While previous OlliOlli skateboarding games are known for their brutal difficulty along with its imaginative pixel art design, its sequel is taking a decidedly different path with a new dimension. If you simply compare the upcoming OlliOlli World to the look of its predecessors, you could hardly tell that they’re part of the same series, given how the new game features 2.5D artwork. The sequel still takes place in the cartoonish world of Radlandia, though. However, diving into its gameplay tells a different story. Integrated into the bright graphics and characters who tell cheesy jokes is a familiar trick system that challenges players to pull off complex combos and chase high scores. It simply doesn’t punish more casual players like me as hard for not having pixel-perfect accuracy all the time.
“The first two games have an audience that enjoys that hardcore, break your left analog stick, level of difficulty,” John Ribbins, creative director at Roll7, explained to PC Invasion. However, a problem with that design is that many couldn’t get past the high skill wall. In fact, Ribbins said that most people never even saw the last world of OlliOlli 2, which meant that all the art, design, and effort that went into making it nearly went to waste.
So, the studio went with a new approach with OlliOlli World.
“We still want it to be challenging in the end, but we want to make a game that more people finish,” Ribbins said. “We want more people to get all the way through the game and see the whole story and art that we’ve created.”
Landing in OlliOlli World
I’m not much of a skateboard game player, which perhaps makes me the perfect test case. After playing a near-final build of the game, I can confidently say that Roll7 achieved much of its goal in making its latest addition to the series more approachable to casual players. Although trying to reach gnarly alternate paths and suddenly switching from moving right to left can be tricky at times, the checkpoint system, which allows you to start from midway through a level instead of the very beginning, goes a long way toward making OlliOlli World a more approachable. But it’s also the culmination of the artwork and general vibe of the game that kept me coming back.
Radlandia is divided into five different biomes featuring varying aesthetics. They range from sunny beaches populated by ice cream people, to forests with living trees and flying ‘ZomBEES,’ and beyond. Each biome was created by a different skate god, and they all commune with the people of Radlandia through the skate wizard. However, she’s retiring and looking for a replacement, which is why you’re on a cross-country trek to skate across, grind, jump, and twist across every obstacle course this fantastical world has to offer.
For the most part, OlliOlli World plays very much like a rogue-lite platforming game. You jump by holding the gamepad’s left thumbstick in any direction and let go before moving it in a direction to grind or rails or slide across boards. The direction determines the trick, and you’ll learn more advanced tricks later on, which involve fighting game-style half-circles, using the right thumbstick to perform grabs, and pressing the trigger buttons to twist in the air. As basic as the controls might be, they actually turned out to be the toughest part for me to get a handle on, since my muscle memory had me tapping the A button to jump. Even after hours of playing, I still didn’t completely get that reflex out of my system.
However, the game doesn’t punish you for sticking to the basics if that’s what you want to do. Completing tasks to up your score unlocks clothes and skateboard customizations used to outfit your character. It’s this approach that kept me coming back to the game, since I was essentially my biggest competitor instead of comparing myself to some abstract leaderboard score or players who spent hours perfecting their combos.
Roll7’s studio head, Simon Bennett, explained it best by saying that they were essentially teaching you how to play an instrument, then giving you the tools to become a virtuoso. Various tutorials are spread out across Radlandia and are integrated into the story instead of having everything dumped on you at the very beginning.
“We realized that we gave you the ability to enjoy the [skateboarding] experience a lot more along the way as you’re building those skills as opposed to giving it all to you at once,” said Bennett, who added that building lessons into the narrative was helpful to building the game’s structure.
Still, my experience with the OlliOlli World preview demo had me crashing into boulders and other obstacles more often than gracefully leaping over them. It was often difficult for me to figure out why I didn’t have enough momentum to make a jump. Other times, I tried to shift to a new move only to discover that I didn’t have enough railway left to switch things up. So, I ended up making extensive use of the checkpoint system to return me to somewhere close to where I wiped out… only to crash into something else a few feet further down.
I often felt that there should have been more checkpoints available, but I usually learned to make my way through tricky obstacles after a couple of retries. Taking away OlliOlli 2’s punishing difficulty helped me better understand levels in parts and eventually get into a flowing state of mind. Perhaps more importantly, it encouraged me to explore alternate paths and experiment with different combos in specific areas without having to worry about being sent back to the beginning.
I don’t think I ever ended up with an enviable score, but at least I managed to beat some of the “local hero” scores from the regions’ different skate crews. Bennett explained that, when revisiting an area, those stock scores are replaced with real player scores that are slightly better than yours. That player becomes a sort of rival by giving you an attainable goal to beat.
For the most part, OlliOlli World comes off as a relatively linear game with a straight path from beginning to end. However, there are optional side areas that you can unlock if you do some extra exploring. There are also some optional levels. For instance, when your group gets lost in the desert, you only skate your way across three levels of your choosing to make your way through. Then, of course, you can always revisit previous levels with the new skills you acquired to show your improved mastery.
I expected a boss battle as I completed each biome and met their respective skate gods. Instead, I got a message of encouragement before being ushered into the next area. Although Ribbins and the others at Roll7 considered including some kind of skate battle, they ultimately decided that it would counter to their goal of having no skill walls to overcome. The result is a pretty chill experience as you play at your own pace.
Completing the first biome and its skate god unlocks the asynchronous league-based multiplayer system, which gives players a chance to one-up each other anytime, anywhere in a set amount of time. The leaderboards update in real-time, and players are ranked alongside those of similar skill levels instead of being compared to exceptionally hardcore players with seemingly impossible scores. Climbing the leaderboard unlocks cosmetics to show off and maintaining a winning streak helps reach higher ranks.
The other multiplayer mode is called the Gnarvana Portal, where levels are generated according to different settings. Sharing the associated postcode with friends, foes, and livestream onlookers gives them all a chance to compete against you in that level from any platform OlliOlli World can be played on. Alternatively, you can type anything you want into the postcode box to see what kind of level is generated from it.
Ribbins confirmed that OlliOlli World won’t be treated as a service, so there won’t be regularly timed content updates beyond announced planned premium DLC packs that will grow Radlandia in new directions. The first expansion, Void Riders, releases in the summer and will add a new biome along with additional levels, characters, and character customizations. The second is planned for the fall. OlliOlli World is set to kick off onto PC via Steam on February 8.