360 flips with a flippin' 360 controller
OlliOlli first showed up earlier this year on the PlayStation Vita, and it flip tricked and grinded its way into the heart of Ian Bonds, who gave it a 9.5/10 and called it a masterpiece "in the sweet spot of 'simple to control' and 'just difficult enough.'"
Now that it is available through Steam on Linux, Mac, and Windows, those without Sony's handheld can see what all the fuss is about. It makes the jump from Vita to PC faithfully, with all modes intact. Few PC-centric bells or whistles have been added, but it retains what made it good to begin with.
OlliOlli (Linux, Mac, PC [reviewed])
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Released: July 22, 2014
Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit
The great success of OlliOlli in taking a genre historically popular in three dimensions and bringing it down to two was in its control scheme. Though it features fast action and unreal combos like the Tony Hawk series, tricks are executed by manipulating the control stick in a manner more akin to skate. Upon landing, the player must press a button with precise timing in order to receive full points for the trick and maintain momentum.
This works well and feels natural with an Xbox 360 controller or comparable gamepad, but it is technically possible for those without a console controller to play using a keyboard. In that case, W, A, S, and D replace the control stick, and the down arrow is used as the landing button. Although this control setup functions, it feels far less smooth and satisfying. OlliOlli was designed with a controller in mind, and it says so itself if the player tries to go without one.
The three main modes are still here, and each is supported by Steam leaderboards. Career tasks the player with completing objectives on a large course, Spots features smaller levels and allows only a single combo, and the Daily Grind offers a once-per-day high score competition like Spelunky's Daily Challenge.
Though nothing was lost in the port, it is a slight bummer that there are no Steam-specific features here. Steam leaderboards replace Sony's and Steam achievements take the spot of the previous Trophies, but there are no Steam Trading Cards or Workshop support. It presumably would have been a lot of extra work, but a level editor would have been sublime. Even just allowing users to create custom challenges on the existing tracks could have added a lot of interesting community interaction and replay.
The other downside to a completely faithful transition from Vita to PC is that playing on a large screen highlights the oversimplified pixel art and sometimes ugly environments. The art is functional for the fast-paced action, but over the five sets of levels it is rarely interesting. Somewhat counterintuitively, OlliOlli looks better on the smaller screen of the handheld.
The unappealing aesthetics are only a minor gripe, because the main focus of the game is on keeping up momentum, stringing together insane combos, and shooting for high scores. At that, OlliOlli excels. Skateboarding videogames have waned since the crazes of the past, but OlliOlli is as good now as Tony Hawk's Pro Skater was fifteen years ago. It might even be better.