Even the greatest ideas can need a little work.
OlliOlli does so much right it’s hard not to gush endless praise for the 2D skateboarding game, especially since OlliOlli is clearly a game that oozes quality.
The painfully-indie-but-still-very-lovely art style is immediately disarming; the pinpoint precision needed for perfect runs is challenging; the constant reminder that your previous score wasn’t good enough is compelling.
Give it just a moment and OlliOlli will win you over. You’ll be lost to its score focused gameplay, and you’ll emerge twisted – at least your fingers will, from the repeated attempts at pulling off a Bluntslide into a Nollie Kickflip to perfection.
Tony Hawk’s Skateboarding, But In 2D
A 2D skateboarding game might seem unusual, but it does work. In essence OlliOlli is a high-speed platformer with an emphasis on style points.
There’s a focus on grinds to maintain your speed (and avoid collapsing into a crumpled heap at the bottom of a set of stairs), so the skill comes in combo-ing all that together with additional flip tricks built-in.
As you might expect your score is based on the quality of trick you pull off, and that’s where timing comes into play.
OlliOlli has more in common with the likes of Super Meat Boy than of Tony Hawk’s, but the addition of a style-based score means there’s increased longevity here.
Land a sloppy trick for almost no points at all and you’ll immediately want to reset the level – which happens to be a practically instant, anyway – just so you can achieve the best score you can.
There’s a surprising amount of finesse, too, with the Vita’s tiny thumbstick somehow managing to achieve a Skate-like control system of flicks and spins.
It’s not ideal, admittedly, with larger spins on the stick not always registering when you want it to – but it is commendable to say the least.
OlliOlli’s Awkward Controls
But that’s not all. A key problem comes from the grinding mechanic, a feature that OlliOlli is reliant on almost entirely, not only to score big but – in many cases – to survive the level.
Once you’ve figured out the basics of grinding it’s mostly easy going, and you’ll likely hit a perfect grind more often than not.
But if you want to achieve a higher score – and invariably you will – then you’re going to need to upgrade your grinds to the trickier ones.
Though the core mechanic is the same (using the left stick just before hitting a rail), to achieve the harder grinds you’ll need to hold L or R first.
The problem is, this is also the same button for adding a 180 spin (or more) to a airborne flip trick, and since you’re almost always hopping off one rail to another the crossover of controls can make this particular aspect of the game infuriating.
It’s largely hit or miss as to whether it’ll work one time and not another, seemingly favouring an epic crash instead of the intended trick.
There’s an excessive need to be extremely precise here, a fact that could be avoided if the controls hadn’t been mapped to the same buttons for two key means of pulling off tricks.
Unlike Super Meat Boy – whereby the frustration comes from your own failure – OlliOlli will have you swearing because of the unfairness of it all.
That probably sounds like a pathetic excuse, but a game so reliant on precision to score big needs a set of tools finely honed to the ultimate degree to ensure there’s no chance blame can be place of the game.
Sadly, OlliOlli hasn’t managed that.
It’s a shame too because mastering this particularly finicky means of scoring – and successfully adding in spins between grinds – is the only way you can hope to top the leaderboards.
Speaking of leaderboards, it’s probably worth pointing out that OlliOlli doesn’t have any friends leaderboard – which means that if you are interested in the score attack nature of the game, then you’ll really only be competing against the world’s number one on any particular level.
And let’s face it, you’re never going to be as good as the internet.
There are some other neat ideas here, such as the inclusion of the one-time test of your skills in Daily Grind, but the lack of a friends leaderboard is a serious oversight.
There are challenges to go up against for each stage that add to the overall longevity, but for the most part these are repeated throughout the 25 levels available and don’t really offer much in the way of variety.
Content is fairly limited, too, though perhaps this comes as part of OlliOlli’s lack of diversity. With only five themed locations of increasing difficult, once you Nosegrind your way through one of them you’ve Noseground through them all.
Spot Challenges do enough to change that up a bit by using those same stages as brief tests of your score-earning abilities, but again they don’t feel like a huge step outside of everything else built into the game.
It’s clear that OlliOlli is a fantastically well made game and if you’re itching for a new Tony Hawk’s style score-based game then this is certainly worth your time.
But faults with core mechanics can make OlliOlli unfairly rage-provoking – especially for those looking to top the leaderboard – while the exclusion of competition with your friends is a massive letdown.