If the skateboarding games I’ve played throughout the past two decades are to believed, I am nothing less than a legend. I’ve skated next to the greats, I’ve mastered a long list of moves including everything from ollies and nollies to 360 inward heelflips and nollie FS 360 shuv its. Despite all this I managed to miss out on OlliOlli, so when I had the chance to play the OlliOlli2: Welcome to Olliwood I jumped at it. It helped that OlliOlli 2 looked great in its screenshots, featuring locales such as a Hollywood rip-off or a creepy “abandoned” carnival. But instead of enjoying the experience as I expected, I dove head-first into an experience that was infuriatingly difficult at times.
In a nutshell, OlliOlli2 is an runner game on a skateboard. And it’s on PC. It’s a genre that I don’t think works on PC or console, as I wrote about in my review of Funk of Titans. OlliOlli2 hasn’t changed me mint there; the original was a Vita game, and I think that is a far more appropriate platform for it. The controls would certainly not translate well to Android or iOS, but Vita and 3DS would have both been perfectly acceptable. Nobody plays runners in long stretches as they do immersive PC games. But moving on.
The bulk of the game occurs in career mode, where you skateboard through Olliwood and get the opportunity to skate through movies. Tutorials pop up as required, making an attempt at introducing a decent learning curve into the game. Other menu options include spot mode (play a small part of a level and rank on worldwide leader boards), combo rush (local multiplayer), and the tricktionary (lists the available tricks, how to do them, and if they have been mastered). Every day a new Daily Grind is released, which is a daily challenge that can be practiced infinite times but only challenged for points once.
You’d think a career mode would have some sort of story attached, but not in OlliOlli2. Skate through five levels of Olliwood, each ending at a cinema, and you will be lucky enough to skate through four movie sets (one after the other, five levels each): Curse of the Aztec, Gunmetal Creek, Carnival of the Dead, and Titan Sky. Each level has two versions, one amateur and one pro. Complete all five challenges in an amateur level to unlock the equivalent pro version. Challenges can be anything from getting a set number of points to collecting items such as movie tickets or doing a specific trick.
Levels usually run downhill, although every so often you will need to make the leap over a hazard to a higher ground. There are environmental hazards scattered everywhere, including stairs, ramps, water hazards, and construction pylons. Certain runs have multiple paths, where you can go one of two ways (always up or down for obvious reasons). Other times the run offers two choices to get over a section, such as stairs have railings so you could theoretically either grind or jump. OlliOlli 2 has a ridiculous steep, sometimes apparently unsurpassable, learning curve. An obscene amount of practice helps, but landing still remains abnormally difficult for me. I developed a system of plowing through the levels just to get to the end and move on, then go back to earlier (and easier) levels when I inevitably got stuck and play them over and over again to try and get better scores, at which point I thought I’d be ready to tackle the hard ones again.
The controls are easily the most difficult part of playing OlliOlli2. You’ll use the left joystick to perform tricks, and land using A (depending on the controller). Landing requires absolutely perfect timing. Finicky is the best word to describe the controls: it feels as though no matter how much you practice, you’ll always end up hitting the landing button milliseconds too late and end up falling over (with style, but still). Consistently good tricks make you go faster, but failing tricks will slow you down to a halt and then you’ll just crash on the spot.
Where OlliOlli2 fails in story, it tries to make up for in aesthetics; it even almost succeeds if it weren’t for the annoying cheesy solar flare in nearly every level (how five years ago). The background/foreground has an effect similar to parallax going on, where the foreground moves more quickly than the background. Olliwood is gorgeous in its simple forms and sunset colours; it a cityscape consisting mostly of tall buildings. My favourite part of Olliwood are the billboards for movies you will later skate in (such as Gunmetal Creek). Curse of the Aztec and Gunmetal Creek both feel similar to Olliwood, with hazy backgrounds and more of the dreaded solar flares. Their content is slightly different though, wit Curse of the Aztec taking place in a Mayan society and Gunmetal Creek having a cowboy/western theme. My favourite is Carnival of the Dead: it’s a neon-filled dark and stormy night, with zombies riding coasters.
Related reading: Sam’s (much more positive) review of OlliOlli on PlayStation Vita.
I know I’m going against the popular opinion on OlliOlli2. It’s rated “very positive” on Steam and has an 86 on Metacritic. My issue isn’t with the infuriating controls – if anything, I understand their purpose because if the controls were easy to master the game would have little replay value. My biggest problem with the game is that it doesn’t even pretend to have some sort of context driving the process; instead, it relies on a very antiquated system of beating one level with the only reward being – GASP! – another level. I don’t think every modern game needs an in-depth piece of literature driving it, but I do think we’re at a point in the evolution of games where there needs to be something to give people a reason to keep playing, beyond more arbitrary levels.
My second biggest problem with the game is that endless runners belong on mobile platforms as they are specifically designed to be played for small amounts at a time. People looking to play something immersive on their PCs should look elsewhere.
– Lindsay M.