Review: OlliOlli

As someone who is terrible at Tony Hawk games and even worse at the Skate series, the idea of covering OlliOlli was terrifying at first. Skating games tend to rely on fast reflexes and picture-perfect timing — which aren’t my strong points. Fortunately, I love endless runners and remembered how quickly I took to the SSX reboot, so I decided to give this a shot. I’m glad I took a risk here because OlliOlli is an incredible game that blends runners and trick-chaining perfectly.

The core concept is fairly simple — you’re a skater on a 2D plane, so right away it stands out from other skating games outside of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater on the GBC, and you need to gather momentum and perform tricks, grind on rails, and gather little boosts to get a high score. One wipeout during a stage is enough to end your run, so you also need to balance playing it safe with taking enough chances to get a higher score. Double-tapping X builds up speed, while tapping the left stick up jumps, holding it down allows you to grind rails, and while in mid-air, you move the left stick around to perform tricks.

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The biggest key to the entire game is pressing X at the moment you land, or fairly close to it. Failing to do so results in an instant wipeout, so there’s a bit of a rhythm game component in this as well. The control setup is easy to learn, although if you’ve got greasy fingers, don’t play this as you’ll wind up messing up every movement on the left stick. It’s also not a good idea to play this if you’ve got the rubberized coating worn down on the stick either. If your sticks are in good shape though, the controls are a breeze and don’t require a lot of trial and error to pick up on. After 10 minutes, you’ll at least have the basics down well enough to make steady progress, and pick up enough awesome tricks in the process just by accident to do really well.

OlliOlli is tough, but fair. The difficulty curve is gradual and a tutorial teaches you what to do and lets you fail as many times as you need to. Unlike a lot of endless runners, there was no anger when I failed. Restarting is so quick and the levels are maybe a minute long each, so making one mistake doesn’t cost you a lot of times. Sometimes, it’s fun to fail because you wound up achieving a new personal best or knocking out an achievement in the process. You may not have beaten the level, but you accomplished something and then the goal becomes to beat the level and do all of those things — effectively putting the pieces of the puzzle together to form a masterpiece down the line. It’s easy to rage-quit most games, but not this one because it’s just so fun to play.

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Visually, the character art is a bit generic, but it gets the job done. The real star of the show is the animation. It’s incredibly fluid and is among the most life-like on the Vita thus far. Background art is thoroughly-detailed with multiple shades of blue, orange, red, and grey being used for the skies. There’s also a lot of stuff in the background and other than a few instances of grind rails blending in with background elements, the core game looks fantastic. The menus are bright, but are hurt by beingĀ  touch-controlled outside of one quick pre-level screen. Given that you’ll usually be replaying levels a lot, and have to do a touch motion in order to do so instead of just pressing X for the one prompt you get on that menu. Hopefully regular d-pad and button controls are added in, because just having touch menus reeks of Vita launch stuff where they’d be much faster to navigate with a traditional setup and only use touch because they can.

The sound design is another strong point, even with a somewhat weak soundtrack. Years of attempting to play THPS games have taught me that skating games should really be accompanied by hard rock of some sort — OlliOlli lacks it. Instead of music you can bang your head to, it’s got a soundtrack full of cheery songs that just feel out of place. It’s not really bad music, it just doesn’t fit the game. Fortunately, this issue is more than made up for by being able to adjust the audio with sliders and turn it off completely, leaving just the sound effects. They’re excellent and manage to be both realistic and a bit goofy. You’ll hear crowds cheering straight out of a 16-bit game, with each stage ending a bit like Road Rash with a group of people standing around moving with minimal action. It’s hilarious. Grinding on every object results in a different effect, and it changes based on your speed. Landings are also tied to different sound effects with a simple landing getting a basic thud, and a perfect one sounding a bit like a giant boom box hitting the Earth below. It’s a little touch, but it makes a perfect landing even more rewarding.

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Closing Comments:

OlliOlli‘s whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The iffy soundtrack and touch-based menus are black marks, but don’t diminish just how addictive the game is to play. It blends runners and skateboarding games perfectly, and has an over-the-top vibe that would have allowed it to fit in perfectly during the heyday of Road Rash and Skitchin’. It evokes that time period perfectly and feels like a game from a bygone era, but modernized. Everything about the game is easy to learn, but hard to master and that keeps the replay value high. Anyone who loves runners will adore this since it’s got far more depth than most of that genre’s offerings and makes trick-chaining easy to learn. This is still a very challenging game, but it’s a fair one that is well worth its price tag.
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Platform: PS Vita