'OlliOlli World' turns skateboarding into a meditative adventure

Roll7's sequel expands on the originals in every way.

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Sometimes, games just click. There's almost certainly a game you play where it feels like time isn't passing, where you're not even aware of what buttons you're pressing, but you're just nailing it. Then your phone vibrates, you get distracted and before you know it you die. Or, in my case, I don't get a perfect score in Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA Future Tone.

I'm talking about flow state — that feeling of being fully immersed and "in the zone." Few games really put me there; Nuclear Throne definitely did, along with, as intimated, a bunch of Hatsune Miku rhythm games. Another flow-inducer was Roll7’s simple indie skateboarding game OlliOlli, which I sank days into on the PlayStation Vita back in 2014. Following its success, the game expanded to more platforms and a sequel dropped in 2015. After that, the development team moved onto other projects, my Vita moved into a drawer somewhere and the game I'd spent so many hours with just drifted from my mind.

Then came the trailer for OlliOlli World a couple months back. It looked beautiful, and I couldn't wait to jump back in. To the point where, just on the strength of that trailer, it became my most anticipated game of the year. Well, other than the Pokémon remakes that are coming to steal my money in November.

Anyway, at E3 2021, or rather, in my apartment because E3 is all digital this year, Roll7 gave me an opportunity to play OlliOlli World, and I found my flow state again. The 30-minute-or-so demo the UK studio sent out was for PC, and played like an extended tutorial with a small selection of levels. (The game is coming to PlayStation, Xbox and Switch as well.)

OlliOlli World plays largely the same as the original games. On the Xbox pad I used, push was mapped to “A” and tricks were bound to the left thumbstick. Pointing the analog in one of eight directions does a simple trick or grind, advanced tricks are mapped to Street Fighter-style swoops of the stick and you can spin with the pad’s triggers. While it’s harder to slam than, say, a Tony Hawk’s game, you will need to land your tricks with perfect timing for the best score.

The new mechanics for OlliOlli World are wall riding and the ability to pick between paths. Wall rides are, surprise, performed with the left analog, while you can switch paths with X. From the few levels on offer, the paths tend to offer different styles — maybe one will have lots of wall rides and the other a tricky sequence of grind rails. There always seems to be something interesting to see or do on each, though, whether it’s a character that unlocks a bonus level or a cool-looking trick sequence. The key is that whatever you’re missing out on is visible from the path you did pick, which encourages you to play through the level again.

According to Roll7 co-founder Simon Bennett, the decision to add alternative paths was “the result of a wholly different prototype” for a new OlliOlli game — and a vacation. At the same time the team was building what would become OlliOlli World, another prototype took the form of a “skate tournament” with three paths that looped around on one another.

Bennett returned from a vacation to discover that the team had merged the code in with the OlliOlli World prototype code. “Suddenly, it’s gone from being this refined and contained experience within the skatepark to this weird, branching, insane platformer.” After this code merge, the team didn’t look back, and the result is a genuinely unique game. “I'm really glad I went away on holiday,” Bennett said.

OlliOlli World

Perhaps the biggest change, though, is in the tone and structure of the game. The World in OlliOlli is Radland, which is divided into five distinct areas. You begin being introduced to a colorful group of characters that wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Adventure Time. The main cast includes a friendly older man named Dad; a very enthusiastic guy called Gnarly Mike, who sets challenges for each level; a cameraperson named Suze and, my favorite, Chiffon, a pipe-smoking “Skate Wizard” who acts as a checkpoint in levels when you mess up. There are other characters to meet along the way, including “Sloshtar the Fortune Telling Fish,” which is as weird as it sounds.

Only two of the game’s five areas — Sunshine Valley and Cloverbrook — were available in the demo, and only a fraction of the levels in each were playable. The final game, from my rough calculations, is likely to have over a hundred crafted levels. What struck me from the ten or so I played was how different they all feel. None are as claustrophobic as those in the Vita games, but some are more constrained and technical, while others sometimes have the camera dynamically zooming out to the point where your character is almost a spec on the screen. There was also a fun bonus level (unlocked by said fortune-telling fish) that was confined to a skate park, which had you pulling trick after trick to reach a certain score in a given time.

The majority of levels in the demo functioned as tutorials, but things briefly opened out in places and the focus seems to be on replayability and mastery. I captured a few of my favorites in the video below (excuse my poor skill level, I forgot about spins and didn’t even work out I could manual until the last five minutes of my playthrough).

Levels are peppered with a lot of light-hearted conversation (which you can skip easily if you just want to get to skating or are replaying a level), and that comfy tone continues through to every aspect of the game’s design. Levels and characters pop with bright colors and an illustrative 3D style. Bennett said Roll7 wants to ensure OlliOlli World “feels representative of the very inclusive and diverse culture of skateboarding.” There’ll be a character creator — which wasn’t in the demo — to customize your skater’s appearance, and you’ll also be able to pick what style and tricks your character goes for.

OlliOlli is known for its unique soundtracks, which sit somewhere between Wipeout and lo-fi beats to skate to. “[OlliOlli music] sort of straddles IDM [independent dance music], electronica, lo-fi and all these different weird, disparate genres that no one's ever heard of,” Bennett said. “It's a really odd thing, because we've asked labels to send us tracks that they think will work in the vein of the game that we're building, and no one seems to quite understand it.” While the soundtrack is still being finalized, Roll7 will be working with music labels from past games, such as Ninja Tune, along with new labels like Cascade Records. “My ambition for it is to repeat some of the stories that we'd had from OlliOlli 2, with people just plugging their Vita, well maybe now their Switch, into their hi-fi system, putting it on the menu screen and just leaving it playing,” Bennett said.

OlliOlli World
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One potentially game-changing aspect I didn’t get to look at is the level creation tool. It functions a little like a “zip code system,” according to Bennett, and allows you to predetermine parameters such as “how long the level is, how difficult it is and what the art style will be” in order to generate a level. The game will return a random seed, and you’ll be able to skate it immediately and share it with friends. Bennett said there will be “millions” of potential levels to skate, and the intent is for players “to quite quickly create something, share it with people and then challenge them on it.”

There’s a lot Roll7 isn’t talking about right now. In a blog post introducing the game, Bennett spoke about “high score leaderboards” and “a global competition,” but, when asked, said Roll7 will be sharing more details on that later as “they don’t want to spoil that.”

Despite the many new features, you can still hop into the action quickly, restarts are mapped to a single button and the feel of skating at break-neck speeds is the same. “We don’t want to keep you from that flow state for too long,” Bennett said. “The previous two games, it was very much, ‘there's a menu, and then there's the game,’ right? We wanted to build something much more cohesive around that experience.”

OlliOlli World lands this winter on Switch, PlayStation, Xbox and PC.