OlliOlli World is a rare treasure: on one hand, it feels like an excellent large scale project due to its high production values and its staggering amount of content; on the other, it is a game that boasts clear indie sensibilities in terms of simplicity and creativity
At one point or another, every generation of gamers discovers that there is something unbelievably thrilling and addictive about titles that are centered on accumulating high scores. During the industry’s early days, that notion was more blatant than it would ever be, as the generally short length and simple scope of most games forced them to rely on scoring to generate value and, in the case of arcade machines, keep those quarters coming in. Later, though, as games became meatier, efforts that focused on scoring would lose a lot of the space they had conquered; however, rather than disappearing, they backed up from their position of dominance to create a niche that would, over the years, grow in variety whilst never losing its capacity to hook players.
Therefore, serving as proof of the power carried by their concept, nearly all console generations have score-based games that catch on to the point they become unstoppable tsunamis that sweep through the industry. Arcade cabinets housed pivotal gems like Donkey Kong and Pac-Man, which were so culturally prominent the record-holders in both games became minor celebrities; Tetris mixed puzzle solving with scoring to dominate all sorts of handheld devices; Dance Dance Revolution became a force in shopping malls throughout the world; on the same musical vein, Guitar Hero allowed fans to pretend they were playing the tunes of their idols; and on the first days of 3-D gaming, the Tony Hawk franchise showed kids of that era that high-scoring runs would still be a mighty force in the machines capable of tridimensional visuals.
Out of all those examples, it goes without saying that it is the latter that is most closely related to OlliOlli World, the third game of the skating property created by Roll7. After all, both of them are built on the same sport and share the same love for high scores. However, even if it is perfectly possible to blindly recommend OlliOlli World to anyone who loves the Tony Hawk franchise and misses the days when those games were among the best ones produced for any console, merging the two series together as if they were the same would be unfair to what makes them different. Especially when those distinctions are a huge part of what turns OlliOlli World into such a magical and unique experience.
It all begins, of course, with the perspective in which the game takes place. OlliOlli World is a sidescroller, and as a consequence of that choice, the areas in which its action unfolds are not enclosed environments – as it was the norm for Tony Hawk games – but linear levels that go from left to right. In that sense, be it intentional or not, the decision to use World as the game’s subtitle comes off as extremely appropriate, because there is a lot that links this third chapter of the series with traditional sidescrollers, such as one of the game’s that defined the format: Super Mario World.
That connection does not occur just because OlliOlli World has stages that go from left to right. It is clear due to how they are grouped into thematic areas. It is vivid in how they are brimming with secrets and even alternative routes. It is present in how they are accessed through a neat overworld map, with one level being unlocked only after the previous one has been cleared. And, finally, a similarity also exists in how the stages are setup, since they are filled with pits, traps, dynamic elements, and moving platforms which give them a special design touch that stands between the creation of frantic runs that are perfect for skating and the making of tricky gauntlets that are suitable for thrilling platforming.
Perfectly aware that with a good dosage of charm that sidescrolling recipe can work towards attracting many, OlliOlli World paints that formula with an impeccable cartoonish art style. Likely as a result of a publishing deal with giant Take-Two Interactive, the folks at Roll 7 acquired extra funds to replace the simple pixelated look of the game’s predecessors with vibrant 3-D models and environments whose weird lines and cell-shaded elements recall extravagant cartoons like Adventure Time. It is a move that pays off massively, as OlliOlli World looks gorgeous, runs with beautiful smoothness, and packs scenarios that brim with details even though most players will be too busy focusing on pulling off timely moves to pay attention to them. Pair that up with a solid soundtrack made up of licensed groovy tunes of laid-back techno, and OlliOlli World musters an absolutely flawless presentation.
Extra budget, though, is also somewhat responsible for one of the game’s sole flaws. Starring a rookie that must undergo trials to replace the current Skate Wizard, who is looking to retire, the player character must journey through Radlandia to obtain the approval of the five local Godz, doing so while being accompanied by a diverse and charming group of friends. It is a decently simple setup, one that is aligned with the straightforward nature of plot development in most platforming sidescrollers; OlliOlli World, though, gets a bit too involved in its setting because before and after every single one of its levels players will be greeted by short dialog segments.
