‘OlliOlli World’ review: wizardry

Get on board

Skateboarding, at its best, is something that is effortlessly cool. A skill that when done write makes the rider seem like they are gliding on air itself, pulling off the sickest of flips like it is as natural as breathing. This sense of ‘coolness’ is something I consider unobtainable for myself. I know I don’t have the stuff, but still my heart yearns for even the most miniscule of ollies. And then OlliOlli World drops in out of nowhere and lets me pull off that ollie and so much more, and what a ride it ended up being.

OlliOlli World is the follow-up to the pixel art, skateboard arcade games OlliOlli and OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood. Where its predecessors were just fun arcade games, World changes things up in a few ways.

Firstly, there’s a story now. You are an inhabitant of Radlandia, a world where skateboarding is a fact of life, and one filled with human and non-human characters and creatures alike. It is a world where skating Godz (gods with a z as the game refers to them) are real, and a skating wizard represents them. One day, you meet the skating wizard, Chiffon, and are selected to potentially become the next skating wizard.

I’m not going to argue that this story is a revolutionary one, but it did surprise me ina few ways. Firstly, OlliOlli World is a kind game, and one that – despite the previous game’s score-attack focus and punishing learning curve – harbours no judgement towards your skill. The game starts you off with a tutorial, like many do, but even though you’re up for the position of skating wizard, no one judges you for even something as simple as not knowing how to push yourself forward.

OlliOlli World
OlliOlliWorld. Credit: Roll7

Whether you know how to skateboard or not, you still need to learn how to play the game. And with a game so steeped in a sport that exudes 90s energy, an era where gaming was so much more cynical, it was incredibly welcome.

The transition from 2D to 2.5D opened up a whole world of possibilities for the tight gameplay found in the first two games too, and World delivered that in a number of ways. At its heart, the core loop is no different. You are, obviously, still bound to your board, and you can push forward, and tricks and grinding are there aplenty.

Being 2.5D means Roll7 was able to add multiple lanes that you can skate on. Not every level allows you to switch lanes, but it frequently added a new layer of level design that had me acting and thinking fast. Lane switching often resulted in harder level sections, and in the earlier portions of my time with the game they could prove troubling. By the end, I had virtually no problems with any of the levels, but if you’re after a challenge then you’re in luck with OlliOlli World.

Each level has various trials you have to complete. Completing a level without using checkpoints, another new feature to World, is a challenge present in almost every level. Others will have more specific objectives, like completing the level in a single combo. The earlier levels didn’t cause me much strife, but the later levels are certainly something I’m going to have to grind away at (sorry).

OlliOlli World
OlliOlli World. Credit: Roll7/ Private Division.

None of them feel impossible, but they did cause me to realise something about OlliOlli World: it’s a puzzle game. Some of the trials mean you have to play through a level in a very specific way, and occasionally you have to be very particular about your timing. When it clicked that there is a pseudo-puzzle element to the game, it really helped me understand that I need to think about precisely when I want to pull off an ollie, because otherwise I might not make a certain jump.

And when you get things just right, the game is exhilarating. Some of the level design felt so clever, and managing to pull cool tricks off and difficult jumps the first time always felt incredibly satisfying. The game is tight, and forgiving. That point of kindness I made earlier is present in the gameplay too. In the previous games you had to time your landings, otherwise you would eventually stack it. Now, timing it right just adds to your points, but failing to otherwise doesn’t interrupt your flow. It makes getting through those trials feel a lot more manageable, rather than a chore.

Completing trials, and beating in-game high scores, also unlocks clothing items for your character to wear. That’s the other big addition to the game. Your character is entirely customisable, from what they wear, to how they get on or off their board. Right off the bat I found that there were plenty of options to choose from, and had no difficulty finding an outfit that felt somewhat like me. But the customisation also highlighted an issue the game has with inclusivity.

OlliOlli World
OlliOlli World. Credit: Roll7/ Private Division.

Technically speaking, the game is inclusive. There are different types of headscarves to be found, different skin tones to choose from. And there are plenty of characters of colour too. One character, Mike, even has a prosthetic leg, and he’s fat too. It was great to see a disabled and overweight character in a game about a sport that ableist assholes might want to exclude him from. My problem is that these options aren’t available for the player.

I myself am fat, and rarely get to see fatness represented in games as a positive, or even neutral thing. There is no option to be fat in the way that Mike is in OlliOlli World, and from what I could see no way to have any kind of prosthetic limb. It feels at odds with the rest of the game, which in general presents skateboarding as something for everyone. But when not everyone gets to present themselves accurately in the game, that messaging becomes muddled.

On top of that, it was disappointing to find no kind of accessibility features in the game. Admittedly, in a game as fast paced and complex as OlliOlli World I’m not entirely sure how they could be implemented. Something as simple as button mapping would make a world of difference, as the way the control scheme was at times a bit of a strain on my hands.

While these are important grievances I had with OlliOlli World, they didn’t ruin the game for me. Hopefully it’s something Roll7 will consider with future updates, so they can expand upon what is a genuinely incredible arcade game. Even after I ‘finished’ the main game, I found myself constantly allured to come back to the game, trying to beat each level in a single combo, and trying to get the top score on the leaderboards. There is a charm there that I can’t resist, and it’s likely a game I’ll dip in and out of for a long while to come.

OlliOlli World grinds onto shelves on February 8 for PCXbox OneXbox Series X|SPS4PS5, and Nintendo Switch

Verdict

OlliOlli World is pretty much the ideal arcade game. Incredibly tight systems and gameplay, a feedback loop that keeps you wanting to top the leaderboard, and a soundtrack that makes every session a strong vibe. Accessibility and body customisation options are lacking, but are areas that should easily be updatable, and will hopefully add to an incredible basis.

Pros

  • Gameplay plays like a dream
  • Really great clothing options
  • Chill beats to skate and flip to
  • Fun and interesting challenges

Cons

  • Zero accessibility features
  • Body customisation is lacking
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