OlliOlli Review (PS Vita)
Submitted on: Jan 27, 2014 by Jayson Young
Skateboarding is hard. Of all the sports you could possibly take up, it may be the hardest to learn, and if you stick with it long enough, it becomes equally hard on the body.
Skateboarding video games, traditionally, have failed to capture just how difficult it is to direct a flying piece of wood through the air and safely plant both feet onto a very small landing area.
OlliOlli is the first game since 1999's Thrasher: Skate and Destroy to accurately depict the difficulty and danger inherent to the sport.
Before the Mega Ramp, before even the half-pipe, the landscape of skateboarding consisted of rails, ledges, benches and stairsteps. And it's that old school style of urban street skating which OlliOlli aims to recreate.
Gamers won't be busting out any Rodeo Flips, McTwists or Christ Airs; 900 degree spins are out of the realm of possibility, given that most jumps provide enough air space for just one or two full turns. But OlliOlli's smoothly animated library of 27 kick tricks and 11 grinds is firmly grounded in reality. Your faceless shredder, whose trucker hat and long red locks bear a strong resemblance to Shaun White, can perform just one trick per leap and one grind per landing.
Maximizing the number of rotations in spin tricks will require your skater to crouch down and "prewind" his body before exploding into the air. Additionally, all backside and frontside spins must come to a complete stop before your rider can land safely. All board flips, likewise, must finish their full rotation before the game lets your wheels transfer onto a rail or continue rolling along the pavement.
These reality-rooted game mechanics nullify everything that skateboarding fans have learned after 15 years of riding around in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and its innumerable clones. OlliOlli offers no way to warp onto a rail mid-trick or teleport into a safe riding position mid-twist. If the player over-rotates, or tries a trick without the necessary air space, his jeans are going to get torn to shreds by the unforgiving asphalt.
With all that said, OlliOlli stops a few kinks short of being a total street skating simulation. The course designs often allow skilled players to carry a single grind combo all the way to the finish line. And by the time you've completed the first 25 stages in career mode, your trucks will have traversed Hind helicopter blades, T-Rex tails and giant Gundam swords.
Like EA Black Box's Skate trilogy, OlliOlli's control scheme uses various flicks and rotations of the Vita's left analog stick to perform kick tricks. The left and right triggers, when held down by themselves, control body spins. The triggers can also be used in conjunction with the left joystick to unleash advanced grinds and board tricks.
It's a smart control setup in theory, but the Vita's cramped button layout and irritating ergonomic design cause the trigger-based controls to faceplant once they are put into practice. For gamers whose index fingers are either too thick or too long to comfortably use the Vita's sharp, bite-sized triggers, playing OlliOlli for more than 20 minutes will leave their hands wrecked.
While there are many third party accessories that attempt to alleviate the Vita's trigger issues, gamers who do not own a comfortable pair of custom grips will want to keep their mitts off OlliOlli.
The main gameplay innovation that distances OlliOlli from other skateboarding games is its timing-based landing mechanic. On grinds, you must press and hold the left joystick just before your board touches down. When landing on the ground, you must press the X button just prior to impact.
Landing with perfect timing will grant your rider a momentary speed boost, and more importantly, a huge score multiplier. A "perfect" dismount from a lengthy rail combo might net you 160,000 points, whereas a "sloppy" finish could yield only 1,000 points.
While the primary fear in Tony Hawk games is losing your balance, in OlliOlli, the biggest concern is losing your speed. Most of the levels are meant to be rocketed though at full tilt. Slowing down will steer your skater directly into debris piles instead of flying safely over them.
On flatland, you can tap the X button to gain speed by pushing off with your foot. The game's later stages, however, are purposely built with few opportunities to push off. Instead, landing long sequences of perfectly timed jumps and grinds is required to maintain momentum. Mistime a few tricks, and you'll likely miss the chance to grab a floating wrench icon or hit a score target.
