Sicky sicky gnar, bro bro!
OlliOlli was a pleasant surprise. A year ago, the minimalist skateboarding game materialized out of nowhere, deconstructing the genre and distilling its essence down the barest essentials. It stripped away any traces of excess, resulting in an experience focused on eliciting trancelike states and a never-ending pursuit of high scores.
Simultaneously accessible and unfathomably intricate, OlliOlli lured players down the rabbit hole, presenting itself as an airy side-scroller just long enough to get its hooks into you before quickly giving way to something far weightier and more profound.
And now it’s been topped in virtually every conceivable way with an unexpected sequel, OlliOlli 2.
OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood (PS4 [reviewed], PS Vita)
Released: March 3, 2015
MSRP: $14.99 (Cross-Buy, Free at launch via PS Plus)
OlliOlli 2 seems nearly identical to its predecessor, or that was my initial impression, at least. My memories deceived me, though. After spending many hours comparing the games side by side, I can confidently say OlliOlli 2 is a great leap forward. This feels like the game Roll7 always wanted to make.
Outside of the sleek, new art direction, the most apparent distinction at work here is the manual, a trick where skateboarders balance on their back wheels while moving forward. It may sound like a small difference, but it makes for a world of difference. Landing a manual after pulling off a grind or trick allows players to keep a combo going, allowing you to string together a series of maneuvers into a single, colossal trick.
The manual introduces a critical element of risk and reward, daring players to keep a combo going throughout an entire level and punishing those who deliver anything less than excellence. It really reinforces a key tenet from the original OlliOlli: precision. The experience demands players land or grind in a very particular way if they want to be successful and get the most out of their efforts.
OlliOlli 2 has a smooth learning curve. The campaign starts out with an in-depth tutorial covering the basic systems at play, then throws players into a series of five worlds, each with five levels, all of which have five special challenges to complete. The difficulty ramps up at a steady pace, easing players in with straightforward stages and concluding with stages even veterans will be lucky to just survive, let alone pull off any impressive combos.
Along the way the challenges do a great job at encouraging players to experiment and try various play-styles that may not arise naturally. This goes a long way toward expanding one’s skillset, which will come in use once you start focusing on climbing the leaderboards. Once a level’s five objectives are completed successfully, a more difficult version of that stage will unlock. There’s even a third tier (which unlocks upon completion all five challenges in every level across both Amateur and Pro modes), which is apparently so difficult it only goads players to endure.
The new-look visual design is a real treat. This time around the aesthetic is far brighter and more colorful, thanks in large part to the more varied and fantastical settings. OlliOlli 2 takes players on a journey through sun-drenched Southern California landscapes with movie studio backlots, the Wild West, a Central American rainforest dotted with Aztec pyramids, a futuristic cityscape, and a post-apocalyptic amusement park. It’s a brilliant collection of backdrops with a lot of personality.
The art retains the simplistic vibe of the original game, but moves away from the muddy pixels in favor of a far cleaner presentation. This, combined with the silky smooth animation and impeccably tight controls makes OlliOlli 2 handle like a dream. Even at its most difficult, the experience seems fair. When I wipe out, I’m upset with myself, rather than the developers, realizing it’s poor execution on my part that’s at fault, not shoddy design.
Honestly, it’s difficult to levy complaints against Roll7 for creating a more absorbing and beautiful follow-up to one of my favorite titles of last year, but it feels a bit safe. It might have been nice to see some new modes or something. Aside from career mode, spot challenges, and daily grind competitions, the only new addition is local multiplayer, which didn’t release with the game. The studio promises to add in the feature later on, but its absence at launch is a tad disappointing.
Despite those minor gripes, Roll7 has easily outdone itself with this one. OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood is a massive step up from the original game. It’s a gorgeous, worthy successor that’s even more absorbing and difficult to put down. Get ready for your next gaming obsession.
[This review is based on an retail build of the game acquired via PlayStation Plus.]