Skateboarding has always been a great fit for video games.
That’s partly because the trick-based nature of the sport marries perfectly with high score-chasing and memorising complex button inputs, but we suspect it also has a lot to do with wish fulfilment.
Everyone would like to be good at skateboarding in real life, but getting there usually means enduring a lot of pain and more than one trip to A&E. Skating games can give you the thrill of varial heelflipping down a flight of stairs with you worrying about the possible fractured wrist waiting at the bottom.
And while we’re on the subject of wishing, how we wish we could go skateboarding in OlliOlli World’s Radlandia. The first two OlliOlli entries (the first of which beat the likes of FIFA to a gaming BAFTA in the sport category) were excellent 2D skateboarding games with clever controls and a developer in the UK-based Roll7 that clearly understood how to bring the sense of flow-state so integral to real-life skateboarding into its virtual interpretation. But they also got very hard, very quickly.
It’s pretty clear that the idea for OlliOlli World was to take the building blocks of the first two titles and put them into a more welcoming game that everyone can enjoy. Gone are the deliberately drab real world-inspired urban landscapes (which isn’t to say we didn’t dig the pixel art graphics in the first game), and in their place the brightly coloured fever dream that is Radlandia, while a few tweaks to the central mechanics make for a more accessible skateboarding action-platformer.
But don’t let the cartoonish visuals fool you. While OlliOlli World is undoubtedly Roll7’s friendliest skate ‘em up yet, it’s as hardcore as you want it to be, and easily one of the most moreish skateboarding games we’ve ever played.
Welcome to Radlandia
Although it’s still very much about attempting to make a mockery of the laws of physics on a plank of wood, OlliOlli World is a fairly radical departure from the two games that preceded it. It actually features a narrative of sorts and takes place in a world that rivals the Mushroom Kingdom for weird and wonderful sights.
Aesthetically, Radlanida is probably best described as THPS meets Adventure Time. Everything in this wonderfully off-kilter cartoon fantasyland is designed around skateboarding, and its inhabitants (Radlandians?) dream of being skate wizards, their mastery of the art form acknowledged by the skate godz watching over them from the realm of Gnarvana. No, really.
You’re joined on your quest to become the next skate wizard by a gang of fellow skaters, one of whom everyone for some reason just calls “Dad”. They act as both teachers and tour guides as you travel the five biomes, and while their constant babbling before each level can get a bit grating, the game wisely lets you skip the dialogue entirely if you just want to get grinding.
What never gets tedious, though, is exploring Radlandia itself. The first biome, Sunshine Valley, is a holiday-resort-cum-Nickelodeon-daydream, where bananas have legs and the ice creams sunbathe. Deer and oversized frog-like river dwellers watch as you pass through the trees and tree-sized mushrooms that make up the forests of Cloverbrook, while in the vast canyons of Burntrock you grind dinosaur skeletons with smiling cactuses as spectators. Every area is an imagination-rich doodle of a place with its own distinct colour scheme, and they’re all gorgeous to look at.
As you progress through the story campaign you’ll occasionally take on sidequests from characters you meet along the way. There is one brilliant celebrity cameo that nobody will see coming unless they’ve already read about it on the internet. In case you haven’t, we won’t spoil it here.
Skate or try
When it comes to controlling your skater, OlliOlli World plays very similarly to its predecessors. You move automatically across the screen, gaining speed by pushing. To perform tricks and grind ledges and rails you flick and rotate the left analogue stick in different directions, rotate your character using the triggers and grab using the right analogue stick.
Seasoned Tony Hawk’s players who have spent years perfecting combos using face buttons might initially find the emphasis on the sticks jarring, but you’ll soon get the hang of it. Roll7 has been perfecting its control system for three games now, and it shows. OlliOlli World just feels incredibly good to play, especially when you start to visualise more advanced tricks as you approach a ramp and see them come off as you intended.
