OlliOlli is an unforgiving skating game that does not tolerate mistakes. Sloppy landings only give you a split second to regain your composure, and anything less than full concentration is likely to leave you skin-surfing on the sidewalk. You really only get one chance to get your run right. Precise controls can be the difference between chaining one long combo through an entire level for a maximum score or falling at the last rail, bouncing past the spectators at the finish line with only a fat zero and scabby knees to show for it.
You can retry levels again and again thanks to a chunky yellow restart button in the top left of the screen, but only a fool attempts a level in OlliOlli thinking he can mash buttons. It's a hard lesson that you don't really learn until about three levels in when you realise it's more important to master the basics than rush headlong.
OlliOlli asks you to land the board correctly every time you end a trick or combo. This is probably the most important skill to learn and isn't to be understated. A tap of the X button as you approach the ground is essential, otherwise you'll lose speed and points. Sketchy or Sloppy landings cause problems because you'll waste valuable space getting back up to speed when you could be preparing for your next trick. In later levels such as the Green Beret-esque Base where snow covers parts of the ground, there's no room to roll and recover - you'll find yourself crashing down steps in a humiliating heap.
Once you've mastered landing you then need to slowly learn the tricks themselves. Flip tricks are performed by holding the left stick in place then letting go (similar to EA's Skate) or more advanced tricks use quarter, half and three-quarter circle rotations. The early mistake you make is thinking you need to jump first as the trick doesn't 'pop' until after you release the stick. It's almost as if you're unlearning tricks from your Tony Hawk's Pro Skater days and doing it all in reverse. Grinds on rails, benches and other flat surfaces just require you to hold down on the left stick as you land on them. Add spins with the left and right shoulder buttons and you've got all the controls - now you have to try and perfect them.
There's an incredible sense of tension towards the end of a level. So long as you land a trick or combo you still retain scores in a run whether you reach the finish line or not. But it's still a blow to the ego to have a fantastic, exhilarating run crushed in a split second by a clumsy mistake, with no points to show for it. All controls is gone as you watch your little pixely skater slide across asphalt like a sack of meat.
OlliOlli is a hard game to begin with but you'll gradually improve your cute finger tricks to rack up decent scores. It can be difficult to pull off some of the more complex moves with the PS Vita's analog stick and a chunky thumb, but you'll learn to chain moves gradually, tricking into and out of every grind, adding rotations and perfect landings. The first time you hit a 90,000 combo is a revelation and that's not even a particularly high score.
It may be a tough game but it's not cruel. You will progress way into the second Junkyard levels before you've mastered all goals in the first amateur Urban levels, but as you get better you'll want to go back to those earlier locations and nail all the challenges. This is a game where you go forward at quite a pace but always step back to achieve perfection on previous runs. Reaching the end of a level lets you move on to the next (well, duh) but only mastering all the six set challenges will unlock the Pro version of that level.
OlliOlli breathes new life into a neglected genre. We seem to have gone from feast to famine with extreme sports games. When the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater games peaked in the transition between the PSone and the PS2, every dude and his plank of wood was getting in on the act. While Activision's team of extreme sports personalities undoubtedly ruled, we also had to endure clunkers like Jonny Mosely Mad Trix and Gravity Games: Street, Vert, Dirt. Then Hawk and Co. went Underground losing the plot and finally jumped the shark when some marketing clown decided it would be a good idea to bundle a plastic skateboard with the disc.
Roll7 goes back to basics but its take on skateboarding does borrow from those early days - the quick restart gameplay, the set challenges, the satisfaction of nailing a long, smooth line of tricks - and adds its own controls and aesthetic without superfluous novelty.
It's not an endless skater but it can feel like it when you're trying to keep a grip on a line from start to finish, seconds away from glory or failure. It's a great touch that you'll hear the crowd at the finish line before you see them - it builds your hopes that you can keep it together in those last split seconds. Whether you do or not depends on nerve, a little bit of luck and a whole chunk of skill.
OlliOlli is out January 22nd in Europe.