OlliOlli might be a skateboarding game, but Tony Hawk this is not. Beneath the grinds and kickflips of OlliOlli’s shallow repertoire of tricks beats the hardened heart of a Trials game, and the level progression soon reveals a series of constantly scrolling obstacle courses that, once mastered, provide excellent score potential. It’s a fast and addictive formula that has worked for many games in the past, and developer Roll7 deserves credit for blending that formula with traditional skating mechanics as successfully as it does. However, OlliOlli stumbles when it leans too hard into the tricking, and a few rough edges keep it from a perfect landing.
Gamers who’ve dumped hours into the Tony Hawk games might actually be at a disadvantage coming into OlliOlli because of the game’s unorthodox control scheme. Because your character moves across the stage automatically, there’s no need to steer with the left stick. This frees the stick up for launches and tricks, executed via quick snapping motions in one of four directions. Some of the more complex tricks require half-circle motions, while spins require you to hold a shoulder button and move the stick. There are no grab tricks, an odd exclusion given the numerous large drops practically begging for a lengthy grab.
You can pre-load a jump by holding the left stick in any direction, and your skater will leap into the air on release. After years of ollieing with the A button, using the stick to launch felt disorienting to say the least. Instead, the A button is used to push and land. To nail a landing on solid ground, you must tap A just before your board hits pavement. Landing on rails is similar, but with a quick downwards tap on the left stick substituting for the A button. I never quite got used to having two different landing buttons, and even late in the game I found myself failing levels because I had to think about the controls too much. I applaud Roll7 for thinking outside the box, but the end result left me wishing for a more traditional control scheme that utilized the face buttons over the often imprecise analog stick.
The odd control scheme contributes to a steep learning curve that culminates in a few incredibly difficult stages. By the time you’ve cleared the second of the game’s five worlds, you may find yourself struggling to even finish a stage, much less to complete any of the five unique objectives that each stage challenges you with. Completing those objectives is the only way to unlock more levels, a fact which may prove a barrier for less dedicated players. It would be a shame if most players missed out on the outlandish fun of the final three worlds, in which the developers really let loose with their creativity. You’ll grind across military outposts and through neon-drenched futurescapes on your way to the final level, but only if you have the patience to slog on when frustration begins to outweigh fun.
A steep difficulty curve isn't necessarily a bad thing, though, and those with a small masochistic streak will find OlliOlli's brand of brutal skating an alluring challenge. Death comes quickly - who knew stairs could be so dangerous? - but so too does success on a good run. When all of the mechanics gel and you’re grinding, pushing and, yes, ollieing at full speed, it’s a truly satisfying experience. While OlliOlli’s mechanics certainly are not ideal, they did force me to learn and adapt in a way that was ultimately gratifying.
Many of the game’s objectives are smartly designed to support that slow learning process. Early objectives might require you to land a specific trick, or collect items along a specific grind path. While the game won’t overtly force you to look at any trick lists, it is often in your best interest to do so in order to complete one objective or another. It’s just a shame that you have to restart the level, a process that could be a lot faster, whenever you fail to land properly, as it creates an environment that is not conducive to the type of hands-on learning that other facets of the game seem to encourage. Still, you’ll find plenty of replay value in OlliOlli’s diverse objectives, and making a perfect run on your twentieth try feels great.
During my time with OlliOlli I encountered several potentially game-breaking glitches. The first, and by far the most severe, caused my skater to glide across the screen and disabled all controls, and even death. Another made the game launch to a black screen. The second glitch was easily solved by disabling the in-game Steam overlay, but I never found a solution for the first and was eventually forced to switch to a different PC. Judging from early forum chatter, I seem to be in the minority of players when it comes to glitches. I’ve seen several reports of the black screen glitch, but no other reports of the odd gliding bug.
OlliOlli ultimately provided me a solid five hours of fun and frustration in equal measure, but I couldn’t help noting the areas in which the game still had ample room to grow. A sequel could address the harsh learning curve and wonky stick controls, but for now OlliOlli is, like its namesake, a solid foundation upon which something great can be built.