I was admittedly wary going into OlliOlli World. Phil might have adored the first game in his review back in 2014, but in revisiting the original OlliOlli ahead of last week’s World preview I found it a finicky, unforgiving thing that demanded utmost precision at all times. Satisfying to master, but a pain to get into, with a style that now feels like a dated representation of what skateboarding looks like.
It’s to my utmost relief then that OlliOlli World is almost a complete reinvention of developer Roll7’s Canabalt-style kickflipper—one that keeps the core of OlliOlli’s skate sessions while making them more accessible and, most importantly, more fashionable than ever.
World, like its predecessors, is a side-scrolling skate ’em up that sees you shredding down a path of streets, stairs, rails and ramps. There’s an almost endless runner-like quality to OlliOlli, as you not only try to survive what fresh hell the game can throw at you, but try to do it in the sickest, most stylish way possible.
But where the first two OlliOlli games went for a more familiar, grounded asphalt skateboarding vibe, World tosses that out the window wholesale for something altogether stranger. Welcome to Radlandia, an Adventure Time-infused skateboarding heaven where shredders carve down beaches made of ice cream, and colossal bees hold up billboards to wallride down.
It’s an utterly bizarre aesthetic turn for the series. But it’s a sorely needed one, finally bringing some style to a series that always felt a wee bit dull. OlliOlli World obviously adores skate culture, but doesn’t feel beholden to it—instead putting you on the path towards Skate Wizardry with a crew of lovable goofs in a world filled with laid-back Skate Gods.
A style that skews more Pendleton Ward than Jackass isn’t the only thing that’s shifted in OlliOlli World, mind. While still a side-scrolling skater, World’s backdrops are no longer static images but fully-realised 3D worlds. Routes wind in and out of beachfront stores, cliffs, forests and more, all cleverly desaturated to help you keep your eyes on the track.
But that newfound depth also lets World’s levels twist and turn in ways the old flat backdrops never allowed. Stages will frequently split in two, with “Gnarly Routes” taking you down more dangerous (and more rewarding) paths. Quarter-pipes see you turning back on yourself—and with railings, wallrides and occasionally entire sections of the ground collapsing after your first run through, you’ll often open up entirely new paths by looping around once or twice.
You’ll want to rinse each stage of its secrets, too. While progressing through the game only requires that you beat a stage, the steeziest gear comes from beating a series of side-objectives in each track. These might mean keeping up a single combo throughout the run, but could also require tracking down hidden folks or chasing a giant bee that only appears once driven from its lair. Taking the back road will sometimes even unearth an NPC who’ll open up an entirely new stage, one with very particular win conditions and the flashest rewards.
OlliOlli World is a game that wants you to relish in the joy of exploration. To that end, it also feels a good deal more forgiving than its predecessors, which demanded precision on even the earliest stages.
World, meanwhile, doesn’t punish you with a hefty slowdown for not nailing your landing. You’ll get by just fine with sloppy ollies and adequate grinds. Rather, World rewards great play with highest scores and snappier effects—and while forgetting to hit A on landing won’t bring you to a halt like in the first game, you’ll want to nail those perfect landings if you’re gunning for the leaderboards.
You don’t need to master each and every stage to get through Olli Olli World. Hell, in some of the later stages, just surviving ’till the end was rough enough. But the further you get in the game, the more you’re encouraged to go back and try to perfect past stages—to see if you can clear them without checkpoints, to chase down those side goals and rinse them of secrets, even if only to unlock weirder and wilder fashion.
At the end of each region you’ll also unlock more access to “Gnarvana”, an endless skate heaven featuring daily challenges to bang your head against and ways to procedurally generate your own tracks with any visual style, length and difficulty you fancy. I’ve found these proc-gen tracks to feel a little flatter than the bespoke campaign routes, but they work fine enough for a wee score-chasing challenge with strangers on the internet.
I adore skating, and skateboarding games, but OlliOlli has always sat under my radar even as friends stressed that those first two games are all-time bangers. But World feels like the reinvention the series needed to properly break out. OlliOllie keeps what made those first two games great, but reimagines them with a sense of style all its own, and a reworked structure that feels appealing both as a laid-back casual skate sesh and a nail-biting high-stakes score attack.
We’ve come a long way since Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Skate, and from kickflipping canaries to crystalline hellscapes, skateboarding is undergoing a new renaissance in videogames. Today’s skaters rock killers visuals and a skating style all their own. OlliOlli might have been playing it by the book before now, but with World’s reinvention, it’s stepping back into the park with a flair that might just leave a lasting impression.
OlliOlli World launches on Steam on February 8.