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Monday, June 24, 2024

OlliOlli World may have talking frogs but it’s still a brutal test of skateboard skill

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The E3 trailer for OlliOlli World was narrated by a frog, so I feel comfortable calling it “a bit whimsical.” The business frog in question, who wears a Hawaiian shirt, introduced the setting of Radlandia—a gorgeous cartoon paradise that’s unlike the pixel-art urban style of previous OlliOlli games. Ice creams and bananas walk along a beach with sandcastles the size of houses, and there’s a forest where the trees have smiling faces and you can wallride across billboards held up by bumblebees. It all looks very Adventure Time and I’m into it.

The build of OlliOlli World I played has both these regions, beachside Sunshine Valley and the forests of Cloverbrook, with room for three more regions on the map. Both of the ones I explore are exactly as advertised. In Sunshine Valley I leap over a pool full of cheering people and try to avoid bursting balloon cats while hopping from one grindable rail to the next. I meet characters like Chiffon the Skate Wizard and Gnarly Mike, who gives me a skate tip when I get to Cloverbrook, saying I should “avoid the weird blue tall frogs”. 

Hidden in some of these quirky levels are characters who give sidequests, like Sloshtar, a fish version of those fortune-telling Zoltar machines at carnivals, and B.B. Hopper, the aforementioned business frog. Finding them means exploring the split routes of OlliOlli World’s newly 2.5D levels, which let you change lanes at junctions, and means you’ll want to replay levels to explore different paths so you can complete specific challenges or find areas where you can earn more points.

The quest-giving NPCs aren’t going to send you off to collect a certain number of wolf bungholes or ask you to throw something into a volcano, however. They just unlock bonus levels on the map where you have to hit a score in a time limit, or cross off a checklist of tricks without stacking it. Which isn’t easy. Not stacking it, that is. While Sunshine Valley is mostly tutorial, by Cloverbrook things step up and I find myself respawning at checkpoints (courtesy of Chiffon the Skate Wizard) a lot.

You perform tricks by flicking the left thumbstick, each direction a basic trick. To do advanced tricks you push in a direction, then rotate before returning to the centre, with different directions and degrees of rotation to pull off different tricks, which is also how you jump. Since gaps are frequent you need to be tricking a lot, while also pushing off in advance so you’ve got enough speed that tricks carry you over the gaps and don’t see you tumble into an abyss or slap a ledge. 

Back in the first OlliOlli you had to press A with precise timing to land each trick, in addition to all that thumbstick manipulation—a fiddly mechanic I’m glad the series ditched. Even without that, it’s still not an easy game, though. As Roll7 co-founder Simon Bennett said in the Future Games Show, “you’re gonna slam a bunch before you succeed.” 

I keep Chiffon the Skate Wizard busy with the respawns, though the bonus levels don’t have checkpoints to respawn at and after I’ve sat through the talking frog or fish introducing them a few times, I give up on the bonus levels.

All the fanciful fantasy stylings make OlliOlli World seem friendly and welcoming, like a children’s book (one level challenges me to “knock a frog off a bee”), and the excellent soundtrack of woozy beats and digital wash are an invitation to Headnod City. But underneath all the chill vibes it’s still the same OlliOlli, a game where you fail and try again and fail and try again until you either master it or your thumbs give up in protest, detach themselves from your hands, put on tiny hats and grab their briefcases, walk out the door and go to live in the woods where they’ll befriend a bird or maybe fox—but definitely not a talking frog.

OlliOlli World is out this winter on Steam.

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