OlliOlli World Review: Heaven Is a Halfpipe

Roll7 takes its skating hit to the big time in OlliOlli World, which brings with it a visual overhaul and more expansive gameplay than was possible on the consoles of yesteryear like the PlayStation Vita, which was once its home. OlliOlli World casts the player as a prospective Skate Wizard, a shaman-like role serving as the bridge between the residents of Radlandia and the five skate gods that created the land in their images. But one does not simply become a skate wizard. First, the player must prove themself worthy by making a pilgrimage across the five regions of Radlandia to perform killer tricks, grinds, manuals, and wallrides on the way to ascending to Gnarvana.

The visual upgrade is immediately apparent when loading up OlliOlli World for the first time. Where previous games had the hard-edged, 2D pixelated style of Canabalt or Super Meat Boy, OlliOlli World uses cel-shaded 3D models. The upgrade comes with a shift in aesthetic and tone, abandoning the grey, industrial look that had players grinding on tanks and military helicopters for a brighter, decidedly more chill atmosphere as players bounce between various natural habitats, from beachside to forest to desert. It's all backed by a mellow, electronic soundtrack perhaps best described as "chill beats to skate to" that's well suited to a game about skating one's way to a higher state of being.

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(Photo: Private Division)

OlliOlli World offers a distinct take on meditation through skateboarding, pairing simple mechanics with lofty goals and cleverly designed levels. Tricks are pulled off almost entirely by moving the left analog stick in any direction, or performing a Hadouken-like semicircle for advanced tricks, sending the would-be skate wizard into the air upon release. It's remarkable how such simple mechanics make the left stick feel like a tiny board under the foot that is the player's thumb, manipulating it the way an actual skater might do with their real board. (Or, at least how someone who has no skateboarding experience imagines such a sensation might feel.) Spot-on sound effects sell the experience with the satisfying clatter of wheels hitting the pavement or the raking of a board over a railing.

But simple isn't the same as easy. To achieve the highest scores, players must vary the tricks they perform. Using the left stick alone doesn't offer much variety, but players soon learn to grind, wallride, manual, firecracker down steps, perform spins, tweaks, and more. By combining these elements, a whole world of possible tricks opens up. However, timing is key to achieving the perfect landing without wiping out, requiring concentration and, considering how fast the game moves, losing oneself in the run, generating that flow state where players are pushing themselves to their limits and then a bit more.

OlliOlli World's hub is the Radlandia map, and players travel across it accompanied by an entourage of cartoonish characters who, based on appearance and attitude, could have emigrated to Radlandia from the Land of Ooo. But, despite appearances, the first playthrough of OlliOlli World is primarily linear, one track opening up after the other. However, there are points where several open at once, and players only have to complete a fraction of them to move on. The option may come as a relief to players struggling with one particular skill set who discover another track focusing on one they prefer.

Many tracks also offer multiple routes, including more challenging and rewarding "gnarly routes," as well as subchallenges players can attempt to unlock new gear for their customizable avatar. They can also discover sidequests along the way, leading to optional bonus tracks and unique challenges off the beaten path.

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(Photo: Private Division)

If a player's goal is to complete every track on the way to the end credits, they won't take long to achieve it. While there are challenging levels, checkpoints scattered throughout make most of them manageable. But the real heart of OlliOlli World is in chasing higher and higher scores. Most courses have "local heroes" scores attached, benchmarks against which players can test themselves. To reach the same heights as the top scores, players will need to string together their tricks into unbroken combos, racking up score multipliers. The catch is that players don't bank those points until the combo is complete. A checkpoint triggered mid-combo could bring you back to halfway through a level but with nothing scored. With each new checkpoint, players must choose between playing it safe or pushing for a higher total.

This moment is also where players may hit a wall. There isn't much to complain about in OlliOlli World. Very occasionally, the levels prove so expansive that you can lose sight of your character during an exceptionally high jump, and every once in a while, a railing will get lost among the bright colors. But it's a game that someone could play for hours without realizing (this message brought to you by an entire afternoon of my life spent lost in a skate-trance without noticing). However, at least in my experience, there was a clear point where I'd reached the pinnacle of my skill, a considerable chasm existing between my best scores and the next set of local heroes. At this point, the spell may break as players must consider how much time and effort they want to put into trying to best these fictional rivals.

But anyone would be justified in deciding to continue honing their skate skills in OlliOlli World. It's a fun game with practically infinite replay value thanks to asynchronous online multiplayer and the ability to generate new levels randomly. And despite realizing that I may never be the king of the halfpipe, I still find myself loading the game up to spend an hour attempting to master a new track with a single-combo run. OlliOlli World is all about the journey, that state of flow that washes over when you've committed to a challenging run, and testing your limits that way never goes out of style.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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OlliOlli World goes on sale on February 8th for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Nintendo Switch, and PC. The publisher provided a game code for the purposes of this review, and it was reviewed on PC.