40 times before I really got a grip on what I was supposed to do, and then a lot more trying to perfect levels, and if you bail you start the level over from the beginning. Timing is everything in the game and in the Pro and later levels it’s impossible to complete a level if you don’t have good timing and the ability to maintain momentum, much less do what you need to in order to rack up a good score. You can land perfectly 20 times in a row but if the 21st time you screw up, you have to start all over again.

That however is very easy to do. If you bail you can wait or if impatient hit the select button to start from the beginning again. The levels are all very quick to either finish or fail at. I can see why this was on the Vita since a portable system might be the preferred way of playing the game as it’s certainly a game you can play for 2 minutes or several hours. In fact that’s part of the addictive aspect of the game, the game is hard enough to make it feel like a challenge to complete a level but the levels are quick enough to play that it’s easy to justify playing just one more time (even if that turns into 100 more times).

The game finds a way to perfectly blend ease of control with challenging difficulty along with levels long enough to have replay value with different goals and short enough to not want to throw a controller at a wall when you screw up and have to start over. As someone who doesn’t own a Vita I’m glad to have had the chance to play what is a tightly designed and all around wonderful experience from Roll7. It feels like it sort of combines elements from two of my favorite game series, the Tony Hawk Series and the Trials series. The only negative thing about the game that I can think of is that I kept getting a black screen until I turned the Steam Overlay off.

Short Attention Span Summary:
If you’re the kind of person who plays a game and then replays it again for a higher score, I can’t recommend OlliOlli enough. It’s an excellent game all around.