Review: OlliOlli

Port Crooked GrindGrind. Bail. Again. Kickflip. Wipeout. Again. Five-Oh. Asphalt. Again. The sound you hear is a man attempting to perfect his latest run in OlliOlli. Most players would spit in eldritch tongues after failing one too many times, but he seems unfazed by the number of score streaks ended by one pesky potted plant. His relentless patience gives way to victory, but he leaves no time for celebration; without batting an eye, he thumbs his way to the next level. He has steeper mountains to climb.

Skateboarding isn’t exactly new to gaming, but OlliOlli keeps things fresh by ditching the genre’s recent obsession with three-dimensional open worlds and presenting a side-scrolling ride to the bottom of a course. The kick, grab and revert buttons have also been shaved away; you’re only using the left stick for tricks and grinds, X for landing at the last possible moment, and the two shoulder buttons alternatively add a little French to your kicks and send you spinning. The controls may sound overly simplistic, but they’re all you’ll ever need to perform everything from a simple ollie to a 540 heelflip. Forcing every trick onto one stick means you’ll occasionally pop one move when you meant to try something else; fortunately, it almost always picks up on what you want to do and reacts accordingly.

Besides, in your earliest form, you’re far more of a liability than any control scheme. Even after finishing the brief set of tutorials, riding more than 100 meters before chomping on concrete is nigh impossible. But aside from a charmingly gruesome, bone-breaking animation when you tumble down too many flights of stairs, OlliOlli won’t chuckle at your misfortune. It knows you need time to acclimate, and lets you figure things out at your own pace while offering sets of increasingly higher bars to clear. While I was still struggling with landing on my feet, simply reaching the end of the level was a cause for celebration. Eventually, I felt comfortable enough to step my game up and went after challenges like racking up a high score through a single combo, or grinding every bulldozer (who needs that many bulldozers in one construction site?).

Base Helicopter GrindIt’s easy to feel confident after the first few zones, before OlliOlli really bares its teeth and tosses you into a volcano. Grabbing all five stars in a single level unlocks its Pro counterpart, a nightmarish rearrangement that only the finest of thumbs will shred. These levels order you to get to the end without grinding, or score an unholy number of points. Make no mistake: no matter how many kickflips and backslides you have under your belt, you will crash. Hard. (Occasionally, you’ll eat so much asphalt that the game itself takes its own tumble. The code ties itself into knots and keels over in a melodramatic software crash. Fortunately, that only happens once in a blue moon.)

Despite the growing number of Faceplants Per Minute, failure is an easy pill to swallow. Even in the middle of a run, tapping the left-hand corner on the touch screen plops you back on the board instantaneously, no worse for wear. The rapid trial and error, soft electronic melodies and wood scraping railing form an alluring, hypnotic hole that absorbed me far too often. With a big grin and a laid-back approach to a traditionally unforgiving sport, OlliOlli encourages you to go for the gold, no matter how many tries it might take. Such positivity is all too rare in games that pride themselves in their difficulty.

If you’ve had your fill of the stages and one-combo “Spots,” you can test your luck with the Daily Grind, a randomly-generated battle for the top spot on the leaderboards. You can perfect your run to your heart’s content in practice, but once you preemptively decide that this will be *your* run, there’s no going back. There’s nothing quite like nailing a 500K run in practice only to bail before nailing your precious combo, forever etching your score of 0 for the world to see.

Junkyard KickflipOlliOlli isn’t content to simply build a hard-as-nails behemoth that only a small niche of players can surmount; it willingly offers a strong learning environment for newcomers of all skill levels, and shoves them down the ridge of Skullbones Mountain once they’ve learned the ropes. Even at its most punishing, it knows how to calm the nerves and make you clamor for more, more, MORE. My left thumb is incredibly sore, but it couldn’t be happier.

OlliOlli is available on the Vita for $13. A review code was provided by Roll7.