It’s funny, despite the sheer power of the VITA, its greatest potential these days comes from its wide library of high quality indie games. To further prove that point, today we’re looking at the VITA exclusive OlliOlli, a skateboarding game that was originally designed for the mobile platforms but has been made all the better by being on Sony’s handheld. OlliOlli is a different kind of skateboarding game, one with as much a focus on getting through the level as getting a high score, it’s almost more a platformer with a skateboarding theme in that sense than a traditional skateboarding game. The beauty of this is that even if you’re completely ignorant of skateboarding in general, you can still end up having a ton of fun, just like back in the good old Tony Hawk days on the N64.
Similar to those old Tony Hawk games, what makes OlliOlli fun is that it is a very simple game with some absolutely brutal timing. The controls are basic enough; you perform hadouken style rolls on the left analog stick to perform tricks, hit and hold the stick to grind things, and press the X button when you hit the ground to land the trick. Where it becomes difficult is in the timing because hitting things perfectly not only grants you a higher score but it also stops you from losing momentum. Conversely if you land trick a poorly, it will slow you down which could make getting the air necessary for your next big jump impossible. This means you need to learn the levels and/or really excel at thinking on the move, especially as the game just has you automatically running at all times. That said it’s that hectic pace and desire for precision that makes this game fit the VITA so perfectly as the machine has those wonderfully dead on analog sticks and satisfyingly clicky buttons
Despite being simple the gameplay does requires some practice to get good at and you’re going to spend a lot of pavement time getting the groove down. Thankfully failing and restarting takes all of a millisecond as there’s a restart button in the top left corner of the screen that you can spam to your heart’s content with no load times. It has a very Super Meat Boy quality in that way as you’ll constantly be bailing and restarting in such quick order that an hour could go by on a single mission without success and you even wouldn’t notice; when the cost of retrying is so low, it’s easy to let yourself bang away at it until you get it right. The best part is that when you do eventually succeed it feels earned and natural; you feel 100% in control when executing that massive combo where you chain grinds and tricks together perfectly while not losing a bit of momentum because you’ve practiced every second of it.
It’s also worth noting that the game provides you with a fair amount of content, 50 levels in all (25 amateur levels and 25 pro ones, both over 5 worlds) and 250 challenges in those levels to complete. The amateur levels are unlocked linearly with you just needing to make it to the end of a level to unlock the next one whereas you’ll need to complete all the challenges on an amateur level to unlock the corresponding pro level. Oddly enough it doesn’t feel like it’s designed for you to got through all the amateur levels in sequence and then unlock the pro levels as some of the later amateur levels are insanely brutal compared to the early pro ones. At time of writing I still haven’t beat the amateur campaign and have spent a good three hours attempting level 4-5 which has been thoroughly kicking my ass. Despite that fact, I’ve had no problem unlocking a few early pro levels and have even completed all the challenges on them. Uneven difficulty seems to be one of this game’s few problems and those obsessed with completing everything in order will end up getting themselves stuck. Before we move onto presentation, I do want to compliment the challenge system. Each of these extra goals are well designed, are well explained, and track nicely, adding a fun extra layer to the game beyond just simply getting through the levels. There’s also a special “Rad mode” you unlock if you can beat them, obviously I haven’t done that yet but I’m sure going to try as anything with the word “Rad” in it MUST be cool.
Moving onto the presentation, OlliOlli strikes a nice balance between skater chic and a more general video game vibe. The graphics are done in a pixel art style and while that can make it look a little flash gamey at points, there’s a lot of visual flourish in here. The backgrounds for example feature multiple layers which all scroll and ebb smoothly together which gives the levels a nice feeling of perceived depth. The other thing they’ve clearly put a lot of work into is the animation, especially for when you trip up and fall on your face; your dude will go flying when he bails and will land in a very gnarly but super satisfying way. The only issue with this is that you’ll probably end up skipping the majority those great animations as you’re constantly restarting when you bail to keep your flow going. The music is also pretty good though nothing that’s super iconic; that said it features a nice mix of genres and the game does let you switch songs at will with a simple press of the triangle button which is appreciated.
OlliOlli proves to be a lightweight but deeply addictive game that any VITA owner should make time to check out. While it does suffer from some pacing issues with difficulty, the amount of content and challenges on offer mean that can be pretty easily sidestepped. Most important though is the fact that this is the kind of skateboarding game that anyone can enjoy, it doesn’t have that focus on technique that Skate did which made those games somewhat impenetrable to the layman. Instead this game doesn’t really care if you know your nollies from your kickflips, it just wants to let you have fun grinding your way through its levels. So for allowing me to say the word “Sick” unironically for a whole week, OlliOlli gets a 4 out of 5 stars; definitely worth picking up for any VITA owner who’s looking for some addicting arcade skateboarding fun.