Once at the apex of industry excitement, the extreme sports genre’s popularity has faded faster than the artwork on an abused skateboard. Now a pastime for Hanson imitating teenage misfits, the days of earnestly discussing kickflips over a curry in the office canteen have long faded. British indie Roll7’s hoping to turn back the clocks with its PlayStation Vita exclusive OlliOlli, though, aiming to transport you to a time when undersized jeans could pass as totally bogus shorts. The big question is: does it have enough slick tricks for a hit, or should it quite simply (pop) shove-it?
While the inspirations are evident, this handheld high five-‘em-up pushes away from the staples that made Tony Hawk a smash in its pre-plastic peripheral days. Shunning three-dimensional environments for subpar Super NES-esque sprites, it almost feels like a combination of endless runner Canabalt and the video for that one popular Sum 41 song. As such, your objective is easier than growing an emo fringe: chain tricks to score points and traverse increasingly inappropriate rail infested terrains.
Rather than ollie your way past pink-haired beaus in a cheap and cheerful supermarket’s car park, however, you’ll be grinding the gears of impatient helicopter pilots in a snowy military base and kicking it with the destructive workforce at a rusty junkyard. Each world consists of five amateur levels with a roster of unique targets attached. These range from clearing specific tricks to collecting hidden items. Beat them all and you’ll unlock a pro stage, which boasts a second set of objectives to complete.
Of course, clearing a level isn’t always as straightforward as following the tablature for a Blink-182 track. The last environment – a bloomy mix of the Shibuya skyline and the cast of The Land Before Time – forces you to keep your wheels almost entirely off the ground, as it tosses in sharp neon spikes in order to impede your frontside spin skills. You’ll bail a lot as you make your way through the campaign, but rather than leave you smothered in Savlon, the release makes it a breeze for you to get back on your board.
Employing the same kind of quick restart system also seen in Hotline Miami and Super Meat Boy, this otherwise easygoing indie affair has the power to consume entire Saturdays as you pursue that unattainable perfect score. This is perhaps best glimpsed in the ‘Spots’ mode, which presents you with a selection of killer kickflip canvases for you to paint with the bottom of your board. You have a wide array of twists, turns, slides, and slumps to illustrate your abilities with, all of which are accessible from an onboard Tricktionary thicker than a skater’s phrasebook.
Many of these stunts are performed using hardware creaking quarter circles, though some of the more complex abilities augment shoulder button taps. The challenge adding twist, however, comes from the requirement to actually land these gravity defying flips, with a timely push of the X button maximising your rewards as your board kisses the floor. Grinds operate similarly, in that you’ll score a speed boost for playing dangerously and slamming the various rails and signposts the millisecond before your wooden ride comes into contact with it.
This simple addition adds a real deep layer of challenge to the action, and it can feel like you’re learning to walk at first. Once you let the mechanics seep into your subconscious, though, it all becomes second nature, and you’ll soon be flipping out faster than an alcoholic with anger management issues. Admittedly, it’s not the deepest system in the world, but it’s more than enough to get your heart pumping when you’re on a sizeable trick chain and need to land that last half-flip to hit the heights of Geoff Rowley at the turn of the century.
This is arguably most evident in the cleverly dubbed ‘Daily Grind’ component, which gives you one shot at attaining skateboarding stardom. Unlike the Eminem song of similar meaning, here you get to practice a random trick hotspot until your heart’s content, before tackling it in one final run and having your score immortalised on the leaderboards. Unfortunately, this part of the product is severely undercooked, as comparing your points with friends should have been a real draw. Alas, the game only gives you feedback on your overall position and the current chart topper, which is a real shame.
For a genre popularised by its heady mix of guitar rock and pop, the soundtrack is also more of a letdown than a high school prom. Rather than opt for the energy of chugging power chords and screaming five note riffs, it plumps up for something a little more serene, which blends into the background more than a shy twenty-something in guyliner at a My Chemical Romance gig. To its credit, the game is perfect for when you’re podcasting or partially paying attention to other things, but it’s shame that the music’s not infectious enough to slowly erode your sanity.
OlliOlli’s certainly not going to kickstart an extreme sports revival, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth your time. This fairly straightforward side-scrolling skateboarding simulation incorporates some sneaky systems that will keep you hooked until you hit the perfect heelflip and five-o, even if the odd oversight in its leaderboards system will leave you pondering the point. It’s not up to par with the Birdman at his best, but this tiny hawk is still good enough to get you in a flap.