OlliOlli review: Sick landing

Roll7's skateboarding game OlliOlli is deceptively deep.

What at first appears to be a simple affair quickly escalates into a demanding experience requiring precise timing and execution of tricks in rapid succession, all in pursuit of specific objectives and the almighty high score. OlliOlli encourages chaining tricks into over-the-top combos, hewing closer to Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series than to the realistic, physics-driven tricks seen in the EA's Skate series.

Regardless of which camp you align yourself with (or if you enjoy both), one thing is certain: OlliOlli is easy to pick up, with enough depth to warrant getting back up on your board whenever you tumble down the stairs.
Gallery | 10 Photos

OlliOlli (1/20/14)

OlliOlli is straightforward, dividing its discrete levels into singular skating runs. Each level of Career mode features a static design challenging the unnamed protagonist (let's call him Skater Dude) with achieving the best chain from beginning to end. If Skater Dude falls down, the run is over and he has to start again.

OlliOlli has five worlds, comprised of ten levels each – five amateur runs and five expert runs. A run features five objectives, two of which usually revolve around score while the other three feature odd tasks like collecting spray paint cans or launching over specific gaps. The benefit of these specifically-designed levels is that not only can players learn and improve upon their subsequent runs, they can also tighten their timing and reflexes, ultimately growing as a player. Clear that gap the first time and it feels good, but hit that gap a few times and you'll find places to cram in more, even better tricks – and that's a thrilling feeling.

On top of Career, there is also a Spots mode giving players the opportunity to tackle special levels in one long combo chain. Once the combo is broken, a score is set and published to the leaderboards. On top of that, a Daily Grind level provides additional challenge through a special run you only try once, with a new one cycled in every 24 hours. You can practice the run as much as you want, but once you give it a real go, you've only got one shot.

Key to achieving those scores, of course, is nailing tricks. Tricks are divided into flips, spins and grinds. Quarter-circles and flicks on the left analog stick perform flip moves, hitting the L or R trigger buttons in conjunction with the left analog stick perform spin moves and pressing a direction on the left stick (and sometimes using the trigger buttons) before landing on a rail will perform a grind.

Strangely, there are no grab tricks in OlliOlli. It's a street skating game, so I certainly understand why vert tricks aren't included, but there are some huge drops and gaps in these levels begging for lengthy grabs. Their exclusion is definitely noticeable.

Score isn't determined solely by performing tricks; timing is also crucial. When landing, pressing the X button at the right time will perform a "sick" landing, while lagging behind Skater Dude will produce an OK landing. Missing the timing altogether, meanwhile, will result in a sketchy landing and dramatically reduce points.

These modifiers also play into grinds: Hold in the movement for the grind too early and you'll still perform your desired slide, but if you time the input just right, you'll get an added bonus attached to your grind. The system is easy to grasp yet challenging enough that mastery isn't immediate, so there's a very organic and gripping escalation of progression at the heart of gameplay.

OlliOlli's beautiful visuals are highly reminiscent of Canabalt, albeit with a lot more color. The chunky pixels of Skater Dude actually convey quite a bit of animation, especially when performing flip tricks – a 360 flip looks completely different from an impossible, for example. And each of the five world's have their own distinct backdrops and set-pieces to ollie over (and inevitably shatter Skater Dude's bones on when missing that grind).

The real beauty of OlliOlli is that it caters to a good range of players – both fans of twitch-based, score-driven arcade experiences and skateboarding aficionados. If you've never played a skateboarding game in your life, the controls and set-up are simple enough to grasp that you won't need to understand the real-life complexity between a difficult trick like a hardflip and the most basic pop shove-it in order to excel and grow in OlliOlli. For skateboarding purists obsessed with the cleanest run, repeated attempts at nailing that perfect grind or landing the best trick across that monster gap are an enticing invitation and one of the primary motivations of the sport.

The one downside to OlliOlli is that it can be too difficult. The consistency of my tricks and timing definitely improved as I played, but there were some objectives I simply couldn't overcome – like finding the hidden wrench within a level or making it through an entire level without ever pushing off for speed. And considering these objectives are vital to unlocking more levels to overcome more objectives and keep the cycle going, this can be a problem that puts up a wall for players later in the game.

In spite of its minor faults, OlliOlli is fun to play. It eases you along at a very careful pace, doling out chains of more complex gaps and trick requirements as you advance through levels. I suggest you give OlliOlli a chance, because for every ten failed attempts, you'll find one gained success – and, best of all, you'll feel like you earned it.

This review is based on a PSN download of OlliOlli, provided by Roll7.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no."Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.