The gnarly side-scrolling skater that decks the competition.
If I told you to name a popular skateboarding game, I'd be willing to bet my finest pair of Etnies that the first thing that would pop into your head would be Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. While this iconic series has well and truly cemented itself as the cornerstone of the videogame skating genre, there are a plethora of other excellent skating games (and some not so great) waiting to be explored for those of us too scared to hop on a real board. One of the earliest examples of a videogame to popularise skateboarding was "Skate or Die" - confined by hardware limitations of the era, skating games initially had no choice but to play entirely in 2D.
With the rise of 3D gaming, and the rise of Tony Hawk, it seemed as if side-scrolling skaters were a thing of the past. That was until 2014 and the release of a little indie game known as OlliOlli for the PlayStation Vita, which featured sleek visual presentation, simple gameplay, and addictive combos. The game was a critical success and later ported to numerous consoles, with a sequel OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood releasing the following year.
Now given a fresh visual overhaul, OlliOlli World sees the beloved indie skating series return on Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4/5, and Xbox Series S|X. With a focus on huge weaving levels, quirky characters, and high scores waiting to be smashed, will this game be the beginning of a side-scrolling skater renaissance? Jump on board, strap on your kneepads, and let's drop into this review.
This is usually the part where I'd completely dismiss the story because it's a skating game and they generally have little to no story at all, or the attempt at a story instead leaves you wishing there wasn't one anyway. Surprisingly, that's not what to expect at all with OlliOlli World! This heart-warming coming-of-age journey follows a group of close friends and at every single moment is simply oozing with charm. It feels strange to say such a thing about a sports game, but that's genuinely the case.
Radlandia is an entire continent dedicated to skate: its inhabitants, infrastructure, animals, and economy all revolve around boards affectionately referred to as the "Stuntwood". Overseeing the smooth operation of this rad kingdom are five Skate Godz, revered holy beings who have achieved true Gnarvana through their mastery of the halfpipe. Legend has it that meeting all five Godz and passing their gnarly trials will grant a skater passage to Gnarvana, to skate alongside them as a mythical Skate Wizard. One rookie skater is on a quest to join them: you.
Accompanied by a rag-tag party of eccentric skate enthusiasts, the valiant skater must locate each of the Godz and pass their trials to have any hope of succeeding. This can't be done without the help of some true friends along the way: Mike, the author of Radlandia's leading skate mag, Suze, an aspiring skate film-maker, Rad Dad, owner of the continent's largest (and most dilapidated) skate shop, and the most recent Skate Wizard, Chiffon. Each character is brimming with personality and follow you every step of the way to your status as Skate Wizard.
But enough about the story! We all know skating games are about the...
Flip tricks. Grinds. Wall rides. Manuals. Spins. Grabs. Firecrackers. If you know any or all of these terms, you're going to be in for a good time. OlliOlli World takes simple side-scrolling gameplay and adds elements of complexity to challenge even the most skilled of players. While it truly is a game that's simple for anyone to pick up and play, those chasing high scores are going to be pushed to their limits.
The game is divided into five main worlds, each of which have approximately 15 - 20 individual levels. These levels can range from simple straightforward linear downward slopes with barely an obstacle, all the way through to complex intertwining, weaving structures littered with hazards. Every single level too has additional optional challenges and scores to beat, often requiring mastery of each trick type in order to succeed. It's a clever way to encourage players to learn and become proficient at each type of trick, as knowing the bare minimum will still allow you to finish most levels.
Starting simple, the first world slowly introduces the player to simple mechanics like tricks and grinds. Each world then adds additional elements to the mix, becoming increasingly complex and pushing the player to make the most of all their acquired skills. By the end of the game you'll likely be chaining together tricks naturally, with 100x combos allowing your score to skyrocket. There's nothing quite as satisfying as starting and finishing a level in a single combo and smashing all the NPC scores.
Finally, one of the most impressive mechanics of OlliOlli World is track changing. While skating a level, certain areas will feature sections with arrows that prompt the player to change tracks. Tapping Y while skating on this part of the track will take the player down a completely different path, which are often far more challenging but greater reward for those wanting to max out their combos. These "GNARLY ROUTES" are some of the most punishing in the entire game, requiring absolutely perfect timing to master. Attempt at your own risk! Though for players just wanting a good time, these are thankfully completely optional.
