Game Review: OlliOlli 2: “Welcome to Olliwood.” Like “Sonic” for Skating

There’s not really a reason for something like Saturday Night Slam Masters to exist when WWE 2K15 is a thing, and I wouldn’t trade the Tony Hawk or SSX games to have Skate or Die back either. That said, there is a strange, beautiful purity to a sidescrolling skateboarding game like the OlliOlli series, that supersedes more realistic titles in a way that expresses the ethos of boarding almost better.

Let’s talk basics. Your goal is to skate from one end of a stage to the other, pulling off tricks on the way. There are a few jumps for big air but most of your time is going to be spent grinding rails or leaping obstacles like the old Town & Country Surf Designs: Wood & Water Rage.

Where the challenge comes in is learning the course as well as you possibly can because the game is fast. Very fast. You have nanoseconds to decide where you’re even going to land, let alone pull off a trick. The game demands fast reflexes and highly controlled sequences of movement if you don’t want to send your avatar tumbling down a set of stairs into a wall.

The difficulty curve is also extremely steep. As the game progresses through various movie sets that you are skating through, timing on jumps becomes specific almost to the point of sadism. You will definitely fall into the same lava pit about ten times in a row. At least the game is big on little fireworks shows when ever you do nail such jumps, and it’s a well-deserved cheap thrill that you’re never going to get tired of.

Here’s a place the game fails a little though: the controls. Jumps and tricks are both controlled through the left thumbstick, and the white-knuckle pace of the game is going to leave your thumb smarting from old-school Nintendo-style blisters.

More frustrating is the fact that even though you can’t jump with a button push, one is required to land well. It’s a neat mechanic in theory that adds to the challenge since landing a grind and landing an olli require two different commands and you have a split moment to pick one. But the end result is a kind of digital schizophrenia that leaves your right hand and your left hand trying to accomplish two different set of skills at the same time.

While the game does have a really impressive repertoire of tricks, they’re also a little pointless outside of the manual. For one, your sprite is so small even on a plasma television that you can hardly see the difference between them even though in the demonstration animations show that Roll7 really, really put a lot of love and hard work into crafting them. For another the complex thumbstick movements are likely to screw up your jump and send you into traction. They just lack an organic feel despite how closely the game dedicates itself to translating something your do with your feet into something you do with your hands.

The fun honestly isn’t in the tricks; if you want a trick game there are way better games that will fulfill that need. The fun comes in conquering the unskateable landscapes. Olliwood is a game about taking your board places that are not designed for it and constantly reminding you that you are supposed to be there by throwing everything it can in your way. The environment is your enemy and your goal is to blast through it with perfect timing in a way that feels subversive and punk.

It’s a game about shoving boarding into other people’s faces, not really celebrating the mature sport that you see on TV. Don’t get me wrong: I’m as happy as anyone that skateboarders have achieved that recognition, but there’s something always to be said for being somewhere you’re not supposed to be, and that’s what Olliwood taps into.

The ability to trick just adds another layer of challenge to the game, but for the most part what you’ll enjoy most is being something closer to Sonic the Hedgehog on a skateboard tearing through a hostile terrain at super speed and landing every move with perfect rhythm.

OlliOlli2: Welcome to Olliwood is available on PS4 and PS Vita now.

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