So good it will give you blisters. It's a sentence you might read in a glossy 1990s PlayStation magazine ad. "So good it will give you blisters," it says of the latest polygonal bloodsport, with a wired controller hanging from a ceiling, covered in gore. The hyperbole of a generation, a distortion of edgy marketing either aped or mocked by today's advertising sophisticates. You get blisters from walking up hills, not video games. In the forensically sucky cyberpresent of 2022, there is no place for such exaggeration.
OlliOlli World is so good it will give you blisters. I know because I got one.
It's an honest-to-god skin burp, a purpling speck on the tip of my thumb. You can only play this nippy skate 'em up with a controller, and 40 compulsive hours of light joystick abrasions have stacked up. Flick the left thumbstick in any direction to do a trick. Flick down for an ollie, flick left for a kickflip, and so on. But the thumb gymnastics do not end there. Quarter-circle and half-circle rotations will do more advanced tricks like varials or 360 flips. Full circles and other patterns can result in even wilder moves, like Impossibles or 720 flips. Even if these trick names mean nothing to you, know that the more dextrous the thumbwork, the radder the feat.
And you need to be rad because the Skate Godz need a new ambassador on earth. A colourful band of pals follow you from level to level, realm to realm, encouraging you with puns and slaps of their boards on the equally colourful concrete. The dialogue is short-winded (although it could've been even terser for my dollar bills) and easily skipped, so it doesn't hold up the real action, which is navigating the stairs, rails, half-pipes, ramps and lethal toxic pits of the 75 levels, increasingly devious and challenging in their layout.
You're doing this to impress the Godz, of course, but you're also doing it for a sweet new pair of kicks. Previous OlliOlli games put you in the unalterable shoes of a faceless, cap-wearing daredevil. Here, the customisation options are explosive. There are sporty tacksuits, patterned sweaters, tan beanies, skimpy shorts, aviators, flouncy dresses, striped socks, a full-on bee suit. You unlock more clothes as you go and between levels there's a wipe transition showing characters created by other players, turning loading screens into catwalks. You can change your board in the same way, unlocking rainbow wheels and golden trucks as you tick off the challenges and target scores from each level.
That means there's a life and vibrancy here the series has not had in the past, especially in the levels themselves. Seagull weightlifters and ghostly trees move around in the background, fellow skaters show up mid-run for a high five. The booming, contrasting colours of the obstacles themselves mean that you rarely lose sight of the next rail or landing spot. There's a good balance between art and clarity, although I say this as someone fully trained in previous OlliOllis, and there are certainly rare instances when I hesitate over a gap due to some quibble in the level's presentation.
For a new player there's a lot to learn, yet a heap of the game is doable without knowing any of it.
That's mostly down to (mercifully infrequent) camera wackiness. Sometimes there's a sudden unzoom that's required to see an upcoming gauntlet, and this can mess with your spatial awareness. Sometimes the camera has to leap up or down to keep up with you, or it feels like you don't get enough warning for what's coming beneath. Worse for me are the occasional pipes and props that pass by in the foreground. They go past quickly and a lot of people won't even notice them but I've seen some pipes pass over the screen at moments of critical landing. I feel like that level of commitment to the 3D world (technically the 2.5D world) threatens the cleanliness of the scrolling window into said world, which I want free from any and all clutter, the illusion of depth be damned.
Those instances are scarce, though. The skating itself has evolved in such a pleasing way it's impossible to be mad. You no longer have to press a button to land safely, you can perform grabs in mid-air, you can clatter down steps on your board's tail, you can do tough "late" tricks by holding down extra buttons and squeezing in another sticky flip before landing, reinforcing that callous on your thumb, skin cell by skin cell.
For a new player there's a lot to learn, yet a heap of the game is doable without knowing any of this. You're incentivised to learn with tutorials and challenges. The levels contain multiple routes, some only accessible if you grind a rail juuuust right, or Firecracker down a set of steps instead of leaping them, or smash through a crystal floor by grabbing your board as you hit it. On these secret "gnarly" routes, things can be tougher. There are clunking mechanical platforms that speed along under you. Walls that rise or fly as you ride along them. Rails that tremble and fall into glowing ooze as you spark across them.
That level-altering machinery is ace, a chunky spanner altering the flow of the level even as you coast along it. One late level sees you able to go back through it in the opposite direction, but at the cost of many tough manoeuvres, a palindrome of pain. There is the odd duff moment. Obstructions that feel cheap, or plain infuriating. None more disgusting than a passing factory belt of junk that crosses your path late in one industrial level. Do you time your run to fit through the gap in junk? Or do you simply have to gather enough speed to leap it? I dislike this miniscule bit of OlliOlli World because, yes, this is a game all about timing, but this travellator of trash is a timed element out of my control. It feels entirely down to luck whether a gap here is open or not.
Other levels are going to enrage players in a friendlier and goading way. One early bonus level sees you racing against a bear. The bear does not skate, instead he floats down a river in a rubber ring, completely at ease. Meanwhile, your path is strewn with formidable gaps, winding rails, and slowing hills. You are sweating to complete this level, epidermis chafing, and this ursine jerk might as well be sucking on a Mojito as he coasts. It's great.
If you best the bear, what's to stop you high-horsing the humans? There are daily challenges against other players and every level has its leaderboard of scores. You can now watch replays of other people, massively helpful to anyone looking for secret routes or trying to figure out how to squeeze more tricks into a fiendish line. As a further prod to competitiveness, the game will select a person above you in the leaderboard and adorn them with a "rival" sticker. That player's character will now appear at the beginning and end of the level, stripey socks blaring, wearing either a magnanimous gesture of encouragement or a smug grin of satisfaction, depending on how you interpret that tight Adventure Time smile.
I make it sound more competitive and threatening than it is. In reality, this is a happy and welcoming game of foot-trickery that is far more forgiving than its predecessors. I've already explained the big differences that make it so. But it will still make you slam more times than you can count. I've played enough OlliOlli to understand each level has its tough spots, its filters. Gaps or jumps that require a precise speed or approach to clear. These vacuums are make-or-break moments during a full-level giga-combo. But on a larger scale, the whole game could be seen this way. There are potential filters everywhere. The bear level could be where people check out. Or it could be in Sketchside, where the going gets tough. Or in Los Vulgas, where huge leaps are required, one after the other. Every subsequent level, from about the halfway point, is a place where you might give up.
But you won't. I know you. I've seen your grit, your tenacity, your rage. You are a cockroach. But like, a good cockroach, with a determined and happy cartoon face. If there is a foolproof way to stop your proliferation, it remains unknown to science. You will complete this game. Everything feels impossible until you do it.
OlliOlli World has gone for that most coveted of design goals - "easy to learn, hard to master". I think it succeeds. For those who join me in obsessiveness, it may become responsible for hundreds of game pads laid low by kickflip-induced stick drift. Such is the intensity and frequency with which you will twiddle them sticks. I know. I stand before you a man touched by a divinity only those raised by gaming magazines of the 90s can fathom. I can say, with integrity, without embellishment, that this game is so fierce it will give you literal skin sores. It is blisteringly good.