Video Game Review: OlliOlli [PS Vita]

OlliOlli [PS Vita]

OlliOlli
System: PS Vita
Genre: Skateboarding
Developer: Roll7
Publisher: Roll7
Price: $12.99 ($10.39 for Playstation Plus members)
Release Date: January 21, 2013

OlliOlli, a rare PS Vita exclusive, is a 2D skateboarding game that could potentially revitalize a genre that has laid dormant for years. Skating games reached the point of oversaturation years ago; who would have guessed that a small indie title like this could manage to be such a breath of fresh air?

It’s amazing how much OlliOlli does with so little. The control scheme is reduced to what is essentially two buttons: the left analog stick and the X button (with the left and right bumpers being used to rotate the skater, if desired). This seemingly simplistic method is actually deceptively complex. The left stick is used to perform tricks and grinds (of which there are over 120 total), while the X button is used to stick the landings. This takes some getting used to — after years of playing Tony Hawk, it feels weird not to use X to ollie — but it really doesn’t take long to start to feel natural.

The decision to require an extra button press in order to perfectly land a trick or grind is a stroke of genius. By hitting X at the last possible second, you will get a “perfect” rating that delivers the most points possible. This adds a whole new element to the gameplay, as you can pull off the world’s best combo but get little in the way of points if you don’t nail the landing. The game also keeps you on your toes by requiring the analog stick to be pushed down in order to achieve a “perfect” grind. Again, there is a little bit of a learning curve here, but once everything clicks, it’s as smooth as can be.

OlliOlli [PS Vita]

There are 50 levels in total, and each one has a set of five challenges to complete. These are similar to Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater in that some challenges are for hitting a certain point total (both overall and for combos specifically), picking up spray cans scattered through a level, hitting certain gaps or pulling off a specific trick. At first, they start off innocently enough, but it doesn’t take long for the requests to get more and more difficult.

If you’re able to complete all five challenges on an “amateur” level, you will have access to its corresponding “pro” level. If you’re able to five star every single level in the game, you unlock the extremely challenging RAD mode. Good luck with that.

There are also “Spots” that can be unlocked by completing each level. These are basically condensed stages that are set up to maximize combo potential. The idea is to string together as many tricks and grinds as possible before you either hit the ground or reach the end of the stage. The game will take note of your best score and tell you your current position on the world leaderboards. I managed to make it in the top 20 once or twice, but surely that will go down as more and more people start playing. It’s fun to see just how far off you are from the world leader, but it would be even better if there were a way to compare your scores with those on your friends list. Perhaps this is something that could be added in with a patch?

There’s also a neat little mode called Daily Grind that’s reminiscent of Spelunky‘s daily challenges. A new level is crafted every day where you get one chance to pull off as big of a combo as possible. You can practice as much as you like, but only your “official” run counts. It’s a fun way to keep the competition going.

OlliOlli [PS Vita]

While there is plenty of content to offer, what makes the overall package so great is that it is so easy to pick up and play. Each level lasts for about a minute, and there is a big yellow button in the left hand corner of the screen that can be used to restart at a whim’s notice. Trust me, you’ll get well acquainted with this button. Everything also starts immediately — there are no delays whatsoever. By keeping everything streamlined so well, this just adds to the addictive nature of the game. It’s one of those “oh, I’ll just play one more level” type games where it’s easy to get sucked in and play for hours without knowing it (a la Super Meat Boy).

In terms of its presentation, OlliOlli offers little in the way of eye candy. The graphics aren’t anything special, and it’s often difficult to differentiate between certain tricks. However, Roll7 really nailed the soundtrack. Its mix of upbeat and chill electronica has a certain hypnotic feeling to it. Quite the contrast from the raucous punk rock songs in Tony Hawk, but it works surprisingly well.

With its twitch gameplay, precise controls and seemingly unlimited replay value, OlliOlli pretty much hits all the right notes. It could benefit from friend leaderboards and more customization options, but these omissions hardly detract from what is an overall addictive and enjoyable experience. If this game is any indication, 2014 is shaping up to be a hell of a year for PS Vita owners.

8.5/10

(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)

Video Game Review: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD [XBLA]

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD [XBLA] Cover Art

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD
System: Xbox Live Arcade (coming soon to PSN and PC)
Genre: Extreme sports (skateboarding)
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Robomodo
Price: 1200 MSP
Release Date: July 18, 2012

Remaking the original Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games was going to be a tricky endeavor from the very beginning. Not only are the original Playstation titles beloved classics, they are also rather dated. The skateboarding genre has come along way since those early days, and lately EA’s Skate series has reigned supreme. Could an HD Tony Hawk game hold up today?

