I spent the whole time editing this podcast on a yoga ball. So Gabe, I get you.
Back in the late nineties, I developed a lifelong obsession for extreme sports. Ever since my cousin introduced me to Cool Boarders 2 on the PS1, I’ve played every major extreme sports release to hit home consoles, from the highs of 1080º Snowboarding, SSX, and the early Tony Hawk games, to the lows of BMX XXX and Shaun White Skateboarding. All the while I was cursing the fact that I wasn’t lucky enough to grow up in the Swiss Alps or down the street from a Californian skate park, though if I had I’d probably be too busy being in traction from attempting in vain to qualify for the Winter X-Games to play OlliOlli 2.
The point I’m trying to make here is that OlliOlli 2 scratches an itch for me that hasn’t been scratched since, well, OlliOlli. We’ve long since passed the heyday of the extreme sports genre, and in many ways OlliOlli 2 feels like a throwback to the days of Tony Hawk and Dave Mirra more than it feels like it’s grinding along with contemporaries like Skate or Stoked. That’s not to say that realistic simulations of extreme sports don’t have their place, they certainly do, but it does mean that OlliOlli 2 eschews that in favor of serving up some heart-pounding old-school fun, and as a man with a history of basing work holidays around X-Games events that’s everything I could ask for in an era where these games simply don’t come out of the big studios anymore. Oh, and did I mention it’s free?
The original OlliOlli was one of the first games I picked up last year when I got my Vita, and one of the few games for that system to kept me coming back, day after day, and it’s sequel gives no indication that it’ll be any different. Much like it’s predecessor, OlliOlli 2 is a perfect game to play while listening to a podcast, traveling to work on the train, or even just when you’ve got ten minutes to kill between other, more time-consuming duties. It’s a simple game in concept, and remarkably easy to pick-up-and-play with a control system that only uses the left stick, X button and bumpers.
The left stick controls your tricks. You can pre-load them by holding it down and then flicking to jump into a trick, or just flick it to do your basic ollie, kickflip and heelflip, while correctly following up with a press of the X button lands the trick. You can also use the bumpers to spin in the air for extra points, but the game never actually explains this mechanic to you until near the very end. The addition of manuals and reverts to the tried and true OlliOlli formula allows you to chain together longer, higher-scoring combos, and while the reverts are easy to learn, it took me a little while to perfect the manuals. Once I did though, they became second nature, and I was pulling them off without even thinking. A less thrilling addition are switch grinds, which allow you to switch from one grind to another seamlessly (in theory). Unfortunately, the system the game uses for these is a little finicky, and there’s times when it simply doesn’t work. It’s not overly frustrating or anything, but it’s something that could’ve been tightened up a little bit. That said, the rush you get when you successful land a combo spanning an entire level is nothing short of being blissful. When OlliOlli 2 is at it’s best, it’s pure adrenaline in much the same way a perfect run from the summit of Big Mountain to it’s base in SSX 3 was.
The crisp controls are complemented by excellent level design, with movie sets, wild west towns, zombie roller-coaster parks, Aztec ruins and robot themed levels offering great variety, and a ton of nice little touches to give each of them their own little flavor, especially when combined with the game’s awesome 2D graphics and a joyful electronic soundtrack that never overshadows anything, but offers the perfect complement of the on-screen action. Guns and fireworks go off, a biohazard crew watches you bust out some sick grinds, and celebrity-obsessed movie fans wait to catch a glimpse of you as you bail, and bail, and bail some more.
That’s the thing about OlliOlli 2: you’re going to bail, and you’re going to do so often. The game’s extremely challenging, and punishes every mistake you make. It may seem like a strange comparison to make, but in many ways OlliOlli 2 is the extreme sports version of something like Dark Souls: every little mistake is punished, but it never feels cheap or unfair. When you crash, you know why you crashed, you know what mistake you made, and you know how to correct it next time. You crash, you hit the triangle button, and you’re right back on your board instantaneously. The game’s load times are phenomenally quick save for one very long load screen at the start of the game, and this ensures that the flow is never broken, which is important because, like I said, you’re gonna bail. A lot.
OlliOlli 2 moves fast. Each run might take you maybe 45 seconds, but they’ll be some of the best 45 seconds of your gaming life. It’s as addictive as a video game comes, and whether you need to simply kill time on the way to work or you want an hour to disappear in the blink of an eye, OlliOlli 2 is a killer app for the Vita. Extreme sports afficionados probably didn’t need the encouragement to begin with, but if for some reason you do, then OlliOlli 2 is mandatory; no exceptions. And hey, if you’ve got PS Plus, it’s free. What the heck are you waiting for?