Fourteen long years ago, I was in my first year at Hull University. The bleakness of the long winter days was alleviated by only two things. Booze and Tony Hawks Pro Skater 2. Entire nights were spent with between three and eight people clustered around a CRT monitor, desperate to smash the last person's high score on Hangar.
Halcyon days indeed. Since then however, it could be argued skate games (with one or two exceptions) have been universally rubbish. I have spent 14 years waiting for a game to whisk me back to that bygone age, and with OlliOlli by Jove I think I've found it.
Here's the rub. Although I compared OlliOlli to the mighty THPS2, if you go in expecting similar levels of ridiculous action, infinite grinds and guest appearances by Spiderman, you will be disappointed. If you are looking for a perfectly balanced skate game that can make hours disappear like seconds and leave you begging for one more go, you will be a very happy camper indeed.
The levels in OlliOlli are around 350m long. In this short distance, you have to smash as many grinds and tricks as possible to rack up a high score. Furthermore, as I'm sure Uncle Ben would've said, a great combo is nothing without a great landing. The only thing that annihilates points faster than a sloppy landing is an out an out bail, which ends your run. Even a 'sick' landing appears to diminish a combo's score by at least two thirds. Sketchy grinds suck away momentum, and a lack of momentum is tantamount to failing.
The emphasis therefore is on precision. Nail landings, nail grinds. In between these two core ideas fit the tricks. Mix them up for maximum pointage. No-one likes to see a 360 varial heelflip repeated over and over again, so quit it. For me, this is where OlliOlli really shines. A massive range of moves, mapped to a stick and a couple of buttons. Flicking the left stick upwards launches an ollie, and variations on this theme activate other tricks. Quarter and half-circles, clockwise and anti-clockwise all launch more complex tricks and grinds. Add LB and RB as modifiers, and you have a huge moveset in a few simple commands. Smash the A button at the right moment to land the combo, and roll off into the digital sunset with a high score under your belt.
If that were the end of it, we would already have a pretty slick game. There is more though. Each level is divided into 5 parts, with both amateur and pro goals. Maybe it's a certain score in a combo, or grinding five successive ledges, or doing an entire run without a grind and still scoring 10,000 points, some are easy and some are definitely going to keep you coming back time and time again. Add in an online leaderboard and a daily challenge (one shot, don't choke) and you have a recipe for a skate game that sucks you in and doesn't let you go until your palms are sweaty and your eyeballs are dry.
As tradition dictates, no skate game shall be complete without a banging soundtrack. OlliOlli steps up again, with a couple of Ninja Tune alumni, some cool beats, and one massive track from the Qemists, which I swear always makes me skate better when it comes on.
So there it is. Slick controls, addictive gameplay and awesome music. If that doesn't sound like the best skating videogame experience of modern times, you're probably a rollerblader.