It could be argued that these conversations add world-building and character development. To an extent, that is true, because they allow the starring crew to meet different people from all over Radlandia and learn more about the places where the skating courses are located, while making players more familiar with the likable protagonists. However, it is also a fact that the dialogues are a bit bland, and even though they can be skipped by holding the A button for a few seconds, it is still somewhat bothersome to be forced into doing that twice – in the beginning and in the end – whenever replaying a level.
Yet, in a title of this kind, gameplay and design reign supreme over story – regardless of how prominent it attempts to be. And on those fronts, OlliOlli World has got pretty much all bases covered. The central aspect that makes the game so spectacular is how it manages to be accessible enough to draw in all kinds of players yet sufficiently brutal, deep, and demanding in its optional content to please the most intense gamers: those who will tirelessly toil away at mastering all nooks and crannies of every level so they can maximize their score in all stages and complete OlliOlli World with flying colors.
That achievement is reached in many ways, but none of it would be possible without a solid and intuitive control scheme. In OlliOlli World, the protagonist is always moving forward; the only way to make the player character stop is by making them hit a wall or obstacle, which – naturally – spells the end of a run and forces gamers to go back to the previous checkpoint. The first benefit of that decision is that it makes the title’s gameplay exquisitely frantic, given there is no stopping to smell the roses, to plan for what is ahead, or to take a breath. In fact, the losing of forward motion is rather poisonous since it will likely cause jumps and obstacles not to be cleared. The second benefit of that decision is that it allows all buttons of the controller to be focused on the task of pulling tricks, with the A button being the exception as – while the character is on the ground – it can be employed to increase speed.
What that means is that simply flicking the left stick in any direction will cause the character to jump and perform a trick: a downward movement pulls off an Ollie, a touch to the left unleashes a Heelflip, and so forth. To make matters even more accessible, the left stick is also context sensitive, since if it is used while the character is about to land on a rail it will start a grind and if moved while they are passing beside special surfaces it will trigger a thrilling wall-ride. Consequently, it is pretty safe to say that any player can easily perform a solid variety of tricks in OlliOlli World; and most of the adventure can be cleared exclusively with those maneuvers, which are all mapped to a single input. Needless to say, though, the extent of the game’s tricks is far wider than that.
OlliOlli World possesses such a vast menu of radical moves that it has a tutorial stage even in the last of its five worlds. This goes to show not only its willingness to embrace all audiences, but also a very meticulous approach to making the climb to the top as smooth as possible; given it teaches new types of tricks little by little, separating these tutorials with a solid amount of actual stages, it gives players time to master the arsenal they have before adding a new element to the recipe. Nonetheless, showing it knows that plenty of series veterans as well as more advanced newcomers are bound to hit Radlandia, the game does not lock any tricks; it makes them all available from the very start and it provides a Tricktionary that documents how to perform each of them.
As a consequence, if one is not willing to learn the moves at the nice pace stipulated by the game, they can open the Tricktionary to reveal everything in one go. There they will learn that the shoulder buttons perform spin moves; that there are all sorts of special tricks that can be done by doing specific patterns with the left stick, such as a half-circle starting from the bottom triggering a 360 Front Shove; that grabs are done with the right stick; that switching position in the middle of a grind is a matter of combining the left stick with the A button; and that there are types of moves like manuals, late tricks, special grinds, and firecrackers which are quite important to generate massive combos.
Another aspect of OlliOlli World that is pivotal when it comes to making the game approachable for anyone is its progression, because – on what is a rather surprising choice for a title of its kind – scoring is in no way needed to move ahead in the quest. As such if one wants to tackle the game as a skating platformer where the goal is simply reaching the end of all levels, they will be able to do so since getting to the finish line is all that it takes to advance. And by doing that they will come across a journey that is perfectly balanced in terms of difficulty: stages have well-placed checkpoints that mean falling to one’s doom never causes too much loss of progress; and levels get harder as the adventure goes on, as they progressively demand more meticulous timing, a better preservation of forward momentum, and a larger arsenal of tricks in order to be completed.
