Let’s be frank: the PlayStation Vita is not known for its plethora of sports games. Then again, when has any portable system ever been a hotbed for an acclaimed basketball, football or even bowling game? That’s why when OlliOlli was shown off as a skateboarding game on the Vita, it felt like such a strange fit. By and large, skateboarding games have become quite rare since the days of Tony Hawk and his Pro Skater empire. In light of that, OlliOlli seemed hell bent on rejuvenating a tired sport on a system where Persona 4 Golden was one of the biggest hits. And the amazing part? It works.
OlliOlli is all about skateboarding. It’s about players pulling off tricks and grinds to rack up incredible combos and push to the top of leaderboards. Because the action takes place on a 2D plane, it might strike some as being overly simplistic. However, OlliOlli is a deep and complex game despite its initial impression.
Throughout levels that rarely stretch beyond a minute, players are given ramps, rails, stairs and hard pavement to either smash into headfirst or nail an impressive trick on. While the board rolls on the ground, a flick of the left controller stick executes a jumping trick and pressing X right before landing prevents a “Sloppy” landing. Simply flicking a straight direction will have the player make a low-scoring, easy-to-land trick, but rotating the stick in a full circle or from the right and then counterclockwise to the top initiates a more impressive trick – one that is worth more points and tougher to land.
Perfectly landing after any number of tricks and combos is essential to receiving the maximum amount of points. Pushing X at almost the last possible moment gets a Perfect landing, too early and you might get a Sick or Okay landing and less points. Just don’t get a Sloppy landing because it will knock about every 0 off of a 100,000 point combo. The above principles also apply to grinds, except players use the left control stick and a corresponding direction to land a grind. The left and right triggers can be used to rotate jumps.
It’s a lot and it can all seem daunting at first. Luckily, the team at Roll7 made everything about OlliOlli quite easy to grasp. Tutorials present everything simply and the initial levels of the game don’t ask players to do anything too difficult. Those wanting to familiarize themselves with timing and controls are welcome to skate through levels only pulling off tricks and grinds that are easy to execute. At any time, players can then break into the Tricktionary and start pulling off more difficult moves that will net more points.
OlliOlli grows on the player so rapidly because the challenge, memorization and gameplay are all presented in a way that anyone can wrap their head around. Pulling off an incredible score isn’t happening because the player memorized multiple inputs but because they wanted to explore the edges of the gameplay. Hours upon hours can be spent mastering timing on tricks, how to diversify moves to increase scores and even when a jump or two can be executed during a brief few seconds of downtime.
Leaderboards are a great incentive to push players to the limits of their abilities. That number one spot always feels elusive, and trying to map out hotspots for points is like a drug. Beyond the drive to become the “best skater in the world,” several challenges and modes supplement the core game. Each level has five challenges, which ask for things such as high scores and combos, pulling off a certain tech combo, collecting items or even nailing cool jumps. Beat those five challenges and an even harder Pro level is unlocked with its own set of difficult challenges. And there’s also Spots where only one combo is allowed to get the best score and a Daily Grind where players get as much practice as they want on a Spot but only one chance to play the level for a score and more.
All of this content extends the life of OlliOlli rather than forcing it into a place of tedium where the player hits a wall of progress. Every inch of the game revolves around making the player an expert at its mechanics. In fact, it sometimes feels like a crime to not pull off a perfect landing every time or nail a sweet trick, regardless if the game asks for it or not.
A wise decision was made to use the bare minimum of the Vita’s touch capabilities when controlling the game. There could have been a place where some of the more complicated tricks might have been performed using swipes on the back or front touchscreen but that would have made gamplay needlessly complicated.
The effortless way that players can flick and rotate the control stick to pull off moves is clever. More importantly, it comes off as more natural than using lengthy button combinations. That being said, using the X button to land on the ground and the control stick to grind can create an odd separation for the player. Like any game that asks for quick inputs, the wires are going to get crossed in the brain and the wrong button is going to be pushed.
Perhaps the biggest complaint to be had with OlliOlli’s controls is that during intense and long play sessions, the Vita can wear out the fingers. The small surface area of the control sticks combined with the constant movement can make the thumbs long for a DualShock.
Graphics & Sound
Visualizing such a vast amount of tricks and grinds is a task that Roll7 gladly took on. Instead of phoning it in, the gorgeous pixel art animates everything individually. Because of this, OlliOlli has a great amount of flow and speed along with enough detail that actual skateboarding enthusiasts should welcome. However, more skater skins would have been nice. Still, it’s hard to ignore the depth and well-done level art. Whether it is the Junkyard or Neon City, the art direction is striking in a great way.
Keeping with the realistic flair of trick animations, accurate sounds put players right into the skate park. From the rumble of the four wheels along pavement to the squeal of the wooden board during a grind, nothing sounds out of place.
Equally noteworthy is the incredible soundtrack. A handful of tunes are spread out across the entire game, stamping their mood right into the player’s ears. Ambient and chill tracks can make getting high scores feel relaxing while heavy-hitting rock or dubstep give levels a more aggressive tone. Players will likely have their standouts, which begs for the implementation of an option to create a playlist.
So many things could have turned a handheld skating game into an utter disaster, yet none of them are to be found here. The smart controls and addictive gameplay will appease any type of gamer, not just ones who are fans of skateboarding. Even the visuals and sounds express a deep respect for the sport and the player. It’s an incredible and worthwhile package. Hands down, OlliOlli is one of the brightest gems in the Vita’s library.