OlliOlli is a deceptively deep game, hiding layers of strategy and skill beneath a package that, at first glance, looks like a simple runner with retro graphics. If you take the time to dig into this Vita exclusive, though, you’ll discover a large amount of content, a rewarding challenge and, most importantly, a gameplay loop that will have you falsely promising yourself “just one more try” time and time again.
Only spending a couple of hours with OlliOlli last night, I didn’t feel I had put in enough time to call the following musings an official “review” of the game, though I doubt my opinion will change even after I’ve been grinding away at its devious courses for several weeks.
When you first take a look at a trailer or boot the game up, nothing about OlliOlli looks all that dissimilar to the dozens of runner games currently on the market. Once you start playing, though, you quickly discover that this latest offering from Roll7 is in a league of its own, dishing out oodles of level and requiring a degree of timing and skill not frequently seen in the genre.
Unlike most runners, you don’t just hit a single button to jump, slide or punch/shoot something as you fly past. Your avatar is a skater dude and his goal is to reach the end of a boatload of levels chaining together the most insane combo of tricks possible. Double tap X to build speed and flick the left stick in any direction to pull off specific tricks. You can hold the stick in a given direction to “load” your jump, then let it flick or circle it around to pull off various other stunts. To land a jump, you need to hit the X button as close to the ground as possible. The better the timing, the more speed you’ll maintain.
Similarly, slamming a direction on the left stick as you approach a grindable surface will allow you to perform various types of grinds. Changing up the grind or popping a trick off of the rail or edge is done just like jumping and, just like with landing a jump, hitting the direction you want for a grind just as you approach the rail will allow you to maintain your speed.
Finally, you can use the shoulder buttons to pull off rotations, something you really only want to mess with as you get better at the game.
That all probably sounded confusing in black and white, but OlliOlli’s tutorial takes you through the whole process one step at a time before unleashing you on the actual game. Before long, you’ll be chaining jumps, tricks and grinds like a pro, feeling an especially strong since of accomplishment as you start to get the timing right to land perfect grinds and jumps with regularity.
Each main level of the campaign comes with its own set of challenges, too, like landing a certain trick, earning a certain number of points or collecting various objects scattered throughout the world. Completing a level also opens it up as a “Spot,” allowing you to dive in for free skating whenever you feel like it.
There’s also a “Daily Grind” level that players can take part in once every 24 hours. You can practice a Daily Grind level as many times as you want but, once you hit the “try for real” button, you only get one chance to add your name to the leaderboard.
OlliOlli is fast, furious and a lot of fun. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure that this particular runner could be managed on mobile, as the amount of precision the physical controls (specifically the left stick for doing tricks) wouldn’t mesh well with just a touchscreen. In other words, this game was built for the Vita, and it shows.