Meanwhile, to those who want more, OlliOlli World also delivers the goods, and it does so in a fantastic amount. Every one of the game’s stages features four types of optional tasks, with each being engaging in its own way and demanding a particular type of skill. The Skating Wizard will dare players to complete the level without making use of checkpoints; that is, without falling to their death. Three local heroes will have posted high scores, one considerably higher than the other, that will challenge the protagonist to show he has talent. Mike, a member of the starring crew who publishes a skating magazine, will offer three specific challenges of very varied nature. And, after the game is completed, the Skate Godz themselves will put up an additional extra tough task in all levels, giving players a reason to go back and tackle them all again.
Although going through the levels with the sole goal of finishing them is already enough to reveal how smartly designed the stages of OlliOlli World are, it is by doing these optional tasks that players will be able to explore the full extent of their greatness. Through the first three worlds, beating the scores posted by the three local heroes is not too tough. Yet, once the game introduces manuals – which can be performed anywhere and basically allow combos to be chained infinitely – the target scores will jump considerably, with all levels in the last two worlds essentially having a top local hero whose score can only be beaten if players combo from the beginning to the end of the level. Because of that, going after these scores demands becoming familiar with all nuances of the stages and using the slightest opportunities to pull off a trick, which in turn show how meticulously calculated all details of the courses are.
Mike’s challenges, meanwhile, tend to demand another type of exploration. Taking advantage of the game’s 3-D visuals, OlliOlli World builds levels that present a multitude of alternative paths, which are often accessed by pressing the Y button in especially designed transition zones, hence making the character move between the background and the foreground. Although getting the best possible scores also entails finding the path that provides the best trick opportunities or extends the level’s duration to its maximum, it is through Mike’s challenges that exploration of all nooks and crannies is enforced, because whether he is asking players to find a character, to collect items, to bop animals, to break crystals, to perform a combo in a described location, to pop balloons, or to perform specific tricks to certain crowds that ate standing at assigned places, his tasks are usually asking for some level of searching, since the targets he designates are sometimes not straightforward to find.
Mostly, the rewards for doing these tasks are pretty basic, since they only unlock new pieces of clothing, accessories, hairdos, and tattoos; truth be told, though, these assets feed into a character customization tool that is pretty nice. More importantly, a few of Mike’s challenges open the way to bonus courses (which the game calls sidequests), and beating a certain amount of local heroes is necessary to unlock extra stages. However, even those who do not feel much motivation towards a bunch of aesthetic items are likely to find pleasure in having a go at these extra tasks because of how genuinely fun OlliOlli World is and due to the addictive nature of chasing high scores, especially when it occurs in a game with such fluid movement, solid mechanics, responsive controls, impressive design, and smart quality-of-life decisions.
Built on top of that framework is a pile of content that is simply massive. With over fifty stages, OlliOlli World should take at least ten hours to complete. If players choose to go for its optional challenges, that time can easily quadruple. And considering there is no limit to chasing high scores on online leaderboards for individual levels as well as in randomly generated stages that change daily, it is hard to calculate an upper threshold for the amount of hours one could spend in Radlandia, but one hundred would not be a crazy bet. All in all, aside from a few minor bugs present in the game’s initial version (including a particularly annoying one that overwrites the clearing of the no-checkpoint challenge if players happen to complete the stage afterwards by using a checkpoint), there is little to complain about.
OlliOlli World is a rare treasure. On one hand, it feels like an excellent large scale project due to its extremely high production values and its staggering amount of content. On the other, it is a game that boasts clear indie sensibilities in terms of simplicity and creativity. Its mixture of sidecrolling platforming with skating is unique, and the game smartly grounds it on the good-old addictive chase for high scores that has always accompanied efforts of the kind. The focus on that aspect could have been detrimental to a crowd of youngsters and even older beginners who are likely to be drawn by the game’s colorfully charming art style, but OlliOlli World circumvents that pitfall with mastery, offering a joyful adventure that can be cleared by anyone whilst reserving plenty of challenge and competition to extreme thrill-seekers. With so much success on such distinct fronts, it is not absurd to claim the gaming industry has not produced many scoring-based games that are this deep, accessible, and fun.