OlliOlli was a great game when I played it for Vita last year. The sequel that just launched this week for PlayStation 4 is a really great game. It’s a perfect example of a proper sequel: Bigger, better, and fresher. 2D isn’t dead; it just needs a proper presentation and wickedly addictive gameplay, at which OlliOlli2: Welcome to Olliwood excels. I was thinking this would be a slightly bigger and more enhanced version of the original but no, this is a true-blue follow-up effort that you’re gonna love. If you played and enjoyed the first title, this is a no-brainer; if you’re a newcomer, it still comes highly recommended. Get those stick skills ready!
As was the case with the first game, you have to accept the old-school pixilated graphics. Obviously, the retro look is intentional and the designers wanted to put the excellent gameplay in the spotlight throughout. In such cases, what we’re most concerned with from a visual and design standpoint is the layout of the levels. The original production boasted some great layouts but the sequel amps things up to new and wonderful heights. There’s more color this time around and the variety of the levels has been significantly improved. I love to see creative types trying new things and upping their games (pun intended), and that’s exactly what I see here.
Sound-wise, we get a similarly effective and fitting soundtrack, along with a series of borderline comical effects. I imagine it sounds just as good on Vita (I only played the PS4 version for this review) and of course, there’s no deep analysis of professional voice acting or a score created by a massive orchestra. No, this is retro through and through, with brief dashes of updated technical goodness. I especially like the music/effect mix; it reflects the nature of the game itself: A nice little blend of goofy nostalgia and totally hardcore, trial-and-error, old-fashioned Tony Hawk gameplay. It’s just an exceedingly well-produced and presented package.
If you’ve already played the original, you know what to expect in terms of gameplay. But if you haven’t, it’s pretty straightforward: Grinding, flipping, and a variety of tricks are at your disposal in this 2D side-scrolling playground. The better you perform, the better your score. The levels get increasingly difficult as you progress and the more you pull off mind-bending tricks, the more confidence you build. It’s fast and challenging yet still accessible and sublimely paced. There are few games that have such a well-executed learning curve; even though there’s a massive difference between novice and expert levels, you never feel rushed or bored. You learn at a steady clip and even when you’re a little stumped, you’re having fun.
This foundation was plenty solid and made for a very entertaining albeit slightly flawed little game. If they’d stuck with the basics and simply given us a wider variety of levels, the sequel would’ve been more than passable. But like any good developer, Roll7 wasn’t happy with that approach; they sought to build upon that aforementioned solid foundation and give gamers a new, tastier treat. They seem to have refined the control just a bit – even if grinds feel a little loose – and catching the trick is a major part of the game that results in an invigorating risk vs. reward situation. The later you catch a trick, the better rating you’ll earn, but waiting too long spells disaster. “Perfect” landings boost your score and build your multiplier that much faster.
As you press forward, perfect tricks and grinds may be requirements to advance to the next stage. The good news is that you’re not just thrown to the wolves; like I said, the learning curve is great. There are 25 amateur levels, each of which have five separate challenges (in addition to simply finishing the level). This really allows you to test and build your skills and you’ll get that good old-fashioned rush of satisfaction. Once you’ve beaten all five challenges, a corresponding Pro level becomes available with another set of five challenges. Then, if you can somehow manage to master all 250 Amateur and Pro challenges, you’ll unlock another set of levels. Yep, it’s tough, but there’s plenty of content, wouldn’t you say?
It’s the control that keeps you coming back for more. If the control was even the tiniest bit unresponsive or frustrating, or you kept failing for stupid reasons, this is the kind of game that could drive you straight up a wall. It’s because the game is so tight and so expertly crafted that you don’t mind the higher difficulties; trying and retrying levels doesn’t feel like a grind (okay, no pun intended there). When juggling fun factor and challenging gameplay, you can’t make things too complicated without giving the player a chance to get his feet wet. You also can’t have him or her repeating the same stuff over and over, just to get better.
Sure, there’s some repetition here but so what? Some players might find it frustrating but I certainly didn’t. There are a few minor shortcomings, however: firstly, Combo Rush Mode isn’t available at launch, which is a split-screen multiplayer mode that will add a ton of variety when it’s finally ready. I’m not a fan of games that ship with missing critical elements so I can’t give that a pass. And while the control really is top-notch, the grinding does feel loose on occasion. I suppose you could take a jab at the difficulty but given the beautifully paced learning curve, I’m not sure we can count that as a universal negative. But yes, repetition is definitely part of the experience.
One big bonus is that the game supports the Cross Buy incentive on PlayStation 4 and Vita, so if you buy one version you get the other free of charge. I’m willing to bet the Vita version is pretty darn special, even if I haven’t played it. I do remember that OlliOlli was a perfect portable title because you could play it for fifteen, twenty minutes at a time. It may require plenty of time to ultimately master but it’s lotsa fun in short bursts. I still don’t quite get the appeal of having a game for both PS4 and Vita; I imagine I’d play almost entirely on one platform or another, but hey, we get a game for free. It’s tough to say anything against that, especially if you happen to own both platforms in question.
OlliOlli2: Welcome to Olliworld is a righteous sequel. It’s just so sweet. There are gameplay and visual improvements, and they’re significant enough to make the game feel like a totally fresh experience when compared to the original title. The frame rate never stutters, the level design is fantastic, the amount of content is impressive, the sound and visuals make for a singular presentation, and the pacing and learning curve are huge highlights. It can get a little repetitive and some of the later levels feel silly hard, and I can’t get past not having that multiplayer mode upon release. Otherwise, this is an excellent game that’s just crazy fun. For those who want a break from those big-budget productions, here’s a definite gem.
The Good: Excellent level design and art direction. Kick-ass soundtrack and special effects. Improved overall gameplay. Balancing and pacing are downright exquisite. Wonderfully smooth throughout. Lots and lots of content.
The Bad: Missing Combo Rush at launch. Can feel repetitive and demanding.
The Ugly: “It’s only ‘ugly’ when you wipe out. And even then, there’s a smile on your face.”