The PlayStation Vita isn’t exactly the premier platform for sports games. What could be a library of unique, handheld treasures is instead a collection of mediocre to decent ports, racing games and a few first-party titles like ModNation Racers and Hotshots Golf. Little effort has been made to diversify the genre and it’s a shame for players who want their favorite sport on the go. When E3 rolled around, the Vita was given a surprising amount of floor space. Among the major titles showcased, several unheard of gems were playable. Out of a sea of games, a skateboarding game called OlliOlli was perhaps one of the most unexpected. Not only should every fan of sports games keep their eyes on it, but so should Vita owner as well.
On a handheld where games like Persona 4 Golden, Soul Sacrifice and Uncharted: Golden Abyss are hits, a skateboarding game seems like an odd sell to the install base. But with OlliOlli, the team at Roll7 have crafted a game that maintains the spirit of the Tony Hawk series while channeling it into something that any kind of player would want to pick up. What gives OlliOlli this broad appeal is in its approach to using the “one-life” gameplay found in the most addicting types of endless runners like Canabalt or mobile games like Temple Run.
However, boiling down OlliOlli into such simple terms would be doing it a disservice. The urban backdrops and sharp, pixellated goodness certainly are reminiscent of noted endless runners; but the hand-drawn graphics feel all the more complex when a large variety of skateboarding tricks have to be accounted for. Hearing the term “skateboarding tricks” along with thing like flips and grinds will no doubt push many away without a single question.
To avoid the firm bias a sports title might have on the Vita, OlliOlli is quickly accessible to anyone who spends a couple minutes familiarizing themselves with the core concept and controls. To gain speed and land jumps, players need to use the X button. The trick is that X needs to be pressed right before landing to pull off a jump. Unfortunately for some players, this might be a weird input to “get” right out of the gate. Acclimating to jumping and landing without faceplanting will take a couple of tries. After that barrier, though, everything is much easier to grasp. In mid-air, players will use the left stick for pulling off tricks (and grinding on surfaces as well) while the left and right buttons are used to rotate the skater. Flicking the stick in different directions will result in different tricks being done. Pulling off several tricks and making a clean landing will result in the the most points being awarded.
Obviously a lot of OlliOlli is about pulling off amazing combos while reaching the end of levels. For any player it should feel like a fun, side-scrolling racer where timing is key. Any fan of the sport will appreciate the nuances in the animations and how various tricks work together. The demo level was a pre-determined course that was just one of many in the final version. OlliOlli features a Career mode that has levels filled with areas to perform tricks and skills off of. Achieving high scores will allow players to unlock more courses and complete challenges. The FreeSkate mode is perfect for experts who are up for randomly generated levels that never end. One of the other features is Spots. There players can challenge each other in getting the highest score in “spots” that have been discovered during career mode. Additionally, a new and unique Spot is created every 24 hours for players to tackle. Players will be able to skate this spot as many times as they want for practice but they have only one shot to get their score on the leaderboards. So if someone bites it on the first railing, they are stuck with that score until the next day.
On paper, OlliOlli reads like a game that someone who is only interested in skateboarding would play – it is a completely fair assessment. But after a few minutes of learning the basics, the game really begins to show its true colors as just a fun time. The Vita allows the quick courses to shine because you can tote the game around anywhere and pull it out at any time. It’s also the kind of experience many will obsess over as they try and master combos and climb the leaderboards.
Currently, OlliOlli is on track for a release around Christmas of 2013. The game was funded by Sony and will be released as an exclusive on the PlayStation Vita.
Check out the video below for a playthrough of Joy Town, the E3 demo level. It’s a testament to the intricacies of the trick system and an example of the crazy skills players can reach with practice.