olliolli-world-review

Forget Going Pro, Become a Skate Wizard

OlliOlli has truly grown as a franchise from its beginnings as a simple side-scrolling skateboard game.  The first two OlliOlli games featured a set of challenges and tricks to be performed while setting out to achieve your overall personal best.  This series hasn’t fundamentally changed from its core but added to its DNA with improved visuals while retaining a sharp difficulty curve to keep the challenges rewarding.  The next step for the Roll7, the developers, was to create an experience that attracted more players and retained even greater visual polish, which in this case, means going 3D.  Read on for our review on OlliOlli World.

Roll7 showed the world what they wanted to bring to us with OlliOlli World in April of 2021 at the Nintendo Indie Showcase, and it was truly striking.  The game had shifted to a quirky new art style to fit the 3D design, promised massive levels across the different biomes of this new world’s “Radlandia” and the ultimate goal was to achieve “Gnarvana” with plenty of fun characters and set pieces to keep you entertained.  One particular goal was also to create a title with a low barrier of entry, as previous games in the city featured a steep difficulty curve at the halfway point.  After spending several days diving deep into the game’s challenges and completing a full playthrough of the story, there’s plenty to love about this title, although many of its core concepts are retained, mostly brilliant with some caveats.

From a first glance, OlliOlli World looks sharply different from the previous titles in the series, thanks to its change in art style from pixel art and parallax scrolling backgrounds to a colorful world that revolves around skateboarding and supporting those who want to become the best.  The game takes place in Radlandia, across 5 key biomes over which are each presided by one of the Godz, stylistic spelling included.  This game is built to have a lower barrier to entry for more casual players, while still having a high variety of enticing challenges for older fans of the originals, and for the most part, this is reasonably clear.  You can be whoever you want to be in this world, and change yourself at any point down to size and body shape straight from the game menu.  Your goal is simple but represents a long journey – skate with the Godz and achieve Gnarvana in your quest across Radlandia to become a Skate Wizard.

From the very beginning, you know you’re in for something special, as you start with the basics in Sunshine Valley, the first game world, and are given two brief tutorials on movement and tricks using the simple control scheme.  The basics largely involve heavy use of the left control stick for the bulk of your actions, different movements resulting in aerial tricks once you release the stick again, with Pushing (pressing A/B/X depending on the system) meant to build momentum before starting a combo.  What develops from there is really up to you as the player, because you can play the very next levels armed just with the basics, or you can experiment a bit more with the controls.  It’s an intuitive control scheme, although once you get to the levels with greater difficulty scaling you’ll find it’ll be testing your dexterity and even running your thumbs raw or feeling your wrist lock up.  This is not an issue but a testament to how addictive the game itself is and an unfortunate side effect of how involved the gameplay can be.

A Feast for the Eyes and Ears

OlliOlli World’s many strengths lie in its art style, sound and music, leaderboard integration, and incredibly deep gameplay.  No two playthroughs of a level will be the same and this is supplemented by what you learn as you play, a soundtrack that’s constantly playing which you can control at any point, and what you pick up from seeing other players’ accessible replays.

The Rad Visuals

Radlandia is visually stunning, using an art style reminiscent of Jet Set Radio while setting itself apart, using a minimalist color and shade scheme so that the elaborate backdrops don’t pull focus while playing, but can still be admired.  OlliOlli World incorporates the key set pieces organically, setting their colors to be recognizable along the track including brightly-colored grind rails, walls intended for wall-riding, stairs, ramps, and more.

OlliOlli World makes sure to introduce you to a diverse cast of characters, beginning with your main crew and expanding outward as you progress.  First, there’s Suze, a sassy amateur videographer with dreams to have her work recognized by Tryfecta, who is essentially the skateboard media; Suze represents your audience, wanting to get past all the chaff and get right seeing you perform cool tricks.  Mike is the group’s journalist, whose magazine documents would-be Skate Wizards like yourself.  There’s Dad, the group’s resident ‘oldhead’ who quickly explains to you that it’s just a nickname he was given, named after his father to which every player should groan and not be surprised.  Then there’s Chiffon, the current Skate Wizard who acts are your group’s Sherpa on your pilgrimage to meet the Godz and ascend to Wizard status.  The crew all serve either basic gameplay or essential flavor element to the game, and their dialogues are memorable, but easily skippable if you just want to get to the game.  There are many other characters you’ll meet who distinctively represent their home regions and what they contribute to greater Radlandia, but your crew is still the most important and supportive.

The characters of the game are oftentimes unique and feature a choppy, low framerate movement when emoting which seems to take cues from recent films like Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse.  This feels intentional, as it seems to accentuate their actions as a result, as if they were to remain fluid in these movements like in the entire rest of the game, these characters with their lanky proportions would feel almost Muppet-like in a bad way.  This style results in a distinctive rendition of the in-game characters and give their reaction to events more clarity.

