Stumbling across promising indie games at Expos are my favourite moments, usually because a game that seems unremarkable at first glance turns out to be a hidden gem in the making. A number of titles shone as diamonds in the rough last year, but the biggest surprise was a little PlayStation Vita game called OlliOlli. It takes the concept of the likes of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Skate, turned it into a 2D side-scroller, before shaking the very foundations of the genre by making landing a trick vital. It’s a simple concept at heart, but is this skateboarding simulator from indie developer Roll7 as good in motion as it is on paper?
Controlling OlliOlli is relatively straightforward. You use the stick or d-pad to start your trick, either by pushing in a certain direction or swirling it precisely for more complex tricks. Grinds are done by pushing the stick in one of the four directions, before letting go by performing another jump trick. The crucial part is landing – achieved by timing your press of the ‘X’ button precisely.
Depending on the style of your land, you will be ranked and allocated with points relative to your land. A perfect land may score you thousands of points at a time, while a sloppy land could see a large chain generate only double digits. This risk-reward element is what makes OlliOlli so compelling and addictive, as combined with an easy-to-reach reset button you can have that “just one more go” mentality.
It is possible to crash in OlliOlli by landing on stairs, landing while doing a spin trick (holding L or R while jumping), or crashing into obstacles/rough terrain. Normally in a skateboarding simulator this would be a mild inconvenience, but unlike its triple-A contemporaries, if you crash in OlliOlli, you will need to restart your run!.This sounds infuriating, but it adds to the risk-reward mentality described earlier quite nicely.
Tricky Tricky Tricky
OlliOlli’s main Career mode spans across five different locations with two separate difficulty settings based on objectives met in each level. All levels have score based objectives which look at your total score and long chains, but there are also collectables, gaps, grinds, and even restrictions on basic functions. As a particularly evil example, one level where grinding is easy challenges you to make it through to the end without grinding once. Roll7 even snuck in an apology with that one.
With each level lasting around a couple of minutes depending on skill, it is great to play in short bursts. Once you complete all the challenges, you unlock Rad mode where bailing once means the end of your run.
The other mode on offer is Spots, which tasks you with setting a high score along one chain before you either get to the end or crash. The sole online aspect of the game is the daily spot, which generates a level for players to compete on. You get unlimited practice runs, but only one chance with the recorded run. If you bail during your recorded run, that’s it!
Spots in general also have online leaderboards associated with them at a worldwide level. For a small title such as this, leaderboards are enough, but we would have liked to see a ghost mode to allow players to learn how to get astronomical scores.
That said, at the time of review there are times when you could bail and it isn’t your fault. One big bug that could potentially ruin a perfect run is when after landing the board goes under the terrain by a few pixels, meaning that the next time you jump you will automatically bail. This are reportedly being looked into with a fine tooth comb, so expect those to be patched in the near future, but then there is the fine timing between button presses for performing other tricks that could result in a bail. This isn’t a bug, more something to adapt and get used to, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating. These seldom get in the way of the gameplay.
Perhaps the only thing that could be drastically improved is the user interface. Yes the Vita has touch screen functionality which for putting a reset button for runs reduces the chance of accidental presses, but there is no button-based input for the menus – which for a game that primarily uses buttons for the control scheme is bonkers. If there was button functionality in the menus as well as a touch screen option, then this would not be a problem, but switching between the two makes little sense.
On top of that, while the in-game portion has a reasonably smooth pixel-based style, the menus are a drab effort in desperate need of a refurbishment (especially that first title screen menu). A single long loading time to get into the game is forgivable as it loads everything all at once for seamless gameplay, but to see dull menus is disheartening. As for its music it isn’t going to be everyone’s taste, but it’s a shame that it veers towards the repetitive side.
Fresh ideas for tired genres are a rarity, so for OlliOlli to reinvigorate the skateboarding simulator in such a way makes this small budget title an appealing prospect. Roll7 has created something that is fun to pick up and play for a few minutes, only to continuously press the reset button to get that perfect run. It’s addictive, alarmingly so, with plenty to keep you occupied on the commute to work. If you can forgive the repetitive soundtrack and dull menus, which most people probably can, OlliOlli is a slightly flawed gem more than worthy of a download.