Few games establish a sense of flow quite like OlliOlli. The combination gnarly skate tricks, wild combos, high-speed traversal, and platformer level design—Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater by way of Rayman Origins, if you want to get reductive—is a rush that only ramps up as you master its intricacies. This is every bit as true of OlliOlli World, but rather than trying too hard to one-up a core loop that was nigh perfect already, it looks to expand outwards, to take OlliOlli into a whole new world.
Where OlliOlli and OlliOlli 2 featured levels that were slick but mostly unconnected, thematically, World invites players to Radlandia: an unorthodox fantasy world reminiscent of Adventure Time‘s Ooo, if everyone in Ooo dedicated their time to busting out laser flips and grinding through the toxic wastes of a factory district. The five Skate Godz watch over the land, and as a prospective new god-representing Skate Wizard—a fully customisable skater, this time—you set out on a pilgrimage to meet these elusive deities and find Gnarvana.
It’s a fun concept that instils a welcome sense of adventure, with an intriguing world to discover and a host of eccentric locals to meet. It lays the groundwork for some remarkable settings: from a dreamy, nostalgia-laden riff on the early days of with “sidewalk surfing” around sunny, boardwalk-covered waterfronts, to a sprawling forest full of giant bees, strange critters, and a Yggdrasil-like tree at its heart. It’s a far cry from the previous games’ urban designs—there wasn’t anything wrong with those, but this is a nice change of pace, tied together with calming pastel palettes and a limited suite of colours used to mesmerising effect.
The story attached to this new setting is less remarkable, though. The Gnarvana pilgrimage works as a framing device for the skating action, and with its host of oddball characters, comes with plenty of potential for an entertaining romp. It never gets there, though, with the narrative component amounting to brief, irreverent conversations and non-existent plot: you finish the last level of a region, you meet a Skate God who shares something meant to be a comedic form of wisdom, and then you move on to the next one.
An intricate plot isn’t the only way to tell a story, of course, but OlliOlli World has little else to fill that void. The characters, eccentric as they are, lack any sort of real substance. Each design concept seems to begin and end with a quirky way of talking and an outfit to match—they’re fun, at first, but quickly lose their novelty. Without anything more substantial to carry it through, those cutscenes that play at irreverence end up being forgettable and mildly annoying, and the lack of personality or emotional drive means the road trip vibe that the game tries to build never clicks. I doubt many people come to an OlliOlli game for its story, but World sets itself for something more than it can achieve.
On the other hand, the setting lends itself to some wonderful level design—which has always been one of OlliOlli‘s biggest strengths. Sunshine Valley is a little reminiscent of the previous games, in design philosophy if not presentation, with its boardwalks and grind rails laying out paths for your raddest tricks and combos. But from there, things take go in a bunch of different directions: Cloverbrook’s snakelike boughs and plentiful “Save the Bees” billboards emphasise speed, fluidity, and lengthy grinds; precarious machinery and jagged edges in Sketchside’s industrial wasteland put big jumps and quick reactions at the centre. That core OlliOlli flow runs through everything, and you’re always going to be chaining grinds, flips, grabs, and manuals as you barrel along a course at breakneck speed, but the way each different zone reinterprets those central roles is impressive.
OlliOlli World bounces off those ideas with some neat new innovations: namely, wall rides and much more branching within levels. Wall rides are more than just a way to extend a combo and rack up some extra points; they’re a way of getting a little bit of extra air out of a jump or altering your trajectory just so. And because OlliOlli is a platformer as much as it is a skating game, you can bet that levels are full or billboards carefully placed to encourage just that, whether that’s in the form of a giant wall to trace down to the next rail or a series of little posters to kick off in rapid succession. Momentum is such a big part of OlliOlli, and wall rides add a new dynamic to that.
OlliOlli 2 experimented a little with levels that diverge at certain points, but World takes that to new extremes. Levels with multiple two- or three-way branches are common, creating dozens of possible routes—some harder, some easier, some just different for the sake of variety—from start to finish. Some of the branches are clear-cut, with sections where you can hit a button to change lanes; others require a bit more attention to hidden details or precision play to nail a borderline-impossible jump. So many different paths means so many different ways of crafting a perfect run, so many different ways to chase ever higher scores, and—perhaps most importantly—so many different things to experiment with. And make no mistake: the later levels, especially, push all of these new ideas to their limits, amounting to some of the most thrilling skate-coasters you’ll find.
Building off those branching levels and the more adventure-driven framing, World also introduces sidequests. By finding hidden NPCs within certain levels (including Danny Trejo, in a particularly fun cameo), you can unlock secret levels and new challenges. They don’t dramatically alter the game, but they add to the sense of exploration and discovery, and offer fun little distractions from the standard loop of trying to master each level. The challenges themselves, both in sidequests and the standard optional goals in regular levels, play off the comic-fantasy setting lends—there’s nothing quite like going out of your way to avoid touching all the ghosts in a level or finding a bunch of frogs to bop on your way past. With skater customisation, challenges come with far more tangible rewards: new clothes, decks, and other gear to express your style.
And when you do find Gnarvana? You get to enjoy a functionally limitless number of new levels, procedurally generated from different elements, with control over difficulty level, length of the course, and which theme it draws from. Procedural levels aren’t always going to be as good as the handcrafted ones in the main game, but there’s plenty of fun to be found here (and when you luck on to a truly great one, you can save it as a favourite and/or share its “postcode” with other friends).
At the heart of all this, though, OlliOlli World is classic OlliOlli. It’s part combo-centric skating game, part momentum-driven platformer, part arcade-style score chaser that rewards mastery and experimentation. All these pieces come together wonderfully, and those moments when you’re grinding along a tree branch or the spine of some monstrous skeleton in the desert, clinging to your perfect combo and praying you nail the landing, are pure adrenaline. New tricks, new gimmicks, and an intriguing new setting add a lot to an already strong core, and there’s more room for expression and a lower skill floor, but OlliOlli World is still the absolute rush OlliOlli has always been.
Publisher: Private Division
Genre: Sports, platformer, action
Platforms: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC
Release date: 8 February 2022
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.