Modes and Features
Career mode spans five regions (Urban, Junkyard, Port, Base, Neon), with each locale containing five areas to skate through. Every area features five objectives to complete. The first goal will always be based on your total score. The second assignment will require you to attain a certain score with just one combo. The three other objectives can vary, though they usually involve collecting on-screen items or finishing the course in an unusual way, like not attempting a single grind or never pressing the push button.
Once you've completed all five tasks on an Amateur course, you will unlock its Pro version. Pro stages contain altered layouts and a new set of tougher objectives.
If you're a bad enough dude to complete all 250 Amateur and Pro challenges, you will unlock the supremely difficult RAD mode. I was unable to try RAD mode in time for this review's publication, as I got stuck trying to clear all the Base and Neon levels. RAD mode's gimmick is that it will automatically crash your skater if he misses a single perfect landing. Interestingly, this perfectionist gameplay model is how the entire game was originally designed, until Roll7 began demoing it to frustrated friends.
OlliOlli's two other modes, Spots and Daily Grind, ask the player to maintain a single combo over a short section of obstacles. If your combo breaks, or your rider bails, you're taken back to the start to try again.
Spots can be played over and over until you are happy with your high score. Daily Grind, however, can only be tried once every 24 hours, though you are allowed to practice as much as you want before finally attempting your one official run.
Online leaderboards are supported in all modes of play, but unfortunately, they can only be used to compare your scores against each level's top performers. There is currently no way to see how your scores measure up to your friends', outside of emailing screenshots back and forth.
The only other technical issue I've encountered is a crash bug that's happened about six or seven times in over ten hours of play. The good news is that developer Roll7 has already located the issue and is readying a patch that will eliminate the error. In the meantime, simply setting your Vita to Airplane Mode seems to be a temporary workaround for preventing dashboard crashes.
At its current sale price of $10, OlliOlli is a must-own PlayStation Vita title.
Unless you're the type of player who's easily aggravated by difficult games, you should not miss out on what will likely be one of 2014's best handheld releases.
Just make sure to save a second Hamilton for some rubber or plastic grips that can cover the Vita's hard edges. Otherwise, playing OlliOlli will shred the skin off your hands.
Visuals – Each of OlliOlli's five environments is drawn with one predominant color, whether it's the Urban level's dismal grays, the Junkyard's rusty browns or the Base's snow-white glow. Bails and slams can look a little goofy at times, but all 38 of the game's tricks animate fluidly and believably. Course obstacles, disappointingly, are recycled across multiple spots, creating some visual monotony. Being unable to customize the appearance of your rider or his board is also discouraging.
Audio – Board flips generate a satisfying pop. Grinding sounds differ, depending on the surface. A relaxing instrumental soundtrack mixes hip hop, jazz and electronica. While the music quality is excellent, a lack of tracks (just 11 total) causes the background tunes to lose their luster over time.
Controls – Playing OlliOlli with the Vita's miniaturized buttons is akin to riding a Wal-Mart skateboard at an X Games competition. Sony's portable just isn't built to handle the button stress and finger strains that OlliOlli's highly technical gameplay demands. 20 minutes is all it takes for the Vita's tiny triggers and sharp edges to leave a painful imprint upon your palms and index fingers. A third party grip accessory is mandatory to get any prolonged enjoyment out of OlliOlli's trigger-heavy gameplay.
Roll7's innovative single-stick control scheme is begging to be played with a real controller, but until Sony makes its Vita TV functional for non-Asian PlayStation Network accounts, American and European skateboarding fans are left hoping that a PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 or PC port is in the works.
Learning Curve – Even after completing the opening tutorial, most gamers will still need another hour or two to fully grasp OlliOlli's unique trick system and timing-based landing mechanic.
The first three worlds can be completed by using only basic maneuvers. The difficulty ramps up significantly for worlds four and five, which contain numerous hazards and often require the player to combo entire levels without touching the ground more than once or twice. Prepare to skate and die -- a lot.
Score – 8.0 (Great)