I haven’t written a review for a while due to a dramatic change in circumstances and amount of free time – as such I may be a little rusty. While I wouldn’t dust off my writing mittens for any old game, Olli Olli 2 (from indie team Roll7) commands attention and demands a review. So sit back while I wax lyrical about this stunning game.
If you failed to grasp the subtle subtext of that introduction, it’s fair to say I absolutely adore Olli Olli 2: Welcome to Olliwood. However, in all honesty, I didn’t expect to. I glanced only briefly in the direction of the original Olli Olli and wrote it off as a simplistic ‘jump the barriers, survive the level’ type of game. Like others, I assumed it could even be an endless level with the goal being just to survive as long as possible. Oh how wrong I was.
When Olli Olli 2 was delivered to us via the Playstation Plus Instant Game collection for March, 2015 – I downloaded it and let it sit there on my PS4 and Vita for nearly a whole 24 hours before I actually gave it a go. My perceptions of this simple little 2D, side scrolling ‘hop the blocks’ game were immediately shattered and I uncovered what might be one the most challenging and addictive games I’ve ever played.
Olli Olli 2 takes the tried and tested ideas of skateboarding video games – tagging tricks together to build up combos – and then expands on it to an insane degree. I was a big fan of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games (before they ran them into the ground) on PS1 and 2. I also loved the Skate series of the last videogame generation. Even at first glance I realised that Olli Olli 2 had some of the complexity of these games – it just looked simplified.
The reality is that the simplification ends at the games visual style. The gameplay of Olli Olli 2 is actually much deeper and harder to master than either of those previous franchises. The controls echo Skate more so than they do Tony Hawk’s in that you use the analogue sticks to prime and perform tricks, with face and shoulder buttons mainly used to tweak and add turns to the flips you perform. The tricks themselves vary greatly in difficulty from a simple ‘the analogue stick down, release to ollie’ or hold to the side to kickflip – right up to things like ‘roll a quarter circle from right to down, then a half circle back the other way while holding the R button’ to perform a kickflip-underflip, etc.
Grinds too are similarly simple, much like Skate in that you simply have to hit the object to grind it – but must also push a direction on the analogue stick to choose your grind, this can also be tweaked using shoulder buttons for better grinds that generate higher scores.
The thing that really sets Olli Olli 2 (and the original) apart from previous skateboarding games though, is the landing. Whereas your Skates and your Tony Hawk games have you perform tricks and then effortlessly transition into the next, Olli Olli 2 has you push ‘X’ to ‘land your trick. Push it too early and your landing will be ‘sketchy’ (or sloppy if you leave it too late and fail to press X at all). Time it better and you may score a ‘sick’ landing. Ideally, what you’re looking for is to press ‘X’ as close as possible to the ground and score a ‘perfect’ landing – which is accompanied by a flash of green, a small speed boost and a bigger score!
Perfect landings are expanded upon as the game progresses and teaches you new tricks. You can also perform ‘perfect’ grinds in a similar manner with the same rewards. Added to Olli Olli 2 are manuals and reverts (and once you get really good, revert-manuals), performed by pushing back or forward on the stick as you hit ‘X’ to land. It’s this added dynamic that sets the game apart and elevates it above all else. Essentially, it becomes possible to combo an entire level, nailing every trick as you go with a sick or better landing and throwing your score into the millions!
Even once you master the game’s controls, Olli Olli 2 is far from easy. It does however, have one of the most finely tuned learning curves in any game ever. Fact. Each level has its own set of challenges (5 per level). Early on, these range from simple tasks – like getting a certain score of 40 000, or tagging so many tricks together – or maybe collecting certain objects before finishing the level (just get to the end without slamming). These are to be done on simple levels with long areas of flat ground, punctuated by sets of stairs with grindable handrails, friendly drops and few obstacles to mess up your run.
Later levels see you hopping over chasms of spikes or lava, avoiding obstacles and needing to keep momentum so when you hit the launch ramp half way through the stage you actually clear the pool of acid rather than plonking into it and having to restart. They also ask you to hit scores over a million, perform a whole level combo with only perfect landings or including specific tricks in a whole level combo. The challenges are fun and infuriating in equal measure, especially when you nail the entire level in one glorious combo, including all perfect landings, tons of grind switches (where you switch from one perfect grind to another on a rail – signified by purple sparks!) and some big ass flips… only mistime the landing at the finish line and see your score multiplier evaporate and what should have been a 4 and a half million combo ends up as a paltry 80 000. The sense of satisfaction when it all comes together is immense though, and well worth the tufts of hair you pull out getting there.
On top of the career levels full of challenges, there are also a number of ‘spots’ to play on. These are like small sections of levels on which to perform your best short combos and then compare yourself to the rest of the online community. There are leaderboards for pretty much every stage, regardless of whether your playing career or spots. At first I was overjoyed to get a score that put me in the top 1000 (there were around 200 000 scores recorded on the leaderboards at the time of writing), now with my skills built – I’m challenging myself to hit the top 100 on each level (its slow progress so far).
There are also ‘Daily grinds’ (making a return from Olli Olli). These are like the Spots, inasmuch as they’re shorter sections of levels for you to post your best score on. The difference is, you can only play each one for real – once! You can practice it as often as you like, but you only get one opportunity to post a score to the boards. Which means if you slam BIG on your real run, the score is recorded as a zero! It’s all for bragging rights at the end of the day – there are no consequences for posting a rubbish score, but it is a lot of fun if you have friends playing, all trying to be the best!
Whether playing on Vita or PS4, the game controls exceptionally well, once you get the hang of it. I am sad to see some gamers have been claiming the controls don’t work as well on Vita – I would disagree with this entirely, some of my best scores have been performed on the Vita. Switching from one to the other can be a little jarring as the movements on the Dual Shock 4 need to much bigger than the twitchy, speedy analogue sticks of the Vita. So if you are going from one to the other, give yourself a few runs to acclimatise!
In conclusion, Olli Olli 2 is simply one of the best gaming experiences out there. It isn’t as immediately accessible as other skateboarding games you may have played, largely due to the landing dynamic, but it is a superior experience if you’re willing to take a little time to master the controls. As mentioned, the game does take you through the ropes exceptionally well, never giving you too much to deal with at once – early on at least.
Spend a little time with it and you’ll be grind-switching to an impossible flip, landing a revert-nose-manual and then busting a double heel-flip out of a perfect launch before you know it! Just don’t screw the landing up!
When reviewing, I tend to start out with the most positive view and then try to get a balance between what the game does to impress me and what the game gets a little wrong or where I feel there is room for significant improvement. For me – and it may only be me that feels this – Olli Olli 2: Welcome to Olliwood gets everything right and I’m yet to see anything that detracts from this.
Olli Olli 2 is currently available for free on PS+, sodownload it right now if you’re a subscriber. And if you’re not – still download it anyway – because it really is that good!
Richard is a father, teacher, gamer and writer. He believes that The Last of Us is the finest game ever made, feels that the StarWars Saga should only be watched in ‘the Machete order’ and once cleared Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in one sitting. Took him 20 hours, four cups of tea and a sausage roll. You can follow him on twitter @vigilantesanta.