To perform an ollie is to commune with gods. Or maybe just look cool. OlliOlli World is shaping up to be a good-spirited renovation of the 2D skateboarding series that has traditionally been quite punishing. This one's got a flashy third dimension, moon-faced cartoon characters, and a plucky story to match. We're told of Skate Godz who once appointed a human representative on earth. But she's about to retire and needs a prodigy to step forward to fill her Vans. The player is that potential new conduit between holy half-pipers and humanity. In other words, this is a quest to become Skate Pope. Caliph of kickflips. Dalai Slama. Having both popped and shoved-it through a heap of levels in preview, I'm happy to report you can all sit down. I'm the chosen one. It's me.
I make this grandiose claim from the pedestal of 17th best OlliOlli 2 player (on PlayStation 4), which tells you two things. Firstly, I'm good at virtual heelflips. Secondly, this game must have a small audience. It's true the OlliOlli series has cult prestige among skateboarding fun-havers and a recent Switch re-release brought it to a new crowd, but it lacks the nostalgia-gravity of a Tony Hawk Pro Skater remake or the simmyness of spiritual Skate successors such as Session. It also scares some people away, because OlliOlli has always been a strict test of reflexes, each successive difficulty curve looking less like a cliff and more like a full-pipe.
Enter the smiley friends and dopey businessfrogs of OlliOlli World. This colourful cast and even colourfuller wardrobe are a sign of chill things to come. There's still tough meat to gnash on. A particular jump might require precise timing, a bonus level will make stern demands. But overall the barrier to entry seems to have been hugely reduced. Fair warning: I say this as a veteran. It's possible my idea of "easing up" might be miscalculated. But developers Roll7 have made a lot of changes to convince me otherwise.
Levels are side-scrolling flows of perilous leaps and handy rails. You perform tricks by twisting the left thumbstick, or flicking it in some direction before releasing (you need a controller - no keyboards allowed, sorry). You can add spin by holding down shoulder buttons, and perform grind tricks by pulling the left stick just as you come down over a rail. If you lose speed, you can push yourself ahead, gaining the velocity often needed to clear larger gaps. Every level has some special objectives, be it a score to beat, some sequence of tricks to pull, or items to collect from hard-to-reach places.
These fundamentals haven't changed for the fresh instalment. But other things have been shaken up in small yet significant ways. The biggest difference comes with simply landing your board. Before, you had to press a button at the exact point of landing (A on Xbox controller, X on PlayStation), otherwise your landing would be so sloppy that the trick would barely count towards your score, and your skateboard would slow so significantly that you'd clatter down the next set of steps like an upended bag of scaffolding pipes. You could do the most incredible combo, full minutes in length, but then fluff the final landing with a mistimed press, cleaving your final score to a fraction of its worth. This was part of the hardcore appeal - none of it maters if you don't get the timing of that final, angry footslap correct.
That severity has been discarded in OlliOlli World. The tap of the landing button is no longer critical. The button still exists, it still functions, but it isn't 100% necessary. You can land clean and easy without it. Your crew of skate buds don't even tell you about such a feature until halfway through the second realm of levels, meaning at least that much of the game is possible without using it. You do still need to hit that landing button to pull a sick manual. And hitting it at just the right time will still grant you a little green bubble that praises you with the word "PERFECT" and a few more points. But it's not vital.
This was probably OlliOlli's great filter, a single button that was a firm hand of discipline, but also a harsh gatekeeper. There's a sense that the devs are doing away with the mono-combo crucible of OldiOldi. This game has colourful kneepads and cartoon bees with Adventure Time smiles. It has giant leaps you can conceivably pull off without needing Mantis Shrimp reflexes. I'm all for this. The more people who can be introduced to the series, the better. I'll always treasure the brutal precision of the previous entry, it made me the 17th best OlliOlli 2 player I am today. But even an obsessive like me can recognise the value of an open beach promenade to be played lightly once and then forgotten, or a friendly faced ice cream cone cheering me on from the sidelines, the simplicity of a single trick getting you through entire runs.
There are also checkpoints now, multiple times in a level. Which was inconceivable to me as an indoctrinated noseslider, but made total sense once I saw them. They give new players another immediate chance to make a jump, or hop over a delicate balloon banana, or collect a big star on an awkward platform.
That they've managed to both heighten the skill ceiling and lower the skill floorboards is as impressive as a big flippo.
It's a concession to casual cruise kids, yes, but it doesn't dumb anything down. If I want to restart the level from the beginning to retry my absurd level-long combo, I just need to hold down the "restart from beginning" button. There are options, and that's great. Levels in previous games sometimes got so long it became a struggle for players to even finish them, never mind completing all the bonus objectives. I can still see a few of WorldiWorldi's levels rattling the teeth of the new crowd (especially when wall rides are introduced) and the point of the game is still in overcoming that challenge, but it's a noticeably more forgiving realm of ramps.
There are a dozen tiny technical changes that explicitly call out seasoned underflippers. You can't do more than four flat ground tricks in a row without being forced to finish your combo, for example. A throbbing exclam appears over your head to signal that your next landing on flat ground will finish the combo, unless you find a rail to keep it going. And there are new, advanced grinds on those rails that let you lift one foot off the board or lean in a precarious, gnarly way. The way your score is calculated for these incentivises you to hold each grind position for a second or two, then switch it up.
These changes will feel largely invisible to any newcomer until they learn the ins and outs. But they have massive ramifications for anyone competing on the game's online leaderboards. The designers have clearly examined what advanced players did in previous games, and have reshuffled the rules to both force us out of complacency and give us wild new options. That they've managed to both heighten the skill ceiling and lower the skill floorboards at the same time is as impressive as a big flippo.
I only got two zones deep into the game for this preview, mostly because I've been 100%-ing every level before moving onto the next, like a methodical serial killer of air. But I'm deeply, happily impressed with what I've seen. To receive such bountiful possibility in the form of wallrides, special grinds, alternate paths, grabs, half-pipes… It is overwhelming. Pure joy. There is a deep significance in the ability to rumble down steps on your board's tail. I don't expect you to understand the potential of this simple manoeuvre, ha ha, you do not see the OlliOlli level as I do. You are mortal. I stand among the Godz. I have broken every bone in my body.
Know only that it's turning out to be a generous re-jigging of all that made past OlliOllis excellent. An extended hand, picking up anyone who tried an older version and fell off in the fifth level. A grinning gesture towards a wardrobe full of cool clothes you could probably never pull off in real life (you can customise your character now! What!). It's strong, flow-state escapism featuring seagulls who work out at the gym. Researchers recently claimed that taking up skateboarding as an adult can improve your mental well-being. But buying an expensive piece of wood and playing a little Don't-Snap-Yer-Bones might seem unwise to a lot of people (the hospitals are, uh, a little busy right now…). But from what I've played so far, OlliOlli World seems set to fulfill the same desire.