- Street Date:
- January 21st, 2014
- Reviewed by:
- Brian Hoss
- Review Date:1
- January 21st, 2014
- Game Release Year:
- PS Vita
For a few years now, Sony has tried to capture the kind of secret sauce on their handheld platforms that has made for various indie monster hits on smartphones and PCs. With games like 'Journey,' Sony has had the edge when it comes to the more cerebral fare. But out of desire for titles like 'Super Meat Boy' and 'N+,' which scratch a quick and brutal itch, Sony signed up a young, indie, British developer, Roll7, and their prototype of a sidescrolling skateboard game. The result is the full-fledged 'OlliOlli' for the PlayStation Vita.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Just get ready, because for almost anyone who has played a super addictive, score-based smartphone game but quit due to the platform's inherent drawbacks, 'OlliOlli' is likely to have your number. Take any of a variety of popular iOS titles, and you've got hordes of gamers thinking, "This would be a great game, but the touch screen controls are full of fail, and the random physics, levels, and micro-transactions make the scoring a crap-shoot and the leaderboards a joke." With those flaws in mind, it's easy quite easy to label 'OlliOlli' as a smartphone game that is actually good.
But let me back up. For most of my life, I have gravitated between not being interested in skateboards and skateboard games to wondering if the world would be better off without them. That was before 'OlliOlli.' After learning some of its (addictive) ways, my feelings towards skateboards need serious reassessment.
As with many great games, 'OlliOlli' is built around a simple but exquisite core feel. Though it may look like a endless runner, the player controls the momentum of the skateboarder. Tap 'X' to get moving (and to pick up speed), and then push the left stick in any direction and release to olli. To grind on a rail, hold the left stick down. And to land the skateboard (without a sloppy, point-killing, and possible face-planting stutter), press 'X' within a short distance to the ground.
At this point, avid skateboarders may be rolling their eyes, but for the platforming veteran, jumping with the left stick and then having to land with the 'X' button can feel quite unorthodox, and yet it is the basis for this game's secret sauce. A big wrinkle in that secret is how to get a perfect landing or a perfect grind. It is, of course, all about timing. Pressing 'X' (or down of the left stick for grinding) just before landing (or starting the grind) makes it a grade of "Perfect." Until these become regular and more natural, all gameplay is really just training, and this training is likely to include frequent, run-crushing, level-ending face plants.
Levels are packed with random junk that will end the run. This junk must be ollied over, and then there are the many stair-stepping areas that must be traversed using grinds. Unlike endless runners, the game uses set levels, 50 in all plus Spots (small single run challenges levels), and the flow from ground to rail over gaps and obstacles can, with some practice, draw in even the biggest skateboard haters around. With each landed trick being scored in real-time and individual level-challenges and live leaderboards, the gameplay hums along, challenging the player to become good enough to maximize each trick multiplier. Both shoulder buttons are used for spinning, and the game's Tricktionary is always available.
The game features a giant restart button in the upper left of the screen, which despite the always close proximity of face-planting death, is used with frenetic frequency during play. For better or worse, the levels restart so fast that even when not playing at your best it's tempting to keep trying.
The levels themselves have a devious flow. Whenever you think that you've mastered all of the grind techniques, there will be a level without grind rails or just a challenge that can only be beaten without grinding. Ditto for pushing.
I mentioned earlier how important consistent physics is for a game like this, and 'OlliOlli' really nails it. Just the other day, I was explaining how I felt that for 'Dark Souls' the enemies will attempt cheap kills relentlessly, but since their behaviors and actions are so consistent, the gameplay doesn't feel cheap or unfair. Though 'OlliOlli' is free of enemies this same sentiment applies, tough but fair. The same inputs will result in the same speed and cause the same failure in a given level (like 'Base 5') every time. So even though I'll likely never net world-beating scores, the scores I do post will only be as random as my play-style.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
'OlliOlli' is a 2D sidescroller, whose art style mimics 16-bit games. The visible playing area is much larger and more detailed than anything similar on the SNES or Genesis, but it's imitative all the same. Where this kind of imitation is beloved in RPGs, these levels just look ok. The gameplay is so demanding that, at its best the art burns away to reveal the tactical layout. The five different visual palettes make for some nice variety, but the whole game could be changed to a 'TRON' look without missing much of a beat.
Occasionally there will be a visual bug where the wrong animation will play, and it seems like you've landing or are grinding for an instant when you've really face planted. It's an extremely minor issue as it occurs when you've already face-planted, but still noticeable.
The UI design and delivery is expert, with all of the crucial scoring info available even while nailing crazy-multipliers. One change I would like is an easy way to take screengrabs, as the game moves much too fast for the standard Vita technique.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Initially, I was ready to slam the audio as a kind of forgettable non-factor, but upon further review, I decided that the jazzy soundtrack is quite suitable as a complimentary part of the game. It's unlikely that most players will be disturbed as they might have been had the soundtrack been high-tempo. Here again, the implementation suits the frequent restarts as the audio is never disturbed in the menu or in the game, not even when pausing. The pause menu gives instant access to both music and sound effect sliders. The sound effects provided decent feedback for various moves.
On the one hand the game is so fast that it's worth firing up even for just a minute or two of play. On the other hand, the quick restarts and rhythmic play can keep you abosrd for hours. In the long term, unlocking all the Pro levels (through level challenges) and Spots should keep players interested even if the leaderboards aren't their thing. Plus, the game has intriguing Daily Grinds. In essence, these are daily challenge levels, but with a twist. You can practice each one for as long as it is active (24 hours), but you must choose to attempt the actual scored run and only that run will count. This real-world twist should appeal to most any challenge hunters.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
Roll7 put out a nice graphic depicting their idea for an instruction manual. Other than that, the Daily Grinds serve as a true bonus.
For every time I've thought, "if only this game had a tight control scheme and consistent physics and scoring," the devs at Roll7 must have been furthering their plot to make 'OlliOlli.' I would never have guessed that I could be addicted to a skateboarding title, and I have some serious concerns that the Vita might not have been designed to support such a replayable (if brutally challenging) game. It might not be much of a looker and many will confuse it at a glance for an iOS title, but the gameplay really trumps such superficial concerns. If anything, they should make a version for the PS3/PS4, and put one of the DualShocks to work.
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