Platform: PS Vita (Digital Download)
Price: $13 ($10 with PS+)
Gameplay: skateboarding, autoscrolling, combos
I was never a skateboarder as a kid. Okay, I owned a skateboard. I could ollie. That's about it. But I really did love to play games about skateboarding. Even if it seemed a bit unrealistic to be grinding on a helicopter blade, it was fun to see those points rack up, kinda like an arcade game from the days of yore. But after the fad ended, skate games just got more bloated and less fun, and I lost interest in them. Later, EA released the phenomenal Skate series (r.i.p Skate; screw you, EA) which I thought was such a smart design and such a breath of fresh air into the skateboarding genre. It made skating games fun again. And while Skate did a great job of giving gamers a more realistic skating environment, there was something...missing. The goofy arcade-style combo system was gone.
Now, we have Roll7's OlliOlli, an autoscrolling 2D skateboarding game that channels the spirit of Tony Hawk 2 in pint-sized form, while combining it with the "one life" limitation of other recent indie titles like Spelunky, Hotline Miami, and Canabalt.
Similarly to Skate, OlliOlli uses the analog stick (in this case, just the left one) to pull of grinds and tricks. The L and R bumpers add a spin to your move, and the direction you press on the stick determines what sort of grind you pull off when you hit a rail. To stick a landing, you have to hit X.
The controls will be easy to pick up for people accustomed to complex fighting game controls (or the original Tony Hawk games). What makes this game tick is that everything boils down to timing. If you push a direction on the analog stick, it makes you grind. HOWEVER, if you push it *just* as you hit the rail, you'll get a Perfect grind, giving you more points. In the same way, if you tap X *just* as you land, it will give you a Perfect landing. These techniques aren't just for the high-score chasers. In the later levels, getting Perfect grinds and landings are essential to beating a level, since Perfects also increase your momentum.
It's hard to describe. It's one of those things you have to feel to understand. The timing isn't difficult to pull off, and it's very satisfying to pull off a flawless run on the level. The game boasts hundreds of combos (but that includes adding in a 180 or a 360, so it's not too many combos) and they're all fairly easy to perform. The Vita controls don't get in the way of the action, and for what it's worth, you can also use the D-Pad to control your cute little pixelated skater.
When you crash, you start the run all over again. Though it seems silly to bring it up, the devs were smart enough to put a nice little "Restart" icon in the upper left at all times for you to restart your session as quickly as possible, and believe me, you'll be restarting a lot. The controls are precise, so when you die you're eager to jump back in and try again. Believe me, I didn't think I'd get addicted to this game, but it really has that indescribable hook that keeps you playing over and over again.
I think that's why I like OlliOlli so much. I mean, it's a good game in its own right, sure, but it scratches an itch that not a lot of other games have been able to scratch. I do enjoy similar games like bit.Trip Runner and Canabalt, and I would agree that those games are also addictive, but those games are also "pass/fail". You either beat the obstacle, or you don't. Runner offers the player the chance to add a bit of panache into their run by "dancing" or jumping over the mid-way checkpoint, but for the most part you either beat the level, or you don't. OlliOlli cranks it up a notch by letting you run the level any way you'd like doing any tricks you'd like, all for the pursuit of that almighty HIGH SCORE.
And for you high-score chasers out there, OlliOlli includes a ton of challenges and PRO levels for you to tackle, not to mention the unlockable RAD mode (which requires you to get Perfect grinds and Perfect landings for EVERY trick). Also there are Spots, which are your arena to practice that flawless run and get a higher score than your friends. The Daily Challenge picks a random Spot and you only get one chance to do a run, so if that's your thing, OlliOlli has that, too.
It'd be a shame if I didn't mention the soundtrack. It's fantastic. The music fits the mood of the game and I'll often put on a pair of headphones and crank it up. Below are a few excerpts.
The Roots -
Just so you know, there's a weird glitch that Roll7 is working to eliminate. The game crashes randomly for some people. It only happened to me once when I first bought the game and it hasn't happened to me since then. Please be aware if this happens to you, there are a couple of suggested fixes online.
So, what's the verdict? Should you buy a Vita for OlliOlli? I dunno. A lot of people turned their Vita into a "Spelunky machine", and I see no problem with that. OlliOlli certainly has the potential to be just as addictive, and if you already own a Vita, there are far worse ways you could be spending ~$15.