OlliOlli – Review

Title   OlliOlli
Developer  Roll7
Publisher  Roll7
Platform  PlayStation Vita
Genre  Side-scrolling skate-em-up
Release Date  January 22, 2014
Official Site  http://r7games.webs.com/olliolli

Despite the fact that it melts your eyes, has poor graphics and is branded with the word Nintendo on it, the 3DS is apparently doing rather well, thanks in part to the fact that Japanese gamers continue to flock to it now that it has become the home to several huge J-RPG franchises. That’s something I don’t understand. I’ve got a console and a couch, both of which are set up perfectly for games that require hundreds of hours to complete. When I fire up a handheld console, I want my gaming chewed up into little chunks and regurgitated back into my gob.

Now, the PS Vita is perfect for that sort of thing given that it’s doing terribly when it comes to proper grown-up releases but is thriving when it comes to little indie gems that are less about sacrificing weeks of your life to a story about teenagers with giant swords and even bigger hair, and more about having fun in small doses.

OlliOlli, from UK indie upstarts Roll7, is one such game. The gameplay doesn’t need too much explaining. You play a tiny little skater who has to traverse a side-scrolling 2D environment using his skateboard. The short tutorial teaches you how to ride along, jump, and perform tricks – mostly using a combination of rotations and flicks on the left stick and modifying with the shoulder buttons – and this is all very straightforward with the only tiny bit of difficulty coming from having to deprogram your fingers and thumbs from a decade of Tony Hawk muscle memory (although fans of EA’s more recent SKATE series should find the adjustment even quicker).

Once you’ve got the basics down, the tutorial introduces grinding (using the skateboard to ride along rails and the edge of platforms), which is the key element to doing well in the game, and then you are good to go.

The 2D viewpoint puts paid to any expectations that this will follow the usual skateboarding game template pretty quickly and it soon becomes apparent that this is much closer to the endless runner genre which is currently inexplicably popular on iOS despite being rubbish. Thankfully, OlliOlli makes an important adjustment by getting rid of the ‘endless’ part. Instead the game has twenty-five short stages (with ‘pro’ and ‘rad’ versions unlocked as you go) with a handful of Tony Hawk style objectives to accomplish.

The key to performing well and getting the big points is to keep your combo going, again Tony Hawk style, and this is done by grinding which, thankfully, all the levels are set up for. Chaining together flips, grabs, rotations, and grinds is immensely satisfying and once you’ve put it altogether all that remains is to land and bank your points. The better the landing (defined by how close to the ground you are when you press X), the more you score. Cocking up a sweet combo by landing like Count Spackula is annoying but not something you’ll get hung up on.

If you mistime your landing completely, you’ll stagger and won’t make any points from that combo and will be vulnerable if there are any obstacles nearby. Crashing into things or riding onto stairs causes your skater to faceplant horribly, ending your run instantly.

While the game takes its gameplay cues from the aforementioned skating titles and a huge dash of inspiration from Canabalt – both in terms of gameplay and aesthetics – it draws all of its addictiveness mojo from Trials HD. In the top right-hand corner of the screen is an arrow, just within easy reach of your left thumb. That’s your restart button and, as with Trials, you’ll be restarting as soon as your current run starts to go awry.

The addictiveness cannot be overstated. I’ve burned out the entire charge of the Vita’s battery in a day. My hands went through handheld gaming cramp into some new stage where I thought I might have given myself super-arthritis. The level goals, a mix of score challenges and specific tricks, are pitched almost perfectly meaning that they are just within reach. Missing out on a tough score target by a few hundred measly points is infinitely maddening, but literally only for a second or so and then you’ve already restarted and are into your next attempt.

Many games can be described as addictive. OlliOlli is the crack version of that and you’re injecting it directly into your eyeballs. Metaphorically speaking. And fucking actually too.

Aside from the levels themselves, extra content comes by way of spot challenges (shorter levels that can be comboed in one go) and a daily challenge that allows you to practice that day’s level as much as you like but gives you just one go to post your best score. I’ve so far fucked up every attempt. Not that it matters, as it seems that the best guys in the world have bionic thumbs and see the world in bullet time.

Add to all this a cool jazz/trip-hop soundtrack and OlliOlli is a great package although it does suffer from some issues. The tiny graphics and fast scrolling mean that the tricks are imperceptible from each other, visually speaking, and sometimes the left stick controls can be a little fiddly. Also, many people have reported issues with the game crashing (it’s happened once to me in several hours of play). Also, at some point the objectives get really tough which means some people may hit a wall depending on their own skill levels. But these complaints are minor when stacked up against the tight gameplay and slick presentation. When it comes to pick up and play gaming, OlliOlli is as good as anything this generation of handheld gaming has to offer.

  • Slick, tight, addictive gameplay that suits the PS Vita perfectly.
  • Clever control system that supports hundreds of tricks.
  • Well-pitched challenges and goals that challenge your skills, reflexes and dexterity.
  • Nice 16-bit visuals.
  • Atmospheric soundtrack.
  • No IAP bullshit.
  • All gameplay, no story.
  • Not recommended if you have shit to do. This will steal hours from you.
  • Reported technical issues.
  • Slightly fiddly controls when it comes to specific tricks and rotations.
  • You won't actually notice what your skater is doing as you're too busy scanning the path ahead.

OlliOlli is a compact game that draws from Trials HD, Canabalt, SKATE and Tony Hawk Pro Skater and puts it all together in a package of in-the-zone gaming that is extremely satisfying to play and harrowingly hard to quit. Where it might have gotten lost in all the endless runner pap on iOS, it feels completely at home on the Vita and is now one of the format's standout indie titles.

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  1. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    This is next on my Vita ‘to-play list’ as soon as I’ve finished LBP and Doki Doki. Just seriously puts me in mind of the old arcade cab side-scrollers and I imagine I’d have sunk all my pocket money into this if it had been around when I was an arcade whore.

  2. [...] is one of my favourite PS Vita games. I reviewed it earlier this year for GamingLives and gave it a very respectable 8 out of 10 (only a few technical issues and slightly fiddly [...]

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