It’s my freshman year of high school, and I’m sitting hunched over in front of the glow of my television, Goldfinger’s Superman blaring out of the speakers. I spent hours playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, honing my technique, finding all the hidden video tapes (yeah, tapes), trying to nail the perfect run--even though I spent most of my time flipping ass-over-teakettle, reaching for the restart button every handful of seconds. Fast-forward to today: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater has become all but irrelevant, leaving a gaping 360 Christ Air-sized hole in my heart. OlliOlli attempts to recapture the glory days of radical tricks and endless combos, and does so with aplomb--if, that is, you can get over how freaking hard it is.
The first 20 minutes you spend with OlliOlli are the worst, and this is largely due to its unique control scheme. Your job is to keep your speed up, pull off tricks, and stick the landing. By inputting directional commands with the left analog stick, you’ll perform myriad kickflips, shove-its, and grinds, making sure to hit X at the last possible moment to improve your score multiplier. Fail to land properly and you’ll bail--forcing you to start the level all over again. Even the tutorial doesn’t quite prepare you for what’s in store--OlliOlli’s controls are unlike any skateboarding game you’ve ever played, and the simple act of actually landing your tricks means you’ll be eating pavement more often than not.
Wrapping your head around the complicated controls is a lot like learning how to play drums, as you force your hands to focus on two completely different tasks while you careen through each rail-and-ramp-laden track. But once your brain is able to make sense of the controls, you’ll find yourself expertly chaining tricks to grinds and landing them without a hitch. Once everything falls into place, you’ll wonder why you ever had a problem to begin with.
Getting the hang of things opens up a whole world of combos to pull off, and you’ll quickly discover that there’s much more to OlliOlli than simply trying to make it to the finish line. There are numerous side objectives to pursue, from reaching a specific point threshold to performing a couple tricks in a specific sequence. You’ll take one look at these goals and wonder how you’ll ever accomplish them. Get through the course in one epic, grind-chaining combo? It seems impossible--then you actually nail it, and it feels amazing.
Completing these sub-objectives within the initial Amateur levels opens up additional Pro stages, further testing your shredding abilities. Rad Mode keeps the challenge coming for players daring enough to tackle every single objective OlliOlli has to offer. Spots and the Daily Grind add even more pick-up-and-play variety, tasking you with chaining as many tricks as possible into a single combo. There’s a huge assortment of content here, all couched inside the same compelling trick-based gameplay.
The Amateur levels alone will keep you plenty busy, though, as OlliOlli’s difficulty doesn’t ramp up so much as it becomes a vertical cliff. Skating through the early urban, junkyard, and port environments are difficult yet fair, but all bets are off once you reach the military base. Each course throws so many obstacles at you that it quickly becomes an exercise in masochism. I’ve spent more than half an hour just trying to complete a stage, never mind beating the high score. And yet, because the game makes me feel like I was just so close to the perfect run, I kept mashing the restart button to improve my runs and unlock the rest of what OlliOlli had to offer.
That’s what makes the quest for the perfect run so alluring. Hours of practice and constant failure lead to a few fleeting moments of euphoric perfection. There’s always another combo chain around the corner, a new set of challenges to overcome, another run to perfect--and despite the extreme challenge, OlliOlli is a rewardingly pure arcade experience. Move over Tony Hawk; there’s a new pro skater in town.