It's been a while since a decent skateboarding game has hit the shelves. The surprise resurgence in popularity of EA's Skate 3 with the YouTube generation, combined with the excitement over a new Tony Hawk's Pro Skater title being announced though, show that there's still a market for the genre. Hoping to kickflip into the niche is OlliOlli, a title that has been around since early 2014 on other platforms, and which finally makes its way to Xbox One via Curve Digital.
If you haven't seen it before, OlliOlli is a side-scrolling take on skateboarding, with a single-life structure that sees your run being over if your skater bails for any reason. Tricks and grinds are mapped to the left analog stick, with spins being controlled by the bumpers and landings being perfected by delicate timing of your presses of the A button. The closer to the ground that your skater is when you press the button, the better the landing, and with some sections of later levels all but requiring perfect poise in order to quickly launch into another jump over an obstacle, you'll need to master this to have any hope of success.
That isn't the only thing you'll need to master, either. Grinds work in the same way as landing do, with the timing of your stick inputs determining whether or not you're awarded with a "perfect" grind or not. Perfect grinds are the key to keeping your speed up, since they award a boost. Not only that, but your scores will absolutely fly up if you manage to put together a combo that only contains perfect grinds and landings.
But it isn't just scores that you're playing for. Each of the game's stages contains a series of five challenges that can be attempted across multiple runs. The first two see trying to beat a certain combo score and overall score, while the remaining three vary things up a bit. You may have to grind all the high ledges in a level, perform a certain type of trick, or do something as beastly as complete a level full of steps and rails without grinding. Once you've beaten all five "Amateur" challenges, you'll unlock that stage's "Pro" mode, which consists of a further five tasks. Complete every stage's Pro mode, and you unlock "Rad" mode – a fiendishly horrendous challenge that will see you having to run through each level without missing a step. Make a sloppy landing or miss a perfect grind, and your skater will faceplant. Frustrating and challenging, to say the least.
But for most players, the frustration will start way, way, WAY before unlocking Rad mode. You see, OlliOlli suddenly becomes very difficult about halfway through the six sets of stages, even when trying to pick up the Amateur challenges. Some will reach the sixth set of stages and want to snap their controller in half, as they'll not be able to even finish the courses, let alone beat the required scores. OlliOlli has that great thing going for it, where you become so focused on beating certain difficult sections of a stage that you end up making incredibly dumb mistakes on the simple parts that lead up to it. You'll forget to grind a simple rail, and bail. Then you'll forget to jump over an obvious barrel, and bail. Then you'll forget to grind that first rail again, and bail. This can go on for an absolute age, with your frustration growing by the second. Your hands will be tricked into thinking that you're just not good enough to complete the level, even though your brain knows full well that you can do it if you just concentrate hard enough, for long enough. You know you can do it. But actually doing it is the tricky part.
This means that if it hooks you, OlliOlli provides a nice amount of playing time for the price. Even when you do finally complete that challenge that's being evading you for an hour or so, you'll be tempted to try the next one that you haven't beaten. If beating those challenges isn't enough, each level has a "Spot" mode which sees you trying to set a high-score on a modified version of the stage, in an attempt to top the online leaderboard. On top of that, the "Daily Grind" is – as the name suggests – a daily challenge which allows you a single practice run and then a lone attempt at setting a high score on that day's stage layout.
There are a few gripes to be had with the game, and the first is with the tricking system. It undoubtedly works well for 99% of the time, but there are occasions when you'll find that the game doesn't pick up minor movements, meaning that your on-screen skater won't jump in time to avoid an obstacle. Of course, people will be quick to blame their many failures on this but in reality, it occurs rarely enough for you to be able to rule it out most of the time. When it really does happen though, you can definitely notice it. We also noticed some occasions where there's some grinding of a different sort, in the form of slowdown. Again, this doesn't happen with any real regularity, but when it does, it causes problems by throwing your timing off altogether. The annoying thing is that you can play a stage and watch it slow down considerably in the opening section, then restart the stage and watch it work perfectly.
OlliOlli is a fine indie game that will most likely get its hooks into you and not let go. It isn't a perfect port, and it's a little galling to be paying for the original game when the sequel is currently free on PlayStation 4 as a part of PlayStation Plus. But, if you haven't been exposed to the game before now, there are definitely worse ways to spend £8.