When the original OlliOlli was first released almost 20 years ago, it focused on a minimalist presentation and on keeping the idea of video game skateboarding as simple as possible. Two decades is a long time and with a few games under its belt, developer Roll7 has aimed at the paradoxical notion of keeping things simple while also branching out into vast new territory. In the case of OlliOlli World, what happens when a straightforward 2D skating game explores the concept of branching paths? The result is more engaging side-scrolling skating with a greater incentive to improve than ever.
The world is your skate park
Before addressing some of the more obvious changes, let's talk about what OlliOlli World has retained from some of its predecessors. At its core, it still operates on a simple stick-based control scheme and challenges players to tackle individual levels that have a start point and a finish line. Nothing about OlliOlli World's control scheme or presentation is overly complicated. While the game presents new tutorials throughout the short 3-4 hour story, they're simple enough that anybody can grasp them fairly easily. The challenge is in keeping them all straight as the action is unfolding. Your skater could be flying out of control down a grind rail or through the skies and you'll often scramble to try and remember, "Which is the grind button? How do you manual? How do you grab?"
What OlliOlli World has going for it is that, like its predecessors, there isn't a tremendous amount of pressure to pick everything up right away. In many instances, simply getting to the finish line will suffice. It's only if you want to rack up the truly high scores that you'll have to step your game up, which makes this game feel like something for just about every skill level.
Making the most out of OlliOlli World means taking advantage of one of its newest features: branching paths. There will be many instances throughout the game where players can switch lanes. Going off the beaten path will usually lead to unlocking a "Gnarly Route," which offers a much more difficult run that requires precision, mastery, and momentum. Finding and then beating these runs can be a lot of fun and lead to unlockables, new stages, or even some dialogue with a side character. They're worth the effort to try and uncover, but I never felt penalized for failing to find one, which is a plus.
Where I did feel penalized was with the later courses where even the default runs required momentum. That is one area where OlliOlli World doesn't quite stick the landing. For as much as the game tries to teach players about the basics and even more advanced techniques of skating, success often means maintaining a certain level of speed. Unfortunately, there were several instances where I'd try to go from grind rails and across billboards, only to notice that I had lost so much speed that I could no longer make the long gap. This is one area where I feel like OlliOlli World stands to improve, because once players grasp how to maintain a sense of momentum, the sky's the limit.
A new face in skating
OlliOlli World's most striking change from previous entries is an overhauled art style. Rather than use retro sprites from the previous century, Roll7 is utilizing a more cartoonish art style that much more resembles animated TV classic Adventure Time. The landscapes are colorful, the characters are simplistic in their design while also pleasing to the eye, and the animation style translates perfectly to the complex sport of skateboarding.
One other thing the new art style opens up is a parade of new customization options. OlliOlli World doesn't waste any time in presenting players with a smorgasbord of customization options, ranging from body shape, facial features, skin color, and an overwhelming amount of clothing and skate deck designs to choose from. It is easy to get lost in the game's character creator. It's something that had me initially looking to make my character resemble myself before attempting to make the wackiest looking skater I could. There are dozens of unlockable clothing pieces throughout the game, many behind side objectives and score goals, but even the amount of available clothing choices out of the box should be more than enough for the average user.
Outside of seeing your character in cutscenes, you'll see them pop up through the game's asynchronous multiplayer options. The Gnarvana Portal pumps out a randomly-generated level based on a few pre-set options, as well as a code that can be shared with friends. Unfortunately, this stops just short of being a full level creator and doesn't really allow players to view the track layout before trying it out, but it's still a nice diversion for once the main story is over.
A nicer diversion is the Gnarvana League, which offers new challenge tracks regularly. Players from around the world can give a Gnarvana League stage a run and put up their best score to see where they stack on the leaderboard. These tracks will sometimes utilize the branching paths feature, meaning there's actual strategy at work here. Does one go down the normal path, where they're less likely to bail and can put up a long combo string? Or is it worth risking a tougher path, where the potential for longer combos and higher scores awaits. OlliOlli World's multiplayer offerings aren't the best, though they are well suited for those who only want to play quick sessions.
OlliOlli World manages to build on its predecessors while also feeling like a totally new game. The art style is a deep breath of fresh air, moving away from the primitive aesthetic of the past that felt like much more of an acquired taste. The controls remain simple to grasp for anybody looking to do basic ollies through over three dozen levels, but there is also an ample amount of challenge. Beyond trying to master the harder tricks, which require some analog stick wizardry, there are numerous branching paths that each offer unique obstacle-filled layouts.
While skating remains at its best in a 3D space, OlliOlli World continues to show that there's a place for it in the 2D realm. While it can sometimes feel like a small world, it's still big enough for everyone to have a good time.
This review is based on a Steam digital code provided by the publisher. OlliOlli World will be available on PC (via Steam and the Epic Games Store), PlayStation, Xbox, and the Nintendo Switch on Tuesday, February 8 for $29.99 USD. The game is rated E10+.
- Analog stick controls are easy to grasp, tough to master
- Art style revitalizes the series
- Branching paths add new challenges and replay value
- Robust character creator with numerous unlockables
- Gnarvana League offers fun score-chasing challenge
- Kickin' soundtrack
- Maintaining momentum can sometimes be rough
- Can't preview or directly customize Gnarvana Portal courses
- Overall multiplayer offerings feel weak