I’m not going to open this review, or state at anytime during it, that “Oooh, OlliOlli isn’t like Tony Hawk’s, y’know! It’s really hard!”, as if every gamer simply assumes all skateboarding games will be exactly the same because developers have no imagination. Obviously, this isn’t a Tony Hawk’s game. The similarities between that franchise and OlliOlli are like the similarities between Contra and Call of Duty.
You know that. You’re smart.
OlliOlli originally released in 2014, with a sequel following only a year later. Control-wise, you launch flip tricks by pulling on the left stick in one direction and then flicking it in your chosen direction, either a straight line or a quarter or full circle depending on the difficulty of your chosen flip. Indeed, the mechanics are fairly focussed around the left stick, as you also point this to hit grinds. Using the left-stick makes a good amount of sense here, and while describing OlliOlli as realistic is like describing the ending of Resident Evil 5 as “a bit far-fetched” using the movement here does kind of feel like kicking your foot out in a different direction to push an airborne board in different directions. By contrast, hitting buttons feels much less like skating and that’s presumably why you only use the right-hand part of the controller to push off and gather speed with B, and use the same key to land tricks. This takes some getting used to, but it’s part of the technique you’ll need to get through the harder levels. To begin with, you can muddle through with average timing but when you progress past the urban and junkyard areas you’ll need the extra speed you gather from hitting perfectly-timed grinds and landings to clear the bigger obstacles, as you’re rarely afforded time to get a push in to propel you on.
It’s fairly impossible to date the game due to the pixelated, side-scrolling visual set-up. It’s the equivalent of men that go bald quite young and then never look any older for the rest of their lives so end up looking comparatively younger than their peers. The game doesn’t need anything sharper in the visual department, with it’s simple rhythmic mechanics being the focus of the experience. However, even though it may not need anything more, OlliOlli2 ups the aesthetics and it’s greatly appreciated; switching from the original to the sequel feels like finally being given a pair of glasses after squinting for so long. Not only is everything clearer, the Hollywood theme to all the levels gives the game much more scope for fun puns and striking visuals over the original, which does occasionally become repetitive.
Indeed, OlliOlli2 is very much an improved version of its predecessor rather than breaking the mould, but it’s easily enough to make it my favourite of the two. Not only is it considerably easier on the eye, but there’s minor leaps in the gameplay that add an extra smoothness and also ups the range of moves you can perform; this is important, as often when playing the original I found myself relying on the same flips and grinds because they fell so easily under my fingers rather than pushing for some variety in my trick-set. Indeed, as the original wears on the last stages are incredibly grindy (pun intended), and I felt that I could have used some variety to to simply flipping and grinding at that point.The addition of the ability to switch stance on the fly rather than just by spinning 180 during an aerial trick not only expands the range of moves you can do, it also gives you something else to throw in during run-ups to ramps or flat areas. Also revealing itself later on in the game is the manual ability, the old combo-linker extraordinaire, and reverts, to really up those scores.
It’s not even that OlliOlli is hard, either. Well, it’s not difficult for the sake of it, anyway. It asks you to consider a novel way of knocking about on your skateboard, but it’s a system that can be learned and applied with increasing precision as the game progresses. Rather than seeming determined to constantly kick you while you’re down (although the over-long bail animation can come close to this), OlliOlli provides an opportunity to go back to its earlier levels and remember a time when you first picked up the game and couldn’t land a kickflip, then shows you how far you’ve come as you pirouette off step sets and grind everything that’s nailed down, linking everything together with switching stances and manuals. You can also reset runs with a single button press at any point, and the action restarts immediately upon doing so, so you’re not stuck flipping through menus or completing doomed runs.
Having complained about the “It isn’t Tony Hawk!” patronisers earlier, I do think that game is the reason I found the soundtrack on offer here so lacklustre. The music on offer is painfully generic and completely forgettable, although I can understand why; the learning curve and pacing here gets quite steep several areas in, and OlliOlli demands a serious amount of concentration from you, pixelated plank-surfer, as extra environment obstacles are introduced. Indeed, the first game relies on these to up the ante, whereas OlliOlli2 instead holds some techniques back, such as the manual, to make things crazier.