OlliOlli World preview: pure grind

The story of OlliOlli World takes place on the fantastical island of Radlandia – the ultimate skate utopia. Legend has it that Radlandia was created by the immortal skate gods. These celestial skateriarchs carved the mountains, grinded the deserts, and kickflipped the beaches forming Radlandia’s mighty districts.” It’s not what you’d expect from one of the developers at Roll7, at least not when talking about the third entry to its award-winning skateboarding series. But then OlliOlli World isn’t quite the same as the staid skaters of Roll7’s console and handheld past.

The core remains: OlliOlli World puts you in control of your skater protagonist as they push, ollie, and grind their way through a series of ever-more challenging courses, tricking along the way and trying to push that score meter ever-higher. It’s mostly handled via one button to push and the left stick to pull off tricks, and is based heavily on timing and nailing the flow. While not instantly gratifying, it is something you pick up quickly enough and thoroughly enjoy soon after that. That’s all the same.

This time around, however, you’re on a strange island made up of numerous distinctive biomes, attempting to impress in each enough that you’re taken to Gnarvana in order to pass challenges set by the skate gods, with the ultimate goal of possibly becoming the new Skate Wizard of Radlandia. Again: it’s not quite the same as the original two games.

This explosion of colour and character has helped things hugely, though – it’s not like OlliOlli or its sequel looked bad; it’s more that they were just functional. Cool, sure, but ultimately functional. OlliOlli World splashes joy all over the screen; it’s bright and cartoonish with stylish, sometimes almost-flick-bookish animation. Each region is full of fellow skaters, be they from your team/group of friends or otherwise, as well as the locals – ghost trees, giant frogs, walking ice creams, and more. You’re travelling by too quickly and concentrating too closely on upcoming obstacles to really pay close attention to all that’s going on behind you, but it’s genuinely cute in the best sense of the word, and evokes a strong Joe Danger vibe. That’s another plus, in case you’re wondering.

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It can take some time to get used to OlliOlli World’s controls, but soon enough, the basics are second nature. Unlike the background here, which is pure nature.

Skating is still key though, and as stated, that core design remains. Playing through an early demo version of the game, two things quickly became clear: one, Roll7 has honed this system to something approaching perfection; and two, some of us might have forgotten how to play the ruddy thing after not picking the series up since the first game’s spectacular PS Vita debut back in 2014. But the single-stick simplicity works in OlliOlli World’s favour and, soon enough, you’re worrying more about pumping out high-scoring combos and using as many different grinds as possible in a run, rather than about remembering how to ollie. It really does harness the ‘flow state’ Roll7 likes to talk about so much – your brain almost switches off and it becomes about the cleanness and purity of the run, only snapping back to reality when a mistimed flick of the stick lands you in a candy-pink bush off the track and you have to (instantly) go back to the last checkpoint. It’s captivating, that’s for certain.

And back to the world itself – this bright and beautiful backdrop isn’t just that: it’s a new world and a new way of doing things. You’re on a road trip with your crew of friends (and chief supporters), making your way from one location to the next and tricking by attempting to beat high scores. But you’re also able to take on quests from non-player characters, and there’s a bit of story behind these extra people (and shifty frogs) you encounter along the way. Again, it’s not something that’s changing the core of the experience, but it is fleshing out this new form of presentation into something more than a mere visual shift. It feels like there’s a lot more that’s gone into OlliOlli World than just a ‘Let’s make it more colourful to lure people in’ – the entire game is focused on this new presentation and embraces it wholeheartedly. There’s even a huge emphasis on support and positivity from characters; a far cry from the lone hero fighting against all the odds narratives seen in… well, games that aren’t about skating in worlds full of sentient ice creams.

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Moving away from the stylish-but-perfunctory visuals of the first two games has helped OlliOlli World tremendously. It’s utterly lovely.

It was only an early version of the game played for these pages, but already OlliOlli World is looking very strong. It’s fair to say it’s not a sequel many expected, nor is it a direction you might have expected from Roll7, but it looks to be coming from the right place. This third entry is about making the experience bigger, brighter, and bolder – but at the same time, it’s about making it more welcoming and accommodating for those who might otherwise have avoided the series. It’s not the place to call a game’s fortunes so early on, but it’s going to take a bail of spectacular proportions for OlliOlli World to actually go off the rails at this point.

Playing the oldies

It’s still well worth getting into the original OlliOlli or the second game OlliOlli2: Welcome to Olliwood – and you don’t have to be rocking a PS Vita to get in on the action. The first game is available on all current consoles (via backwards compatibility, of course), including Switch, and also PC and Android. The sequel is on the same formats minus Switch. Whichever one you get, you’re guaranteed a captivating, skill-focused, and minimalist take on skateboarding. They’re ace, and highly recommended.

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