Activision has compiled seven levels from the first two games and given them a fresh coat of non-pixelated paint. It’s nice to finally be able to play old favorites with updated graphics, but the selection appears to be random: Warehouse, School 2, Mall, Downhill Jam, Hangar, Marseilles and Venice. Everyone has their own personal favorites, of course, but a few of these had me scratching my head (I can’t recall anyone ever going crazy over Downhill Jam, for example).

A handful of familiar skaters have returned, including Tony Hawk, Rodney Mullen and Andrew Reynolds, as well as a batch of new characters. Create-a-skater is absent; in its place is the ability to use your Xbox avatar. It’s a bit odd at first to see an avatar skating around, but it’s as close as we can get to creating our own player.

The same control scheme is in place, and it only offers the bag of tricks found in the first two games (meaning no “revert” option, though that is to come in future DLC). Each level has the same goals as before — collect S-K-A-T-E, ollie the magic bum, find the secret tape, etc. — and the pieces are exactly where they have always been.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD [XBLA]

A huge wave of nostalgia came over me as I entered the Warehouse for the first time in years. It was like I was a teenager again, getting ready for my favorite two-minute fix. The familiar sounds of Powerman 5000’s “When Worlds Collide” filled the speakers. I was ready.

But then something happened. My skater didn’t move the way I remembered. I botched a simple kickflip, and instead of falling over I went flying into a ramp at the other side of the screen. Blood splattered on the ground, which was a familiar sight, but were the controls always this touchy? I got up and skated over to the half pipe. A few simple grab tricks had me feeling better about my skills, but then I wiped out again after a slightly sloppy landing. I didn’t fly as far this time, but I started to gain the perception that I needed to be a little more careful.

After a few more playthroughs, I began to adjust to the tweaked game mechanics. At first I thought I was just rusty, but it was pretty clear that the physics were completely different. Developer Robomodo remade the game using Unreal Engine 3, and in doing so lost some of the playability from before. The similarities are there, but it’s as if the physics were run through a filter before reaching their destination.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD [XBLA]

I fired up my original Tony Hawk 2 disc to see if nostalgia was tilting my perception. I ran through the Hangar without missing a beat. The couple times I did fall felt realistic, and I did not go flying off the hinges when getting big air off a half pipe. There was a pretty big difference between the two in terms of gameplay, and former THPS junkies will surely notice the changes as well.

Having said that, the new controls do improve a bit once a skater is upgraded with better stats. They’re still not perfect, but pulling off combos is a bit more manageable. It just takes a bit of work to get to that point.

With just seven levels, the single player campaign is relatively brief. It doesn’t take long to unlock each area, but some of the trickier goals are just as difficult as before. Good luck finding and hitting all of the secret tapes — it took me a while to remember where a few of them even were.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater HD [XBLA]

Playing with friends was always one of the highlights of the Tony Hawk series, but multiplayer this time around is online only. There is no split-screen gameplay whatsoever. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, the online matchmaking system leaves a lot to be desired. On average, I am able to connect to a quick match once out of every five attempts. This happens regardless of what mode/level I select, even if I opt for the “any” option.

When a connection actually does come through, it is still a lot of fun competing against others. There are occasional moments of random graphical glitches, but they don’t hinder gameplay. Old favorites such as Trick Attack and Graffiti are back, but H-O-R-S-E is strangely missing. In its place is a new Big Head mode, which is enjoyable even if it is peculiar to have replaced an original. I imagine the multiplayer aspect was scaled back due to cost and/or time issues, but the omissions, particularly split-screen, are glaring.

I wanted to love Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD, I really did. To be able to play some of my all-time favorite games again with updated graphics is, in some ways, a dream come true. It’s a shame that the original in-game physics could not be replicated, because otherwise it would be easier to ignore the game’s other faults. It’s not that this is a *bad* game per se, it’s just that it could not live up to its lofty expectations. Messing with nostalgia is a dangerous thing, and this feels like a Tony Hawk game, but one that is stripped of its soul.

6/10

 
Side note: if you really want to play this and have the option to play on a different system, I recommend waiting for the PS3 version, at least if you are a d-pad user. The 360’s d-pad does not do this game any favors.

(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)