OlliOlli2: Welcome to Olliwood is one of the best skateboarding games. The expanded bag of tricks, vibrant art style, smooth controls, and impressively deep gameplay make it endlessly replayable for those who can coast into its satisfying flow state. But many faceplanted a few too many times and hung up their board before getting to the advancements it had made that put it in the skating game pantheon. OlliOlli World, the upcoming sequel, is shaping up to be an excellent follow-up for the Tony Hawks who mastered the prior two, but it’s also trying to open itself up to those newcomers. It’s a tricky proposition, but it appears to masterfully balance on that delicate grind rail.
OlliOlli’s core is still the same. The left stick handles the tricks in a Skate-like way where they approximate foot motions like they do special moves in Street Fighter. It’s intuitive and allows for a whole swath of combos and tricks to be available on a standard controller. Landing with perfectly timed button presses and chaining together combos is still the backbone of the game’s scoring system, which organically opens it up for high score chasing and the satisfaction that comes with getting better and seeing those scores rise.
Board grabs and wall grinds are two of the bigger changes as they further augment how players can get to the end and are incredibly natural ways to add more words to the Tricktionary. Grabs seem to be like modifiers on existing moves (it’s hard to tell given how many moves there are) while wall grinds give opportunities for more tricks while also acting as another means of traversal. It remains to be seen if the game has as many fundamental improvements as OlliOlli2, but the few in OlliOlli World’s earlier stages seem like smart additions to its fundamentals.
Those additions in OlliOlli2 were mainly relegated to hardcore players. Grind switching, revert manuals, and more weren’t techniques most people took advantage of due to their advanced nature. Having to nail the timing of landings while also moving the stick in the right way can be tough in the heat of the moment. Creative Director John Ribbins described why the team wanted to appeal to more players in a way that goes beyond adding checkpoints (which the series finally has).
“We had a lot of mechanics like revert manuals in OlliOlli2 that required a lot of player skill to use,” he admitted. “Whereas with OlliOlli World, we’ve tried to have a lot more traversal mechanics that would cover the beginning or entry point of combos. Like wall rides and firecrackers are all things that give you more breadth of what you are doing on just a basic level instead of a really high-level skill. There is still a lot of high-level stuff you can do. But we’re trying to have more things that more people can engage with. Overall, it gives you more variety in how you play a level.”
This goal is part of a broader vision of looking at the sport from a different angle. Ribbins spoke about how OlliOlli originally started as a typical skateboarding dream of succeeding through doing slick tricks and climbing up a steep mountain; a mindset that was present even in the rough prototype he made when he was only 14 years old. Mastering something can feel amazing, but as he grew older, he realized that competition and the constant grind isn’t the only thing that makes skating great.
“Coming back to this [game] was more like, ‘Well, it can be very difficult if you want it to be.’ And you can spend seven hours trying to do pretty hard tricks,” said Ribbins. “But you can also hang out at the car park curb with some friends and just do slappy grinds on it for a couple of hours and that’s super fun. We’re trying to instill a bit of that vibe of skateboarding in this game as well. It’s just a rad thing to do with your friends.”
Words like this mean more coming from Ribbins as he was a sponsored skateboarder. Co-CEO Simon Bennett even insists that Ribbins is quite talented (although Ribbins said he would “disagree in the grand scheme of skateboarders”). Ribbins said anyone of any skill can hang out with each other — as he does with Bennett when the two skate together — and taking a skating road trip is just one of the many ways the activity is fun.
That mentality is a big reason why the game has a posse, NPCs, and a world and is a “fuller experience” now. These were necessary features to make sure the game feels like a fun road trip. There’s a big hype man named Gnarly Mike, Suze the short cameraperson, Chiffon the oddball “Skate Wizard,” and a seemingly older guy named Dad that actually isn’t everyone’s dad (because that would be weird). It’s a collection of unique faces that reinforce that diverse and social nature of skateboarding. They all have a function, too, as Dad owns the cosmetics shop, Mike gives players challenges for every level, Chiffon acts as the checkpoint, and Suze is the Lakitu-like way to personify the game’s camera. Their animations are stilted and jerky, but they have heart.
And while their movements are unappealing, the world is the opposite. OlliOlli World once again moves to a completely different art style and, more remarkably, takes the series into 3D. While it feels exactly like an OlliOlli game, it doesn’t look like one. But it works as its vivid palette of colors are still just as pretty but in a different way. Radlandia is a lovely and bizarre world as its inhabitants range from walking ice cream cones to swole anthropomorphic seagulls. The characters and the added dimension gives the whole world more life in a way not seen in the other titles.
According to Ribbins, these changes were because of the team’s growing skillset and the support from publisher Private Division. Since the art styles have gotten more complex as the years have gone on, 3D just made sense. It was something they had always wanted to do.
But it also has gameplay benefits, too. While the other games dabbled in alternate routes, OlliOlli World is doubling down on them. While paths don’t seem to be labeled, these new tracks can let players unlock side missions or go down harder paths that allow for more gnarly combos or easier ones that more people can play. Ribbins expressed frustration at the anecdotes he heard of people not seeing all the hard work Roll7 put into the game and the multiple routes help address that.
“The fact that we moved to 3D and the levels can be more complex and have more routes and you can find different ways through them means we can still have these routes where you can go off and find the super, super difficult stuff,” he explained. “We will still give you that challenge if you want it. But it also gives us the freedom to make a game that’s as much about exploring that world and enjoy exploring it without having to be a pixel-perfect ninja warrior to get through.”
They make the world feel bigger, which naturally adds replayability and, if it all works out, caters to more skill levels without having traditional difficulty settings. OlliOlli always had challenges that served as optional goals for those that wanted it — and those are still here — but this just builds on top of that.
Some of these routes have optional side missions, which is where the game changes up its flow. For example, one had a frog that opened up a short side level that looped. These unique objectives that range from races to score challenges are peppered throughout the game and offer a twist on the traditional OlliOlli structure. Roll7 prototyped these levels and thought they wouldn’t fit as the main draw but would work well as pace-changing optional tasks. It’s still OlliOlli, but in a slightly different context.
Still being OlliOlli is OlliOlli World’s greatest strength. The impossibly smooth controls, chill atmosphere, high skill ceiling, and amount of possible tricks at any given moment is something consistent across all three games and creates an addictive gameplay loop that doesn’t get old. OlliOlli World only builds on top of that seemingly without sacrificing why it’s already such an amazing skateboarding game. It’s already poised to go down as another skating classic, but opening Radlandia to more people might make it a skating classic for more people and not just the few who conquered RAD Mode last time around.