In previous OlliOlli games (and much like in actual skateboarding) you were quite heavily hindered in your runs by sloppy landings, but OlliOlli World all but does away with that system. You’re going to crash and bail a lot in this game, but almost entirely due to obstacle collisions, lack of speed and bad timing, rather than how you land tricks. Even if you mess up a spin at the last second the game will ensure you keep rolling. This hand-holding tweak could have alienated more hardcore players, but you’ll still get better scores for jamming the A (we mostly played on Switch) button right as you (perfectly) land, and believe us when we say that when the platforming starts to ramp up you’ll be be grateful that you have one less thing to worry about.
As you progress through Radlandia’s five biomes you’ll have to master wall rides, direction-changing quarter pipes and crystals that you must grab your board in order to smash through, as well as the standard grind rails and kicker ramps, with different obstacles arriving on the screen at a breakneck pace. The game is as much about environmental mastery as it is tricks and scores, each level a puzzle of traversal and timing. Oh, and one has you race a bear down a river. Because why not?
And while this is still a side-scrolling skateboarding game, the new 2.5D visuals allows for branching paths, with “Gnarly Routes” unsurprisingly giving your thumbs and fingers a more strenuous workout. OlliOlli World is anything but lacking in challenge, and that’s before you start attempting to use manuals to chain massive combos together. We should say that we played most of the game on the Switch OLED in handheld mode, and at times the game zooms out so much that it becomes difficult to see exactly what your little skate hero is doing. But when retrying is so much fun anyway, it bothered us little to see our beanie-wearing daredevil meet his unfortunate demise yet again.
Never bored, always board
OlliOlli World’s many levels would be endlessly replayable even if the game offered no real incentive to do so, but that’s not the case. Although to see the game through you only really need to reach the finish line on each one, (even better if you do so unscathed and without needing to use one of the generous checkpoints), Dad also sets you missions, which might involve specific tricks, but are also regularly about getting acquainted with the freakish local wildlife. There are also your fellow skaters’ scores to beat, which naturally get higher the further you get into the game.
Doing so unlocks new wardrobe options in OlliOlli World’s delightful and extensive character creator, as well as new deck designs, wheels and trucks for your skateboard. Personal style and freedom of expression is a massive part of real-life skateboarding and it really does add to the appeal of this game, too. We initially went for a clean s/s shirt and tracksuit bottoms combo, but good luck resisting the urge to at least temporarily outfit your skater in an ice cream sundae hat, or later on a full-on bee suit.
We barely touched the Gnarvana League, the online multiplayer mode that lets you compete with other players for the best score on a level. It does feel a bit bare at the moment but that should change when the severs start to fill up. There’s also the Grarvana Portal, which randomly generates levels according to your selected conditions in any area you’ve unlocked. Simply put, if its loop clicks with you, this game will be one you keep coming back to for months.
OlliOlli World verdict
OlliOlli World is that rarest of things: a game that is never less than extremely enjoyable to play, even when you’re failing at it, and one you can’t stop thinking about playing when you’re not.
Roll7 took a gamble by making the fundamental gameplay more forgiving and therefore arguably less like the sport that the first two OlliOlli games replicated the feeling of so impressively. But that sense of zen-like flow state is still absolutely central to World, and if anything its tendency to keep you on your board allows you to appreciate the superb animation and innovative control system even more.
Radlandia, meanwhile, is just a joyous virtual world in which to spend time. True, you’re usually going too fast and thinking too much about what you need to do to perform a 360 laser flip into a frontside smith grind to really take it all in, but all the more reason to revisit its pastel-coloured levels until you’ve squeezed every bit of fun out of them.
And we haven’t even mentioned the superb soundtrack, an assortment of laid-back, toe-tapping and always on-vibe electronic and hip-hop beats handpicked by the studio. Headphones or a decent sound setup are recommended.
OlliOlli World is not only one of the most accomplished arcade skateboarding games we’ve played, but it’s one of the best action-platformers in years, too. The frenetic pace of later levels mean mistimed leaps and spectacular crashes are inevitable, but like actual skateboarding and, well, life in general, overcoming failure makes success all the sweeter.
Time to don some daft sunglasses and become a wizard.
This brilliant skateboarding platformer is an early contender for game of the year
Excellent control system
Gorgeous to look at
More welcoming than the previous games
Lengthy campaign and lots of replayability
Occasionally hard to keep track of your skater on screen
Written dialogue isn’t the most engaging