I must confess to a level of ignorance when it comes to OlliOlli as a series. Around the time of the first iteration’s release I had heard about it, saw snippets of gameplay and even noticed it brought up in conversation to the sound of some rather favourable testimonials. As I’m sure many would agree, sometimes games can slip past you… and boy did this little gem do exactly that. It may be something of challenge to get through the bias here, but in my defense, the opening paragraph should be evidence enough that I had no idea what I was getting myself in for when I first launched OlliOlli 2: Welcome To Olliwood. It didn’t take me long to discover that what I should have expected was EXACTLY the type of game I enjoy most. A game that has three core values in its design: precision, simplistic complexity and timing.
From the moment I hit the main menu, Roll7 showed me that the inbound control scheme was going to be… peculiar by making Y – at times – translate into the menus as moving to a subsequent page, rather than the button I typically expect, A (I plug an Xbox controller into my PC). Shrewdly done, this momentary consternation was a sign of things to come as I eagerly launched myself into career mode and instantly found myself welcomed by a control scheme that this reviewer can only describe as “I don’t get it!”. Being of the legion of us that grew up with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, I had my preconceived notions of how a skateboarding game should control and, by the looks of things, Roll7 had every intention of exploiting that ignorance and proving me wrong as I fell after trying an ollie, fell after descending a set of stairs, and even then fell onto a worryingly placed collection of spikes. And so began a process of learning what could potentially be an off putting aspect to some players – that everything I knew about skateboarding games was wrong, and that getting creative with what is considered to be the standards of control schemes can add a LOT of depth to a game, while not only not breaking the experience, but making it all the richer.
Before long, I began to come around to the idea, even justifying the decisions made at Roll7. Having spent a few years on a deck myself in my teenage years, it makes a lot of sense for landing a trick to be as much a part of the overall trick as launching it. You wouldn’t stand up and cheer at a football game because a player simply kicked the ball in the general direction of the goal, right? It has to go in too. Therein lies what these guys have identified as a problem thus far. Landing is a mechanic. In many ways the core mechanic of OlliOlli 2. You can flick the analog stick as many times as you like, but if you don’t then press A at just the right time upon returning to the ground, your landing will be considered “Sloppy”. To my mind, that’s about as good as not having done it in the first place. Worse, in fact. It’s a sign that the level needs to be restarted.
As you make your way through Olliwood, extra mechanical layers are thrown on top of landing that conflict with your already strained sense of coordination. For instance, to grind, not unlike launching a trick or a simple ollie, you tilt the left analog, only this time you keep the analog tilted as your trucks find their mark. The timing of this, much like landing itself, is carefully measured. The better the time, the more chance of getting a speed boost to keep your combo going. However, you must NOT consider this as a form of landing. If you do, and press the A button, the grind will not connect and you will fall, either to the floor breaking any combo you may have had going, and registering that trick as a sloppy one providing there is a surface to drop to. Otherwise, you’ll fall to your death. Inversely, if you tilt the analog when attempting to land on the ground rather than, or as well as, pressing the A button, it will be counted as a failure… unless, of course, you want to land in a manual. The further you progress into the game, the more it compounds the “don’t forget to do this/make sure you don’t do that” complexity to the point where it’s safe to say that the control scheme is unique and possibly enough to put some people off. But, when it all boils down, it’s fairly simple. Everything has to be perfect.
Well, it doesn’t HAVE to be perfect, though it does if you have any intention of succeeding in the game’s increasingly difficult levels, each with their own equally daunting challenges – such as high score, pulling of a specific trick into a specific grind or take a particular route through the level. The real star of the show, however, is just how tight it all is. How well refined the controls feel once you start to grasp them. You always know what went wrong, and within seconds you’ve rebooted the map with the same amount of gusto you take into not making the same mistake again… but you will. It’s OK because you’ll keep at it and eventually be granted the intense gratification of having finally pulled it off. Only to then be crushed because you’ve f’d up on the next bit.
I’d be doing the game a disservice if I didn’t mention that this is all happening very fast. When I unlocked a new level, I found it best to give it a quick run through without attempt anything fancy, just so I could get some idea of what I was going to be expecting before I knuckled down and had a crack at meeting some of its objectives. I must again make a confession. I haven’t finished OlliOlli 2. It’s hard. I mean…really hard. I have every intention of playing this one for a long time to come. There are different zones you arrive at along the course of your career, ranging from movie sets to the streets of LA – or should I say OllA? No? Just me? I’ll get my coat. Naturally, the career is not where the game ends. There’s also spots, where you have the opportunity to get the best possible combo you can on a specific locations. Daily grind, a single daily-refreshing spot that you can practice as many times as you wish, but only have one opportunity to do your thing, at which point your efforts will be put at 1,579,345th place on a leaderboard. Last but not least, Combo-Rush, OlliOlli’s local split screen multiplayer option, where you can set up tournaments from a variety of parameters.
When all’s said and done, OlliOlli 2: Welcome To Olliwood – and I imagine it’s predecessor – is not a game you play. It’s a game you master. There are few who know me who would disagree when I say that games centred around time, precision and the like are right up my alley. Guitar Hero, One Finger Death Punch and Housemarque’s twin stick shmups to name a few. So much so the next thing I’m going to say is damn near prophetic. I love this game. I can’t comment on the first, but if it was half as good as this one, I love that, too. It’s fast, it’s hard, it holds your hand for the bare minimum and then unleashes you on a frustrating nightmare that you won’t be able to stop. One more go, you will say. Hundreds of times. As you rapidly approach the witching hour. Devolver Digital have a keen eye for this stuff, spotting small studios who have a tremendous amount of passion for both the medium and their own efforts. It’s a no brainer. Buy it.
A Steam code for PC was provided by the Devolver Digital PR team for this review. OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood is available now on PC, Mac, Linux, PS4 and PS Vita.