home Latest News Skateboarding Seduction: Why I’m obsessed with the OlliOlli games – Reader’s Feature

Skateboarding Seduction: Why I’m obsessed with the OlliOlli games – Reader’s Feature

OlliOlli - low budget, high entertainment

OlliOlli – low budget, high entertainment

A reader explains his love for the OlliOlli games and why he considers them to be the best sports games of recent years.

It is a testament to the endlessly progressive nature of the video games industry that the criteria for what makes a game great is constantly being re-evaluated and re-theorised. Games are judged on their artistic merit, the ambition of their plots, their graphical prowess (zzzzz), the solidity of their mechanics, the variety in gameplay systems and a seemingly endless list of other contributing factors.

But in a medium that innovates quicker than any of its adversaries, and is always throwing in new ideas, at the very core of what compels us to play video games is still the ‘one more go’ hypnotism that they can inflict on our brains and fingers. Games that have that addictive quality are the ones that cause us to miss alarms, miss bus stops, and miss the days we weren’t lost to their satanic grip. Often it’s the games that are the least forgiving that really latch on, demanding every inch of your dexterity and patience and always mocking as you realise that it’s actually really difficult to snap a controller in half.

And yet, with many of these games, you somehow find yourself in a repetitive loop that is actually perversely enjoyable. The recent release of Bloodbourne and its (not unanimous but pretty wide-reaching) critical acclaim is evidence that we like punishing games that keep dragging us back into their virtual lairs. I’ve hardly got round to Bloodbourne yet though. I’m still entranced by another series and as yet unwilling to vacate it. A game where the grinding actually centres around grinding. My screen-based mistress for the last eight months or so has been a little game called OlliOlli.

When Roll7, a small, independent developer from East London, announced they were making a 2D skateboarding game for the PlayStation Vita, they essentially had their hands on my wallet from the word go. For a decent chunk of my teenage years I was obsessed with skateboarding. Literally obsessed.

I saw the world as a skatepark, much to the misfortune of my mum’s ironing board. But at the age of around 16 I decided that I probably wasn’t going to be the next Rodney Mullen or Eric Koston, and that my mind was instead probably better directed at other pursuits, like poisonous alcopops, wearing sunglasses to house parties in the middle of winter, and trying desperately to like weed. Nonetheless, a craving for skateboarding games never subsided.

I loved all the early Tony Hawk’s games and their purely score-based chaos. Drunkenly hijacking a Russian tank in 2003’s Underground, or THUG, to those willing to indulge Neversoft’s marketing department, was a highlight of the series’ Grand Theft Skateboard reimagining in 2003.
I’m fairly sure I even dabbled in the questionable 2006 Wii spin-off, Downhill Jam, that was almost certainly terrible, but at that time ferociously waving a remote at a TV screen and seeing things happen in vague correspondence still carried a peculiar novelty. Oh yes, I am somebody that actually liked Red Steel.

When EA released Skate, a more realistic, sim-like interpretation of the sport, I was in heaven, and despite the crass use of in-game advertising and product placement, it remains one of my all-time favourite games. I had a few minutes of fun with Touchgrind on the iPhone, but that just made me yearn for the unlikely resurgence of Tech Decks. And after that, I was left waiting a long time for something to scratch the itch. Or break the ankle. Then, all of a sudden, along came Olli(Olli).

The first game had elements of Skate’s intelligent control scheme, but due to its minimalist pixel-art style and flat 2D plain, looked much more accessible on first glance. And it was. Sort of. OlliOlli is a beautifully simple game to pick up and be all right at – the majority of tricks are assigned purely to different movements of the analogue stick and each level consists of one long run – but aggressively hard to actually master.

A glance at the leaderboards can be demoralising when you realise your best ever attempt wouldn’t even nip at the ankles of the top 1,000. The fantastic, twitchy techno and silky-smooth jazz that makes up the soundtrack is almost ironically at odds with the bone-crunching agony your tiny, plank-riding pal endures.

Death metal may of been a more literal fit. The trick list in the game was comprehensive but hardly overwhelming, and without the floatiness of other skating games, gravity becomes your ever-present nemesis, and nailing the perfect line without bailing once is fiendishly difficult.

But the brilliance of OlliOlli’s design is actually at odds with what people worship about the Souls/Bloodbourne games. While their world’s punish you for death with lengthy loading times and backtracking, OlliOlli’s instant restart means that messing up a run can, and must be forgotten in seconds. The sickening thud of a miss-timed backside kickflip nose-grind onto a handrail is only a fleeting frustration, and before you know it you’re hurtling towards the same rail again. And again. And again. It’s as bewilderingly consuming as, well, skateboarding.

Online leaderboards, daily challenges, varying difficultly levels. This was the skateboarding game I had longed for since Skate, but it was in my backpack. I couldn’t put it down. Chasing high scores that could of been a chore is more like a thumb-stealing sugar rush. I couldn’t resist a sense of triumphant delirium when the game beat the likes of FIFA, Madden, and Forza to claim Best Sports Game at the recent BAFTA Games Awards. As a huge football fan too, it’s been a long time since I scored a goal on FIFA that mirrors the gaming ecstasy of a flawless OlliOlli performance.

But as brilliant as OlliOlli was and still is, it’s recent sequel is even better. If the first game was a 2D homage to Skate, OlliOlli 2: Welcome To Olliwood is a reinvention of the maddening, combo-driven ballet of the early ‘Hawks, with a suitably ridiculous title. By adding a manual function, the game encourages you trick your way through its eclectically themed levels on a singular score meter. This ramps up the risk to new heights, as one mistake can undo all your hard work.

Seeing a perfect combo sabotaged by a sloppy landing on the final trick of your line is as crushing as it is glorious when you nail it perfectly. You will bail in this game, perhaps even more so than in its predecessor, but that tantalising instant restart remains the game’s magnet, along with the infectious electronic accompaniment that drills itself into your brain as you repeat loop, after loop, after loop. The game is endlessly punishing, but never for long enough to see its appeal wane. OlliOlli2 is more colourful, more wholesome and ultimately more rewarding.

Like real skateboarding, the OlliOlli games tease you into thinking that understanding where you’ve failed will prevent you from failing again. Visualising what you want to do is easy, but executing it in a single moment, with no margin for error, is really bloody hard. You either pull it off or you get hurt and try again.

Skateboarders repeat tricks for hours in a quest for one success. It’s punishing. It’s repetitive. If you let it in to your life, it is impossible to resist – the Dark Souls of real life, you might say. And in that sense, OlliOlli 1 and 2, in my opinion, understand their subject matter better than any sports game I’ve ever played, despite their wacky, arcade sensibilities.

In my teens, I used to grind curbs and cut my knees up. In OlliOlli 2, I bluntslide a roller coaster and nosedive face first into a pit of spikes. Very different causes, same peculiar effect.

One more go.

By reader Matt Tate

The reader’s feature does not necessary represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.

You can submit your own 500 to 600-word reader feature at any time, which if used will be published in the next appropriate weekend slot. As always, email gamecentral@ukmetro.co.uk and follow us on Twitter.

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