The individual game worlds feel unique and carry over the creativity from previous OlliOlli titles in their designs.  The biomes of the five regions of Radlandia span across beaches of Sunset Valley, Cloverbrook’s forests, Burntrock’s deserts, Sketchside industrial parks, and even a vast metropolis in Los Vulgas.  It feels as though you as the player ask yourself, “what if I could skate through a factory” and then the game answers you promptly, with a sight to behold laden with crazy challenges.  Particular highlights include the many levels of Cloverbrook, as well as its distinctive denizens like worker bees and Logfolk (sentient trees) where you encounter incredible, rustic yet groovy stages that feel rewarding to return to after you’ve added to your skill repertoire.  Other visual treats include Burntrock’s crashed UFO sites, Sunshine Valley’s muscle beaches home to buff seagulls, industrial skateparks featuring Dad’s Shop, and the Gilded Palace level in the final world.  All of these levels, when in motion, are a sight to behold with different color schemes that feel appropriate and pleasing to the eye and among the top highlights of this game.

Chill Lo-Fi Beats

OlliOlli World carries over another element from previous installments in the form of its soundtrack, which features the works of various indie artists like Fardust and Nikitch following recent musical trends.  The result is a blend of lo-fi and electronic music and many other genres which make heavy use of synthesizer and soft yet punchy beats.  This enables the player to experience the game in a relative state of peace, which is helpful especially once you approach the more challenging levels.

The sound design of the game is also great, with responsive sound effects as you skate, grind and even ride downstairs.  Simple things like whether or not the grind rails are metal or logs like in Cloverbrook, also show the attention to detail while keeping you immersed.  There’s also nice feedback like when you’re grinding and executing a grab, then grind switch, with just enough audible feedback to let you know it’s been pulled off without taking your eye off the action.  The game also makes sure to remind you when you’ve completed challenges, beaten score benchmarks, or simply cleared the goal while letting you stay focused – no big banners on the middle of the screen.  One nice thing if you are playing on the PlayStation is that Roll7 made sure to incorporate the controllers’ speakers when you’ve not got your headphones plugged in, with the skating sound effects playing through them.

Skate With the Best of Them

Roll7 is implementing a nice online component to this game with the integration of Leaderboards and Leagues this time around.  Every level that is not a tutorial has a set of Local Heroes essentially representing a score you want to exceed, to get in-game rewards, but beyond that players can strive to have their scores sitting at the very top.  Each level’s leaderboards are directly visible when you pause the game or just before you start the level, and you can even hover over certain scores to watch the replay, and even learn from these players to see how you can improve your technique.  I’ve personally learned a lot from this function, and it’s elevated my skills to the point where I’ve been able to take the #1 spot on levels in Sunset Valley and Sketchside, however, these could be overtaken at any point as more players come in.

Additionally, as you clear regions of Radlandia and beat their respective Godz, you’ll unlock The Gnarvana Portal which allows you to generate levels from any area and even share them with other players.  This pushes the limits even further on what this game can provide for replayability.  Once you’re satisfied with your first playthrough and while you work on getting your personal bests, you can pursue the Gnarvana League which is all about getting the best score possible in new levels.  Each league event only lasts for a portion of the day, so it’s enough time to hone your skills and hopefully secure a spot for advancement in the ranks, starting from Bronze I and moving upward.  Again, you can watch any replay in this including your own, to improve your craft.

How it Feels to Play

OlliOlli World has done a tremendous job in making the game feel as fluid and responsive as possible.  Inputs feel quick and easy to adjust to, with a low barrier to entry but also a stratospheric skill ceiling.  Essentially, it’s easy to pick up and play, but mastering it is a moving target.  The game eases you in with simple mechanics and tutorials early on and then teaches you, other mechanics, along with adding levels that incorporate them more frequently.  Most of your controls are focused on the left stick as it influences your jumping as well as tricks, grinding on rails, even wall riding.  Other functions for other buttons allow you to can change lanes in the level which might remind players of Donkey Kong Country Returns, or tap for Manual landing and grind switching or even late tricks, the lattermost being a very difficult mechanic.  There’s even some incorporation of the right stick and back shoulder buttons, which allow you to do spins and grabs to further accentuate your tricks, but make sure to release before landing, otherwise, you wipe out, or in this game’s terms, slam.  Throughout levels and even in the menus you’re also able to use the front shoulder buttons to change the song that is playing.

The advanced tricks can be quite doable on early levels too, so they’re worthwhile to return to and improve your personal bests.  As Gnarly Mike puts it in the game, you can essentially move the left stick around like a ninja and expect different tricks when you take to the air.  You can even nail all the tricks in the Trickipedia (carried over from the original games, the list of all tricks) entirely by accident and be notified with the corresponding achievement.  Grinding and wall-riding feel especially good in this game, and once you learn how to execute manual landings or grind switches, your combos will take off and you’ll see a dramatic improvement to your scores.

