If games like Cuphead have taught me anything, it’s not to fall for its charm and appeal and equate that with challenge. Sure, some games may look like they’re aimed at kids, but instead are the epitome of frustration. Much like the titular tea-holder’s debut, OlliOlli World now sits aside it as “another deceptively hard game”.
Of course, this will come as no surprise to anyone that’s played any of Roll7’s previous skateboarding arcade games. The first two OlliOlli games were not kind as the games progressed, going from “string three tricks together” to “high-end finger yoga” in a short space of time. It’s enough to make Tony Hawk hang his deck up.
If you haven’t played one before, however, don’t let that opening statement put you off. It may get overwhelming pretty early on, but I’m going to tell you why it’s going to become your new favourite frustration. Let’s find out why…
It’s Time For Adventure
The first thing that struck me about OlliOlli World, coming off the back of my limited experience with the second one, is the story. It’s not uncommon for extreme sports games to have story: think as far back as Tony Hawk’s Underground for that. But here, it’s all kinds of fantastical. If you ever played snowboarding adventure Amped 3, this is on that track.
The graphics and overall tone are pure Adventure Time. I’m not even going to sugar coat it, they just are. If Jake, Finn, Gumball or Steven Universe popped up in cameos, I wouldn’t be at all surprised. If there were a Cartoon Network series of this, like Rocket Power, it would probably do alright.
That’s because the story is… well, like a cartoon. The skate gods have created their own islands, and have a Skate Wizard who acts as their liaison. There’s a current chosen Skate Wizard who wants to pass the mantle on and as to be expected, your created avatar is going to be that one. Your crew; a big dude with a bionic leg, an old man they call Dad, and a kooky camerawoman are all excited at the prospect.
And how are you going to do that? With finger-twiddling gymnastics, of course.
Fingertips and Tricks
It’s hard to draw parallels when there’s other, more popular skateboarding games on the market. But, if I have to draw comparisons: think less Tony Hawk and more Skate. Set on a 2D plane, but not rigidly adhered to (I’ll explain later), controls for OlliOlli World are mostly thumbstick and trigger-based.
As you don’t need to steer, it frees up a stick for tricks. That’s the duty of the left thumb as, like Skate, tricks are mapped to directional inputs. The more complex the trick, the more pre-loading and revolutions needed. On the right, you’ve got your grabs. Basic enough, but can be tweaked like 1080° Snowboarding’s could be, once you’re used to it.
Then there’s your grinds, again mapped to the left stick directions just before you hit a rail. Pulling off manuals, the skateboard equivalent of a wheelie, is mapped to either forward or back, a press of X (on PS5) and some timing skills.
And if you think that sounds pretty simple enough, boy, have I got news for you.
As the world map and levels progress, new traversal methods are introduced. Grinding, mentioned above, comes after a couple of levels. Then there are wallrides: as the name suggests, you ride along a flat, vertical surface. Seems easy enough, but don’t let the game fool you.
When you’re grinding a rail, to a wallride, do you land in a manual to keep the combo going or push to gain speed for what might be coming? This is where OlliOlli World starts becoming a thinking player’s game. You can, naturally, play levels again for better scores and learn the layout. There are even level-specific challenges to tick off (more on that below).
But as you move from the land of ice creams to the woodlands, each track gets harder and more technical. Now, seems obvious to say “game gets tougher over time” as that’s most games. But here it’s a lot more sudden. As in, within the first ten levels to you start to see the difficulty ramp like a half pipe.
And that’s before you look at what you need for full completion.
Stick the Landing Or Stack the Challenge
So, those challenges I mentioned earlier… they are aptly named here. Each level has two very obvious ones: finish the course (which seems redundant) and finish it without using a checkpoint. If you bail, a quick tap of a button resets you from a checkpoint, whereas a hold restarts the whole course. Your choice, of course, but you want that sweet tick next to it, don’t you?
Then there’s hitting a certain object (or multiples of) throughout a level. Or, to add some spice, avoiding a particular thing or its mates on a run. Hit the last one after avoiding the other nine? Back you go. Then there’s the trick-specific objectives, or area-specific ones like “pull a different advanced trick over multiple areas”.
My description probably sounds a little vague, but in context, it’ll make sense to the type of level you’re riding down. Of course, you don’t have to do any of these challenges to progress. There’s no level grind such as the insidious one shoved into Trials Rising. You can simply take as many bails and checkpoint restarts on a level as you like.
However, if you want that sweet extra gear, you’ll need to practice and smash those challenges out. Best get twiddling.
