Platforms: PS Vita
Back when Tony Hawk's Pro Skater first arrived on the PSOne in demo form, I spent an entire day playing that same Chicago skatepark level over and over again with my freind Aaron. You had one minute to get the highest score that you possibly could: GO!
The beauty of that game, even in that small demo, was a simple control system married to expansive, imaginative level design, provoking a competitive mentality and encouraging planning the perfect route to achieve your goal. I've tried skateboarding in real life. I suck at it. But these games provided pick-up-and-play brilliance combined with the dominant sub-culture of the decade. I could bust cool moves with my friends whilst keeping knees unscathed, and headbanging along to pop-punk outfits and the ska-rock bands of the decade.
Skate came along as THPS reached its most bombastic zenith, and brought with it a completely revamped control system and a focus on doing the simple things well rather than embracing the overblown ridiculousness and Jackass mentality that had crept into the later iterations of its competitor. At heart, though, the aim was the same: pull tricks, beat scores, and delight in the physics of it all -- the feelings of momentum and motion and responsive, taut controls.
And OlliOlli is all about that.
In much the same way that MotorStorm RC distilled and refined the competitive spirit of its genre bedfellows and combined that with tight-yet-simple controls and the incessant competitive incentives that immediate online leaderboards and Autolog-esque challenges, OlliOlli is a concentrated mini marvel of all that is good about skating games.
The controls are simple: moves are conducted entirely with the left stick -- hold to ready a move, let go to perform it -- with the shoulder bumpers providing spin rotation and the X button used to stick the landing. Variations abound, of course, and the direction in which you push the left stick, as well as where and by how much you rotate it before you left go, lead to all sorts of kick moves from heelflips to impossibles.
It proves rather fiddly at first. You have to time your pressing of the X button just before your deck hits the ground after performing a trick. Do it right and you'll be greeted with a bright green banner that screams PERFECT or a baby blue one that shrieks SICK. Mess it up and the bottom of the screen with be filled with red, and phrases of failure such as SKETCHY or SLOPPY.
Mastering those landings is absolutely essential if you want to get anywhere in OlliOlli. The game is made up of a smattering of mini-levels in three difficulty sections: Amateur, Pro, and Rad. These little chapters all last between a minute or two, and there are five challenges to complete in each of them, from hitting a high score to reaching a certain combo multiplier to collecting bits and pieces or performing certain tricks. On amateur, these are all relatively straightforward, designed to ease you into the game and encourage replayability. On Rad, you will want to claw your eyes out.
But in the best possible way.
See, OlliOlli is one of those fiendishly addictive, I'll-just-have-one-more-go-on-that games. You'll kiss the pixellated asphalt more than you'll care to remember, but more importantly, you'll always come back for one more try -- another dose of blissful punishment. It's enormously unforgiving, but never unfair. Cocking up a landing may cause you to stagger, missing the next jump, and clattering down a flight of stairs and into a hospital bed; or perhaps you'll simply break your combo, ending your pursuit of the high score needed to unlock another area.
Outside of the main career, there are little social challenges too. Spots are levels designed to be one big grind. The moment you touch the ground, that's it; you're done. This is the very definition of making The Perfect Run. You'll hone your craft time and time again in career mode, and then here in Spots, you'll take things to another level. Again and again you'll hit that big yellow retry button, just to try and shuffle yourself slightly higher on the leaderboards, to nudge your score higher in increments, to quest for the run to end all runs. Then there's The Daily Grind, in which you only have one ranked shot to try and pull of your best performance. You can have as many trial runs as you like, but when you decide to go for it, you only get one shot. Screw it up and you'll have to wait another 24 hours. Hit the heights, and you'll be crowned The King.
Everything's in its right place, but there are one or two little niggles that sadly prevent OlliOlli from reaching greatness. First up, OlliOlli desperately needs the same level of leaderboard integration that MotorStorm RC offers. You can only really ever see the top scores in the world from each level, and your own position on the leaderboards, which is a little disappointing. To cultivate true competition, we need to have the scores of our friends shoved in our faces every step of the way, or at least that of the nearest competitor. There are games big and small that have been doing this for years, and to produce a game so heavily geared towards such competition yet not include these competitive fundamentals is sorely disappointing, especially on the Vita. It's a needless omission, and one I hope gets rectified somewhere down the line.
It's not enough to take the shine totally off of what is a damn fine game, though. OlliOlli is perfectly suited to the Vita, which is rapidly becoming the place to be for cracking indie titles and pick-up-and-play excellence. Yes, the lack of proper leaderboards defeat the point to an extent, but there's a wealth of challenging content here to keep you occupied for hours, ten minutes at a time. It's the sort of game that you'll sneak out during coffee breaks, or when you're on the loo. It's perfect for those little in-between moments, and you're always in danger of absently losing hours instead of minutes because of its addictive charms. Though without the chance to make the competition a little more personal, one can't help but fear for the game's longevity.
- Absolutely encapsulates simple to control, difficult to master
- Fiendishly addictive, one-more-go gameplay
- Combo system is great once you wrap your head around it
- Feels challenging but never unfair
- Proper leaderboards and friends' scores are kind of essential for a game like this
- Advanced tricks a bit fiddly with the Vita's tiny sticks
The Short Version: OlliOlli is a cracking little game that combines fiendish challenges with simple fun, with the responsive controls and inventive level design making for a game balanced perfectly between enjoyment and frustration. It's just a shame that it doesn't fully take advantage of the Vita's capabilities, with little sense of score challenges between friends so masterfully wrought in the likes of MotorStorm RC. Still, a worthwhile purchase for arcade fans, and a cracking content package at a budget price.
NB. If Roll7 do end up patching in more expansive leaderboards and friends lists, do feel free to add two points to the score and consider it a must-buy title.