OlliOlli review: in the air

OlliOlli crystallizes the idea of combos into something new

Game Info
Platform PS3, Win, Mac, Linux, PS Vita, PS4
Publisher Roll7
Developer Roll7
Release Date Jan 21, 2014

OlliOlli is unique in how doggedly it pursues a single idea; a single feeling that only a few games have ever managed to conjure up. With almost unparalleled focus, OlliOlli explores the concept of flow — the kind of combo-driven rhythm that, at times, can become a thing of trancelike, involuntary reflex.

It's a lofty and pretty abstract idea; and one that's not necessarily bound to skateboarding games, either. Combos can be subconscious routines across countless genres, from games like Killer Instinct to Guitar Hero — but OlliOlli tackles the subject head-on, with a comparatively limited scope.

Linking tricks into minutes-long combos feels totally natural

OlliOlli achieves that laser-like focus with a control scheme that's extremely limited, but no less difficult to master. As your skater hurtles downhill, you can execute tricks with the left stick, which can be rotated in any direction to perform different grabs or flips. By holding a trigger, you can augment those tricks with spins — though you can't land a trick while you're rotating. The left stick also latches you onto appropriate surfaces for grinds, and the cross button lets you land your stunts as you hit the ground.

Simple as that scheme may be, the hemispheres of your brain will take a while to acclimate to the motions. Performing tricks and linking them together into minutes-long combos feels totally natural, hearkening back to the days of infinite manuals and 900 Christ Airs of the Tony Hawk days. But it's easy to get caught up in your peacocking, and forget that you have to press a button to land; failure to do so will make you stumble, likely sending you careening into one of OlliOlli's many, deadly obstacles.

To that point: OlliOlli isn't one to spare you punishment. You will wreck so very, very much. You will wreck dozens of times after forgetting to land your tricks. You will blow your 100-trick-long combo inches from the finish line. You will jump clean over rails you were trying to grind, and land in a dumpster instead. There's a restart button ever-present on the screen, and these are just a handful of reasons behind its gracious accessibility.

OlliOlli revels in its difficulty, which is an attitude that works perfectly for a game of its ilk — most of the time. Occasionally, the level architecture pushes the challenge level a bit too far; one stage, for example, is covered in snow with land-able patches of cement scattered throughout. Nimbly jumping between those safe zones feels less like you're carving your own line through the level, and more like bunny-hopping-by-numbers.

But most arenas eschew frustration for pure satisfaction. Beating a level with perfect landings, massive scores and intricately woven combos felt hugely rewarding; in spite of (or possibly because of) the dozens of failed runs before. The latter stages of the game allow you to full-combo entire levels; chaining together dozens of tricks while your skater plummets downhill at the speed of sound, propelled by gravity, inertia and OlliOlli's fresh-as-hell soundtrack — it can be awfully hypnotic.

OlliOlli should be a score-chaser's dream, too; it's laden with leaderboards across its various difficulty settings and modes. As you progress through the career mode (made up of a couple dozen stages, each with multiple difficulties and objectives), you'll unlock each level's corresponding "spot," a combo-able line of rails and gaps with its own discrete leaderboard. There's also a daily challenge, which tasks you with setting the global high score on a spot that rotates out every 24 hours — but you only get one nerve-rattling attempt per day.

Wrap Up:

OlliOlli crystallizes the idea of combos into something new

OlliOlli's slick presentation and streamlined skating are capable of throwing players into a kind of trance. Roll7 has crystallized the very idea of combos into something new and inventive, but so familiar. It's enough to transport me back to the golden days of skateboard games, enough to make me wish for the genre's resurgence. OlliOlli might not be the broadest skateboard experience out there, but in this department, it might be the most refined.

OlliOlli was reviewed using a pre-release download provided by Roll7. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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