Beats, Boards and Beautiful Scenery
Whilst I did mention earlier that OlliOlli World is a challenging game, it does have such an amazing charm to it. It’s hard to be mad at a game that has you skateboarding in a land made of ice cream. But what makes it even better is that the worlds feel alive, too. Giant, friendly bees buzzing around, bodybuilding seagulls… yes, all very Cartoon Network but still a joy to watch.
Which is why it’s also great when the game lets you switch paths and changes your direction mid-run too. I wasn’t sure how it’d work when I saw the trailer, but it makes sense in gameplay. Hitting a half pipe will either see you land and come back facing the other way, which is fine from a control perspective. Or, to mix it up, it’ll transfer you to a corresponding ramp in either the fore or background. It makes no difference in terms of gameplay, but it lets you take in the effort Roll7 have made with the levels.
Couple that with a soundtrack full of lo-fi beats straight out of a YouTube compilation video, and you’ve got a chill time. Which, funnily enough, is completely at odds with the absolutely bastard-at-times gameplay.
Be Whoever You Want To Be
I remember playing OlliOlli 2 quite a fair bit, back on my PS Vita. At first, I loved it; the blend of skateboarding and arcade insanity. Small caricatures against neon lights and techno beats, I was having a whale of a time off of my Trials buzz. But then, I gave up. I hit that wall and said, “Nay, game. You are too hard” and never went back to it.
So what is it about OlliOlli World that’s going to make me stick with it? It’s essentially the same game, and at time of writing, I am about halfway through the second world. Anyone that argues “journalists should finish games before reviewing them” can put up or shut up. Anyway, my point is:
It’s the world of OlliOlli World that pulls me back. I adore the ragtag crew that stand by you, encouraging you and telling you weird little anecdotes along the way. I love the dialogue, even is a little bit OTT on the Bill & Ted/Fast Times At Ridgemont High sidewalk-surfer lingo. That the customisation lets me make my avatar look like one of the blue kids from Akira put a goofy grin on my face.
In short, it’s got the charm that outweighs the overwhelming desire to throw the controller when you mess up a continuous combo right at the final stretch. Well, that and they cost about £55 to replace.
All Are Welcome in OlliOlli World
Outside of the main adventure/world map business, there’s a smattering of extra modes. Multiplayer, in the loosest sense, is a league-based format. You don’t race anyone else on-screen, instead vying for high scores with the change to unlock new goodies. It’s minimal, but then it’s more aimed at leaderboards that shoehorning a multiplayer gimmick in.
Back in single player land, there’s a bit more off-the-beaten-track variety to hand. Completing certain objectives will unlock bonus challenges, which branch off from the level path. Completely optional, but oh-so tantalising when they’re flashing at you, and at times ridiculously hard. But again, the lure of goodies and that 100% completion rate…
To tie off both single/multiplayer, there’s a level randomiser a bit further in too. Choosing the terrain and difficulty, the game will conjure up something accordingly. Then, if you fancy, you can share the generated code with friends or the world and see how everyone does. Again, you don’t have to, but it’s nice to have that option.
Get On Board
If you are a regular reader of my content (besides “Thank you”), you’ll know that I often favour the Soulsborne and skateboarding games. Which points out two things: I like a challenge, and I am old enough to remember when skateboarding games were relevant.
Would I call OlliOlli World “the Dark Souls of skateboarding games”? No I bloody wouldn’t, that’s the epitome of laziness. What I will call it, though, is an absolute riot of a game that has me grinning and gritting my teeth in equal measure. I love the world it’s set in, the level of creativity and all-round childlike approach to it all.
I also love that it’s the kind of game that makes me sit up, lean forward, mutter under my breath and strive to do this bastarding level properly without failing. Hey, I didn’t get to be 137th in the world at Trials HD by not making the effort, y’know.
So I am going to persevere with OlliOlli World, because I want to see it through. I want to unite all of the Skate Gods and become their chosen Wizard. Whether I do it or not is another matter, but I’m going to try. I’m going to unlock the deck that’s a piece of broken wood, and the hats that look ridiculous. I will rage and swear along the way, and there are only so many hours in the day, but I’m gonna keep on grinding.
And wallriding, and flipping, and bailing…
OlliOlli World is exactly what you want from an arcade game: it’s quick, it punishes mistakes, but it embodies the spirit of trying again. Pair with that some Saturday morning cartoon visuals and characters, an overly-sweet level of charm, and the sense that Roll7 are having a fun time making this, and you’ve got a perfect recipe for frustrating fun.
OlliOlli World is available from 8th February 2022, on PlayStation 4 & 5 (reviewed on latter), Xbox One and Series S|X, Nintendo Switch and PC.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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