The Grind is Teal
LIKE TOTALLY DIFFERENT AND RAD, DUDE!
For a sport so entwined with art and culture, skateboard games sure do have a lot of dull shades in them. That’s realism for you, as cities do usually lean heavily onto the neutral part of the colour palette and have more grey landscapes than inner-city Birmingham. OlliOlli World is clearly on a different trip to more realistic takes on the sport. The visuals are immediately striking, an unsubtle and clashing mash of pastels and big characters being the first thing that greets you. As you’d expect, you can customise your concrete surfer and the options are pretty wild, and the range of skin tones alone includes blues and greens, meaning you can have yourself looking like a background extra from Doug if you like. Not sure if anyone remembers Doug but The Simpsons seemed too obvious, Anyway, while many accessories, clothing and decks are unlocked as you complete challenges, the selection available from the off is not stingy.
OlliOlli World is the latest instalment of a series that I first got involved with when I reviewed the Switch Stance collection back in the before times of 2019. An evolution if ever there was one, the franchise has now gone from engaging but fairly character-less side-on skate sim to bringing those winning mechanics into a vibrant and surreal world. This time you have a skate gang who all prove, mostly, surprisingly endearing. My particular favourite was loveable oaf Gnarly Mike, who looks a bit like if Rag’n’Bone man liked punk instead of whatever that is, but I also have a soft spot for the perennially harangued Rad Dad. Key to this skate squad is Chiffon, the current reigning Skate Wizard of Radlandia. It’s sort of your goal to take over this job, which is a good motivation as her third-eye hippy shtick has the air of a gap year student that spent five days in India and thinks they’re basically the buddha now. It’s all very Gen-Z; someone even describes a large tree as “thicc” at one point.
Adding likeable characters isn’t the only step the game has taken towards accessibility, here. Many of what would have been essential challenges in the original games are now presented as optional side missions, and you can move onto the next level just by reaching the end. It’s a coasting underachievers dream. While that may not appear all that easy in some cases, you’re also afforded checkpoints courtesy of the gap-year woman to break things up a bit if you so wish. Perfect button-taps on landing are now also optional, rather than mandatory as they were in the previous instalments; hitting them just right will earn points and speed, but you won’t bail if you don’t.
TRICKIN’ AIN’T TRICKY
Starting with the basic tricks you’d expect, the game has a great difficulty curve in introducing new ways to score points and worry old people as you rip through the levels. You’ll be moving on from shove-its to… something else in no time. Flip tricks, grinds and wall-rides are triggered by flicks of the left stick, while grabs all live on the right stick. This does make things pretty accessible, as there’s no requirement to memorise trailing combos; you can just flick a stick in whatever direction you fancy and see what happens if you’re not chasing high scores or optional goals.
Visually then, OlliOlli World is akin to someone tie-dying the original instalment. It’s probably like playing the original on LSD but we wouldn’t know that because we’re all good boys and girls. Musically however, things are a bit… nothing. There’s original songs but it’s all quite lo-fi and forgettable, perhaps only intended to serve as background music not to distract. The sound design is, on the other hand, great though. Aside from the usual skate sounds, environmental noises like pistons clanging and smashing in some industrial areas serve to bring the desired effect of the world home. You’ll really feel like you’re in a psychedelic haunted forest being chased by undead bees.
UNIQUE ENVIRONMENTS ARE THE KEY
And the levels do manage to cover a good range of spaces while avoiding videogame clichés. Your early skating is in a pastel-pink paradise seaside town with occasional kicker ramps and grind rails. Progressing on your tour of Radlandia, you’ll encounter a forest full of wall-ride opportunities (and human-sized bees), an inner-city industrial area and a desert. Pushing the game out beyond the usual street-scenes and skateparks gives OlliOlli World a unique feel.
There’s even some unusual moves beyond what I’ve seen in a skate sim before. To keep combos going you not only have manuals and wall-rides, but stair rides. Like many moves, these come down to timing, something which not only separates the amateurs from the pros here but the learning of which is essential to progressing. Expert timing on releasing your ollie and hitting grinds is key to building the speed required to clear some gaps in the late game. You can also hit the X button (on Xbox, anyway) to change route, switching from the regular course through each scene to a “gnarly” route (I’m not happy about having said “gnarly” twice so far, I’m 35).
FLUID, FRIENDLY AND FUN
With this essential timing being integral, it’s no surprise that OlliOlli World flies along at a steady 60fps with the potential to go up to 120 if you have a better TV than me. As your combos and tricks get more fluid and your timing improves you’ll find yourself whipping along at a fair rate, so frame rate performance is the wheels on which this game rests. It’s this pace along with the dexterity needed to make it through that will mean you find yourself in something of a flow state throughout. It’s appropriate that a game which espouses vibes so much is partially meditative in this way. While we reviewed this on an Xbox Series S, it really is the sort of thing that’s perfect for brief sessions on the Switch.
Much like defending a civil case when you’re a royal, the game can be as long or as short as you want it to be. Although I never consider a short game a bad thing if it does what it needs to, but knowing you can whip through or take longer than an investigation into government wrongdoing. Actually that’s probably underselling the difficulty here, as the last few couple of areas have sections tougher than still trying to love Tony Hawk after all that NFT business, as the culmination of all your previously learned tricks makes things pretty wild. If you don’t hit almost all the grinds and landings perfectly you probably won’t make it across some of the gaps, here. Of note is the social aspect, akin to Forza Horizon, where you’re presented with your friends’ scores for each stage in a leaderboard to beat. Even better, your online buddies’ custom characters will often pop up in loading screens.