When creating OlliOlli World, Roll7 knew they needed to stray away from the previous games' pixel art style in order to achieve more advanced gameplay. In doing so, the game's creative director took inspiration from another sleek sport game by the name of Jet Set Radio, a game with distinct style that is almost universally praised. Combining outlandish 3D character and environment design with vivid visuals and a touch of the eccentric, OlliOlli World is a visual delight that makes each of its five worlds a blast to explore. I'd liken some of the design choices to Adventure Time, with its quirky characters, absurd world, and vibrant palette of colours.
I specifically chose the Switch version as I was curious to determine how the game would perform in handheld mode. This is the kind of game that is perfect to play in short bursts on the go, whether you're catching public transport on the way to work, or waiting for an appointment and need to kill some time. Thankfully the game both looks and performs perfectly in handheld and is little compromise to playing on the big screen. The only drawback to playing in handheld is during overly complex levels, as the game's camera zooms out and it can become easy to lose track of the skater amidst a busy track.
No skating game would be complete without a killer soundtrack to match, and OlliOlli World certainly doesn't disappoint with its mix of catchy electronic beats. Created not by a single musician but by an entire setlist of artists, the soundtrack to Radlandia will no doubt help any skater get into the groove. Songs range from electronic music ranging from chill and mellow trip-hop, to fast-paced jazz inspired pieces, and catchy tunes with rhythmic pumping bass. Here's a short sample of a couple of my favourites from the game:
Chill vibes all round in the track "Shimmer" by Fardust.
The hypnotic beat of "Panoramas" by Woodwire will help you lose yourself in the daily grind.
While the soundtrack of OlliOlli World certainly is the highlight of its audio, there are bits and pieces of voice acting and silly sound effects that add to the game's aural experience. Each level begins with an exchange between the characters, all of whom have Banjo-Kazooie style voices with short audio snippets. It's a strange touch, but seems to work well and doesn't at all become annoying, rather adding to the game's quirkiness. Each level too is packed with simple audio cues to help the player improve their skating game: the clack of the skateboard upon landing perfectly, bonus crystals that shimmer upon approach, and hidden unlockables that can be heard in the distance or hiding on an alternate path.
The daily grind is back - a new track every day where all players compete for skating supremacy! This time it's separated into "Leagues" where groups of 10 players of similar rankings compete against each other. Achieving a high position in the league will award you a point, allowing you to level up your rank and unlock new boards, clothing, or special customisations. It's a simple mechanic that will keep you coming back for more (especially if somebody beats your score). Players can also compete in an endless mode, able to customise the track to their liking and then share this track using a unique code.
To top it off, there are an enormous number of unlockables that can be used to customise your skater. These include staples like creative boards, wheels and trucks, all sorts of clothing and accessories, and even certain skate styles for your character pull off both during and after skating. Unlocking the most intriguing items, including gear of the Skate Godz themselves, requires some serious dedication, as these can only be obtained by fulfilling various challenge requirements on each level or finding and beating harder bonus levels.
OlliOlli World is everything you could ask for in a side-scrolling skater. Simple and intuitive controls, a tonne of unlockables, and varying difficulty choices based on each track to suit the play style of any player paired with its unique vibrant art style and chill lo-fi soundtrack, and you'll find yourself in Gnarvana before you know it. Over the course of the adventure, there was rarely a single moment that I didn't thoroughly enjoy. Where the earlier OlliOlli games re-introduced the concept of side-scrolling skating gameplay, OlliOlli World has polished it, perfected it, and created a game that is truly radical.
So, why should you play it?
Linear skating gameplay is simple to pick up but difficult to master.
Old school side-scrolling games tickle your fancy.
Looking for an addictive game with emphasis on combos and high scores.
Gorgeous vibrant cartoon art style and chill lo-fi soundtrack.
Consider yourself a skating game fan? Don't pass this up.
But why shouldn't you play it?
You prefer skating games that give you full control.
Play sports games for the realism? This one isn't for you.
May leave you frustrated if you have poor reaction times.
A review copy was kindly provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Ben 'Qualbert' Schuster
Ben is a game reviewer and collector with a passion for the Australian games industry. His favourite game is Ōkami and he spends most of his time playing JRPGs and indie games. You can read more of his reviews and retrospective articles at qualbert.com