I should start off this review by saying that I have no real experience or interest in skateboarding; although, and as luck would have it, none is needed when it comes to OlliOlli.
In reality, OlliOlli is basically a side-scrolling platformer. Skateboarding games in Tony Hawk and EA’s Skate franchises would drop you into a virtual 3D playground full of things to grind along, and on occasion there would be unknown areas to explore. To be honest, Jet Set Radio (despite being full of characters with rollerblades) feels more like a traditional skateboarding game when compared to OlliOlli.
Each level of OlliOlli starts off with your virtual skateboarder running until you hit the X-button on your PlayStation Vita. You continue to press X to gain speed once a run begins, but eventually you’ll have to deal with unrealistically long stair cases, garbage piles as tall as a man, and other obstacles. These are best avoided by pressing up on the left thumb stick to do the titular olli (or ollie). It allows you to jump your side-scrolling skateboarder to heights that would make a NBA all-star jealous.
You can actually move the left thumb stick in a number of different directions or configurations to complete different tricks, and more difficult thumb movements will result in more points; however, points appear to be used for bragging rights only. There is even less reason to do anything but ollie after ollie once you realize that you gain no real advantage by doing any of the game’s other tricks. In reality, distance and height are the two real important things in OlliOlli, and none of the game’s different tricks will result in a greater distanced travelled or height gained.
Now it is true that each level has been assigned a number of different goals that must be completed in order to finish 100% of a level in the eyes of the game. That said, the only objective that keeps you from moving onto the next level is wiping out before you make it to the end, and this is what turns OlliOlli into a platformer.
When playing OlliOlli I can’t shake the feeling that it was designed to be something else, but unfortunately the gameplay in OlliOlli is what confines it to platformer status. Grinding down a comically long hand railing on the nose of your board, only to pull off a kick-flip before touching down may sound like a good idea in theory; however, trying to get that creative usually means that you run out of room to maneuver around the next pile of garbage in your path. The way you end up playing OlliOlli is to run the level a dozen or so times until you have a reasonable idea of where each obstacle is. Once you know where everything is, run the course while trying to keep up your speed so you don’t grind to a halt on a rail mid-level. Make it to the crowd at the end of the run and the game will grant you access to the next level.
Despite what feels like confusing development choices, OlliOlli isn’t a bad game. The gameplay feels very polished, and I never felt like anything about the hardware or software has made me miss a jump. Art assets are impressive, especially the moving background that is reminiscent of an endless runner on smartphones called Canabalt. The game is also very quick to reload when I did fail, and that can’t be understated in a game that requires you to fail a number of times before you can complete a run.
Unfortunately, despite being put together very well, I just can’t get past a few things. The $12.99 price point is at the very top of my list. OlliOlli really does feel like a smartphone game brought to the Vita. Given the somewhat lacking Vita library, I can’t begrudge any game the chance to make it to the Vita. Although at $12.99 I have a bit of problem with OlliOlli being on any platform.
Another issue is that the reward system that is supposed to encourage replay-ability is basically community bragging rights for OlliOlli scores. Now let’s look past the fact that it is very easy for someone to buy a Vita and never receive or exchange any information with another Vita. Even if that wasn’t the case, there isn’t that big of a PlayStation Vita install-base right now. I have had one since launch, and I can only think of one PlayStation Network friend who also has a Vita. He doesn’t have OlliOlli though, and thus I have no reason to go back and play OlliOlli.
As I said before, there is a very nice game in OlliOlli that could be the next Words with Friends or Flappy Birds, but not in the game’s current state. It doesn’t need to be $12.99, it doesn’t need to be on the PlayStation Vita, and it really should be on a platform with a bigger install-base if the big driving force behind replay-ability is community bragging rights.