Prepare to eat pixelated pavement.
You may have played a skateboarding game before. If you were a gamer in the days of the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation, you probably saw Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater take the once tiny genre and turn it into one of the most popular of its generation. Eventually, the tried and true mechanics grew a bit old. With little innovation left to be found, fewer and fewer skating games were released, and the genre slowly drifted back into the shadows.
Now, UK developer Roll7 has breathed new life into this once massive genre with OlliOlli. The game offers a fresh take on the long established genre of skateboarding games by mashing it up with retro aesthetics and gameplay concepts from the relatively new genre of Endless Running games such as Canabalt, Temple Run, and Bit.Trip Runner. The result is a deceptively simple, incredibly challenging, and downright addicting game.
OlliOlli is a 2D game done in a pixel-art style in which your avatar is constantly moving forward from left to right. You have limited control over your speed, but there’s no turning around or stopping, so your focus is always on preparing for what’s coming up next. The goal is to survive each run from start to finish, cramming as many tricks as possible in between, without slamming your face into the pavement even once. There is very little wiggle room for error, especially in later levels where a poor landing will likely throw off your timing and cause you to bail on the next trick opportunity. The levels are relatively short, and most will take a number of attempts to complete. This is a great fit for the gameplay, allowing the player to focus on memorizing the level in order to figure out the perfect run.
In most skateboarding games, tricks are performed with either the buttons or right analog stick. OlliOlli takes a major departure from the genre in this regard, with an incredibly simple trick system designed to mimic the flow of real skateboarding. To perform a trick, all you do is hold down the left analog stick and then let go. The trick you preform depends on the direction the stick starts at, and more complicated tricks are performed by rotating the stick before letting go. This mechanic is very similar to entering a combo into a fighting game (imagine the quarter-circle-forward motion required for Ryu’s hadouken).
Once you’ve performed the trick, you still have to land, which is as simple as pressing the A button. The closer to the ground you hit the button, the more points are awarded. There’s a risk-reward element here. You want to press the button as close to the ground as possible, but waiting too long can result in you bailing hard and having to restart the entire run. Then there’s grinding, which is done simply by holding the left stick in a direction just before touching a rail. As with landing, the closer you are to the rail when you input the command, the more points are earned. If you’re playing the game well, you’ll get a real sense of flow as you move from jump, to trick, to grind, and back again. To get truly massive scores, you’ll also need to use the L and R buttons to keep things fresh by adding spins to your tricks and to modify your grinds. You’ll also need to try and string as many tricks and grinds as possible together into a combo before you land.
The game offers 25 standard levels, and completing the 5 challenges in each level will unlock a “Pro” stage, for a total of 25 additional levels. If you can manage the insane feat of completing all 5 challenges in each of the Pro levels, you’ll unlock the uber-hard “RAD Mode” in which you will be challenged to complete all 50 stages again, without so much as even one landing or grind below a “Perfect” rating. Each stage also as a “Spot” mode in which the goal is to score as many points as possible in just one combo. If you somehow get bored of that, there’s also the Daily Grind, where the level changes on a daily basis. You get an unlimited number of practice runs, but you can only make one attempt at posting a score to the online leaderboards (which also exist for all 50 main stages).
OlliOlli isn’t for the faint of heart. But if you’re cool with taking a dozen or so runs on a level to try and beat it, then you might just fall in love with the game. I found myself returning to my favorite stages over and over again to try and set new high scores, or to help get myself back into a groove after failing too many times on another stage.
The game can be played on either the TV or the GamePad. While I initially started on the TV, I soon found myself playing exclusively on the GamePad. Due to some extremely subtle lag differences between the two, I found the game far easier to play on the GamePad. I just couldn’t ever get the timing right when watching the TV. This could be dependent on your own personal gaming setup or eyeballs, so I’d advise trying them both out and sticking with whichever you prefer. Playing on the GamePad also gave me the advantage of plugging in my fancy headphones to enjoy the fantastic soundtrack of jazzy electronic tunes.
OlliOlli is an addictive gem of a game. Beneath the simple aesthetic and controls lies a deceptively challenging and complex skateboarding game. It’s great for short sessions, but be warned that it’s also easy to accidentally sink a few hours into it while trying to achieve the perfect run. As a bonus, it’s also one of the first games on Nintendo platforms to support cross-buy. Picking the game up on either the Wii U or 3DS eShop will grant you a free copy of the game on the other. If you’re into skateboarding games, infinite runners, or are just looking for a challenge, you’ll find lots to like here.