Chris Capel doesn't know what that title means either
Ah, the skating game genre, where did you go? I'll tell you where, Activision killed it through thorough over-milking, that's where. While the likes of Skate and Tony Hawk's were all the rage in the 00s the entire genre got progressively more samey and boring with every annual release, mirroring exactly what happened with Guitar Hero (again Activision). Back in 2014 developer Roll7 has cleverly realised that there's now a gap in the market for someone to make the genre fresh again, and so welcome 2D side-scrolling skater OlliOlli, which I initially thought was about football hooliganism.
While OlliOlli is a skating game - you play a guy on a skateboard doing tricks for points - it's also kind of a platformer as well, requiring occasional perfect jumps or correct timing to get over obstacles. Unlike classic big-budget skating games like the Tony Hawk's franchise which are all 3D, even the iOS version, the view is 2D in a simple pixel art style. This makes the game immediately much harder, almost to Super Meat Boy levels. A slight exaggeration maybe, but then both games have this in common: they made me want to grab my keyboard and snap it in two before chewing through my desk in frustration.
The levels start out simple and realistic...
Imagine you're a skater going at high speed, then imagine a wall. Imagine hitting that wall repeatedly for an hour. This is the learning curve for OlliOlli. Never in all my gaming life have I seriously considered giving up on a game on the second tutorial, especially with one I'm meant to be reviewing. By the third tutorial I'd actually drafted an email to my editor deeply apologising for not being able to review the game. I kinda wish I'd done a Let's Play video of these first few shameful moments of me trying and failing OlliOlli repeatedly as it'd be hysterical to anyone not me. Let me tell you why I failed so often, and why you probably will too. What comes next will be up to you though.
The most obvious point is that OlliOlli has some of the most obtuse controls I've seen in videogaming. The reason I failed so often is that every trick, every movement, had me fighting against my basest instincts as a gamer. On an Xbox pad (don't even think about playing it with a keyboard, even the game warns you not to), what do you think 'A' would be? Jump, like every other game with jumping in it in existence? Nope, it's 'Push Forward' or, bafflingly, 'Land'. As in land on the ground, which requires a button of course. So what's jump? Hold Left, Right, or Down on the left stick and then let go. To have to do that to jump and then press A is just confusing, so 9 times out of 10 with the next jump you'll try to press A first (which is what comes naturally) and probably crash. Various other special tricks can be done by twiddling the left stick in a number of hard to remember ways, Grinding on rails requires you to hold a direction to do so or you'll fall off, and Mid-Air Spin (required for higher scores) is, hold on to your hats here, 'RB'. So the entire controls are A, Left Stick, and RB. Yes, because that's natural.
... then get crazier (that's a helicopter's blades he's grinding on there)...
Once you've finally committed these ridiculous controls to heart, the pain sadly doesn't cease. Due to how fast the game gets, the simplistic pixel art and the 2D viewpoint obstacles can come at you out of nowhere, and since Jump isn't a simple instantaneous button press like in normal 2D platformers you occasionally don't have time to make the correct movement. OlliOlli is one of those games where you have to learn the levels through failure, accrue muscle memory of the correct actions or just straight up have psychic powers to win. Sometimes the game even won't acknowledge that you did make the left stick movement to jump, and you'll die. And swear.
Then, heaven forbid, you'll actually start the level again, and again, and again instead of deleting the game and calling foul. Because, sadly enough, OlliOlli can be an extremely addictive game. Levels themselves have immediate restarts even if you die (messily on the floor with your arm in a funny position, yay) meaning that 'just one more go' mentality is as strong here as it is with Super Meat Boy or Hotline Miami. Furthermore finally getting through a level after all that frustration is immensely satisfying/relieving, and you'll almost certainly not get a great score so there's lots of replay value even before you count the 'Daily Grind' levels and specific challenges and collectables for each stage. If you let OlliOlli sink its teeth into you there's no way it'll let go, and the pursuit of that ever-higher score will keep you satisfied. Well, that is, if you're a certain type of old-school gamer who likes punishment rather than enjoyment.
... to totally nuts. Fun though? That's up to you
Many people, and I see reviewers too, have let OlliOlli off its early crimes simply because it's an addicting experience. I however am a complete bastard. I hated it. Addictive yes, but once it started "twists of the left-stick combined with a button press within a half a second followed by a random press of A" being required to progress my enjoyment ceased immediately. I will accept the argument that it's not the right game for me, which is why this should not be the only review you read for OlliOlli. This review is for the gamers like me who need a counter-argument to the positivity, so those people can know that yes - it is okay to call OlliOlli not fun despite what your friend says. The controls are nonsensical, the levels require clairvoyance to get through, the difficulty level isn't so much a curve as a brick wall, the pixel art hides too many obstacles and you have to unlearn a lot of gaming staples (like pressing A to jump) to even get past the tutorials.
OlliOlli is the very definition of a love it or hate it game, and I apparently came down on the wrong side of that equation. I fully acknowledge that OlliOlli is not my kind of game and there are plenty of gamers and reviewers who already love it, but unfortunately for them and Roll7 I exist too and my opinion is just as important. And my opinion is that OlliOlli is getting deleted off my hard drive the second I finish this sentence. Try it, you may very well like or even love it, but don’t come crying to me if you don’t. I told you so.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Reaching the cheering crowds at the end of the level, which become larger as you go on.