Radlandia’s cast of characters, particularly your crew but for others like various regions’ local heroes, make their mark on the gameplay in fascinating ways throughout.  There’s Chiffon, who acts as your respawn point, Mike, who sets typically a set of 3 challenges for you to complete for a reward, and even hidden characters you can find to unlock sidequests, essentially brand new levels within the area you’d otherwise not see.  One thing to note is, if Suze is capturing this all live on video and following your journey in a world where you largely travel via skateboard, she should have a shot at becoming a Wizard too.

You will find yourself improving in how you play the game as time goes on, and although you can complete most levels simply by pulling basic tricks to get from point A to point B, it’s best to broaden your horizons and embrace the mechanics of the game teaches you, as it’s more visually pleasing to see your character reacting to all the crazy stunts they can perform along with the level and push your limits.

To complement the visual style of the game and 3D world with 2D platforming elements, the backdrop moves pleasingly by and you can note standout elements in the environments while you play.  When you change lanes and see other parts of the level, be it for exploration or to find something simple like a giant frog riding a fly so you can knock them out of the air for a challenge, you see the instant replayability and array of options to improve later runs.  Many levels even have local crowds at nearby ramps or slopes, so be sure to put on a show with some of your best tricks, many of these will even be featured in challenges.  The game is endlessly fun but can be intimidating for newer or more casual players looking to just clear each level.  That being said, they’ll still get to enjoy the visuals and characters along the way.

Gnarly Challenges Might be Intimidating

OlliOlli World is flawless in many ways, and only one or two visual glitches even occurred after dozens of hours spent playing, but does still come with some minor issues.  While Mike’s challenges are reasonable for the most part and enhance how long you will be able to enjoy a level, the Local Heroes point benchmarks become inconsistent in their expectations especially once you clear the third area, Burntrock.  Suddenly, once you’re taught the advanced mechanics more directly which you might have been using all along, or could be experiencing for the first time, the game remains playable on a basic level but to hit the score benchmarks, you’ll be left getting obsessed with how to optimize your runs.

A game that’s meant to be played in small bursts has plenty of reason to be difficult, but to have such a drastic change from a reasonable difficulty curve to a massive spike feels like one of the more unpleasant features carried over from the previous games.  Even the final levels of any given area, despite having a reasonable challenge in each of them, feel more doable than many given levels of the 4th and 5th areas for hitting Local Heroes benchmarks, which feels odd.  As a result, it feels like it falls just short of having the full game’s base content accessible to all players.  OlliOlli fans who played previous games will not see the issue, which is fair, but in a bid to appeal to a greater audience, this feels like a shortcoming.  You might pull off x100 combos or higher and still not reach the goal, and end up stepping away in frustration, but it’s still highly rewarding for those who push through.

Worldbuilding in Focus More Than Story

Radlandia is an intriguing game world and is filled with great biomes, some of which have more fascinating stories than others.  Cloverbrook has interesting elements of environmentalism and even some messages like “Save the Bees” can be taken to heart even if they’re delivered cheekily.  Sketchside is an absolute highlight of the world as many of the core components of the game world like designs for skateboards, parts, tattoos, and outfits, are made there.  Some Godz are more memorable than others, like Radysus and Technicolas, but others feel somewhat shoehorned in as a bid to raise the stakes in the game and remind players that it gets more difficult from there in a very “princess is in another castle” way.

Many of a given world’s local heroes are either crucial to the world, or given the role of ‘fanboy who met x area’s God’ and the developers are injecting some self-awareness into how this is all structured.  The story itself is rather basic; you’re crossing through these realms and learning their respective tricks so you can become a full-fledged Skate Wizard.  The dialogues are entirely skippable but don’t do so if you want to read a plethora of amusing puns and learn small details about the characters.

What to Expect Going Forward

OlliOlli World is exceptionally replayable, and despite a difficulty curve that can be unreasonable at times, the hundreds of challenges and the Gnarvana Portal will keep you occupied well after launch.  The online component has enough difficulty and length options to customize your levels and play others generated around the world and keep you occupied well after launch, and you can always improve your rankings in Leagues.

The Verdict

On a technical and artistic level, OlliOlli World is an exceptional title that will be loved by many players for fast gameplay, stellar visuals, and fantastic music.  The game is largely approachable, and even in its more difficult moments, it takes the opportunity to teach you everything you need to know to succeed, placing the onus on you to score as high as you can.  This can result in some unreasonably high expectations to meet from a completionist standpoint.

Players who are familiar with challenging platformers including Celeste and user-generated Mario Maker levels will appreciate this game and all it offers, and getting better at this game can feel practically euphoric when achieving flawless runs.  Due to the skateboarding/platforming blend of genres, this is likely to be embraced as a niche title and has the potential to be filled with enough variety to keep players occupied for a long time and be just as entertaining to watch.  A simple playthrough without any flair can be as short as a few hours, but you can spend dozens getting all the base challenges, as well as ones set by Radysus for the postgame.  Roll7 has put out an impressive game, and if you’re up to the challenge, you’ll have a great way to spend your downtime.