OlliOlli2 Review (PS4)
Last year's skateboarding sensation, OlliOlli, just lost its spot atop the podium, and stepped down to the silver medal in Sony's ongoing competition for the title of “most difficult game” on the PlayStation Network.
Developer Roll7's award-winning rookie run left a lasting imprint upon many gamers' thumbs during 2014. And if the original OlliOlli's blistering gameplay was the equivalent of slamming out speedy guitar rhythms on the bottom four strings for an angry thrash band, then executing OlliOlli 2's amped-up repertoire of tricks feels like playing lead guitar for a prog supergroup on a double-neck Stratocaster using two separate tunings.
New techniques like grind switches, reverts, and manuals have significantly altered how OlliOlli 2 must be played, if users still want to make chart-topping music from the familiar "Tricktionary" of flips, spins, and slides. The sequel's expanded skating mechanics allow for more creativity and flexibility in how gamers achieve the seven-digit sums that are required to complete all 50 Career mode courses. But as in the first OlliOlli, pixel-perfect timing is still the most valuable skill for scoring big. Misjudging the final jump in a hundred-move combo can drop your total by several million points, just as clumsy fingering might make an impressive sequence of sweep-picking and two-handed tapping sound like unrecognizable slop.
Players with enough patience and persistence to endure OlliOlli 2's grueling growing pains will -- with practice -- stop smashing their pixelized face against the pavement, and start discovering what makes this series so rewarding and addicting.
Stomping out a clean, mistake-free run stimulates your brain cells, and injects a feeling of triumph into your bloodstream, similar to nailing a series of challenging guitar licks in a single take. And I don't mean one of those sappy Creed or Godsmack solos, where the guitarist slowly bends a handful of sustained notes with his wah pedal or his whammy bar. I'm talking about a rapid-fire eruption of notes, like you'd hear from Eddie Van Halen or DragonForce.
In the minute (or less) that it takes to finish a typical OlliOlli 2 track, your controller will have registered around 100 to 200 button presses, with only a split-second elapsing between each input. That's enough speed and intricacy to make even Yngwie Malmsteen jealous.
If your eyes stop to blink, or your brain begins to think, then your nameless skater is bound to become a broken, bloody mess, littering the bottom of the screen, with his gray sneakers hanging over his head like a scorpion's tail. That punishment painfully repeats, any time that your hands betray your training. If a thumb slips, or a finger stalls, then it's time to hit Triangle, let loose an exasperated sigh/swear, and try "once again, from the top." Unlike in actual skateboarding, success in OlliOlli 2 won't come from studying the path in front of you and plotting a winning course. There's simply no time for strategizing when the screen is scrolling this fast. Instead, Roll7's latest take on skateboarding is a contest of muscle memory and object recognition. See blue ledge, queue command for manual. Spot orange rail, input unused grind. Notice yellow traffic cone, flick joystick to leap over.
I have to imagine that most people downloading the game this month (while it's still free via Sony's PlayStation Plus program) will never reach that point of nirvana, where your brain's autopilot activates, and all of your thoughts become clouded, as your hands subconsciously respond to the blurry, neon-tinted road ahead. I suspect many players -- even some who are super prideful/super dedicated -- will shut down the application and mercifully click "delete" somewhere around the third or fourth world. Because that's when OlliOlli 2 starts demanding that its levels be beaten in one unbroken, minute-long combo, without screwing up a single time. Pretend that some Harmonix employee mistakenly shipped Guitar Hero II with only two difficulty settings: “Expert” and “No Faults Allowed,” and that's basically what Roll7's staff decided to do for OlliOlli 2. The Career mode seems specifically designed for hardcore fans of the first game, and as a result, it fails to grant series newcomers enough time to get their chops up to speed.
While Roll7's newly built “Skate Park” does show beginners how to use each maneuver in an isolated, obstacle-free environment, it doesn't teach newbies how to string together the many elements of a high-scoring run. And during the hurried, "SKATE OR DIE!" adrenaline rush of a standard OlliOlli stage, maintaining unflappable finesse under extreme pressure is a skill that few people will be able to master, without subjecting themselves to thousands of frustrating faceplants. Essentially, the developers have failed to recognize the fact that, while lots of people can walk into Guitar Center and strum a couple of chords, or stumble through several scales, not many people can put together a smooth, spotless guitar solo.
+ Controls mimic the foot motions of skateboarding; Chill soundtrack and soft pastel graphics; Four new methods of building your trick multiplier
- Career objectives become too challenging too soon; Only five environments to skate through; Split-screen multiplayer not available at launch
Bottom Line: Do you enjoy brutally demanding games like Battletoads, Ghosts 'N Goblins, Contra, Dark Souls, and Spelunky? If so, collect your free PS+ download, and safely pass go. If not, Operation Sports refuses liability for any damage that OlliOlli 2 may cause to your hands, your controllers, and/or your entertainment center.