There was once a time when Tony Hawk ruled the gaming scene, his yearly skateboarding releases something to get excited about. Putting a number on the amount of hours I’ve lost to grinding rails, spinning over half-pipes and pulling off insanely ridiculous combos isn’t easy but let’s just say it’s in the hundreds at least. Looking at the landscape now it’s a completely different story though with EA’s excellent Skate series no more and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 an absolute disaster. The skateboarding genre isn’t what it used to be, let’s put it that way.
Enter Roll7’s OlliOlli series, a refreshing take of the genre that’s part auto-scroller (or auto-roller in this case) and part trick-based juggling act. Every stage you fly through is its own linear 2D playground of rails to grind and ramps to trick off of with the best runs accomplished by those who take advantage of them all. Much like the Tony Hawk’s series before it, stringing along the longest and most flashy combos is not only OlliOlli’s big focus but also its greatest hook. Bail out though and it’s back to the beginning for you.
OlliOlli: Switch Stance besides sporting a rather clever skating related sub-title bundles together both the original game OlliOlli and its improved sequel OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood. As far as ports go, there’s little to fault here, the game running perfectly on Switch. If there is one slightly disappointing fact it’s that there’s nothing in the way of new features or content included. Then again it’s hard arguing how well suited both these games feel on the Switch.
If there’s one feature that truly helps the OlliOlli series feel like more than just another auto-scrolling endless runner type, it’s the way it feels and controls. Rather than simply hitting buttons to Olli or perform tricks, you’ll actually need to move the control stick downward (almost as if you were crouching your legs) then flick it up and in a direction. It’s surprising how much more involved this feels than merely tapping a button. Similarly, grinding requires you to hit down on the control stick just as your board touches the rail or wall to initiate. In fact, timing plays a very big role in both OlliOlli titles with every trick and jump also requiring you to press the B Button just as you land in order to roll away cleanly and with the highest points. Mistime your landing though and watch your score tumble.
Much like when Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 added the revert, the addition of manuals in OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood has a big impact on the way you play essentially allowing for even longer and more impressive combos. If the original OlliOlli is a chance to get to grips with the series’ unique control scheme then its sequel feels like the final exam upping the ante further still, demanding higher scores and even slicker runs.
There’s very little difference between the two games when it comes to the presentation of their career modes. Both take you through five unique environments each one comprised of five stages that all contain five challenges to accomplish. A lot of these revolve around reaching a certain point threshold or landing a high enough combo but some can also require you to do something a little more unique like performing certain tricks or grabbing random items throughout your run. If you’re lucky (or just extremely good) you may be able to tick off every task in one amazing run. For me personally, though, I found focusing on one per run a great way to learn the stage and better my performance. Master all five tasks within a stage and you’ll unlock a harder version of that stage complete with five new tasks that are even tougher. ‘Spots’ meanwhile gradually become available and see you trying to score the highest score with a single combo. Let all four wheels hit the floor and your run is over.
While it can be a mission in itself simply avoiding staircases and dumpsters and reaching the end of a stage scrape and injury free, trying to check off tasks like achieving target scores, grinding a certain railing or finding hidden collectibles gives both OlliOlli titles an impressive layer of depth that keeps you coming back. Better still is how quick and fluid everything feels. Fall flat on your face? No problem since restarting is instant. Mistime an Olli and fail to grab the last spray can? Again not an issue since levels are short enough the situation rarely becomes frustrating. Similar to a game like Super Meat Boy the practically non-existent load times mean you spend more time in the midst of the action and less in menus or waiting.
Visually both games opt for a more simplistic look although the sequel benefits from a slightly more cartoony style. The environments you’ll traverse offer plenty of variety – especially OlliOlli 2 with its movie sets themed after the wild west and a zombie outbreak in a funfair – which makes a welcome change to a bunch of generic looking streets. If there is one issue I found with the visuals – particularly the first game – it’s deciphering between background and foreground, what’s grindable and what’s not. It’s not game breaking but did lead to a good number of face plants and confusion.
OlliOlli: Switch Stance fills the void left in the skateboarding genre rather nicely with its unique and rewarding trick system and snappy gameplay. The fact it’s a straightforward port with little in the way of extra content may disappoint returning players but for those craving something to fill that Tony Hawk-sized hole in their hearts this should do the job.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Gambitious