Roll7's stripped-back charmer returns - and clever tweaks ensure that it's capturing the glory of skateboarding better than ever.
It's clear to anybody with a knowledge of skateboarding that the team behind the original OlliOlli understood the sport at the centre of their game.
Roll7's console debut, despite abstracting its subject matter into a 2D twitch side-scroller, captured the rhythm and flow of skateboarding, right down to its use of kinetic energy and the sheer presence of those landings. Retreating from realism, OlliOlli got closer to what is at the heart of skateboarding than most other games could dream of. And it happened to be a damn fine example of modern twitch, too.
A little over a year later, and OlliOlli's sequel is here. Much will be overtly familiar to those who lost hours to the first game, as Roll7 have wisely taken the path of refinement. Even so, it's worth heading back in.
OlliOlli2: Welcome to Olliwood takes its name from a new setting: a movie studio tour that justifies a range of visual styles, from Westerns to science fiction. It's all delivered with a subtly reworked aesthetic, the pixel art-leanings of the original OlliOlli, replaced by smoother, cleaner lines.
The result is a more polished, attractive game, even as, mechanically, much remains familiar. Once again, OlliOlli2 delivers a collection of short levels, spread along a meticulously plotted difficulty curve that makes its way from accessible to distinctly challenging across 50 core stages. Pushing the difficulty further still is 'Rad' mode, available to those that can meet a taxing list of unlock requirements.
The elegant control system of the first game also returns, borrowing from the conventions of arcade fighters as much as the tricks used in EA's Skate series. Stick rotations take skater from crouched, coiled spring through the trick and back to the ground, before a well-timed stab of the X button secures that landing and the speed at which the board rolls on. Initially, like skateboarding itself, it can feel somewhat counterintuitive, but OlliOlli2's controls swiftly reveal themselves as a superb way to weave together linked sets of flips, grinds, and several newly introduced tricks.
To merely clear an OlliOlli2 stage and unlock the next - at least within the bounds of the opening 25 'Amateur' stages - is a fairly simple business. Making it to the finish line without crashing to the ground is enough to get by on, and this alone provides an enjoyable, simple experience with a handful of standout moments. The true game, however, lies elsewhere, lurking within the 'Challenges', five of which are assigned to each level.
These range from scoring goals and lists of required tricks, to treasure hunts and sadistic time constraints. Passing a level's five Challenges opens up its harder cousins in Pro and then Rad mode, and even by the later Amateur stages, they will test the mettle of the hardiest of twitch and arcade gamers.
What makes the Challenges so good is that, like the most thoughtful Trophies and Achievements, they encourage exploration of the full sweep of OlliOlli2's systems, engendering a variety of play-styles and gently nudging the player towards a true understanding of the game. Some Challenges serve as a masterclass in speed management, for example, control of which is crucial as the game enters its Pro chapter. Others counter bad habits, pulling the player away from falling back on the same tricks and grinds for every run. The Challenges are OlliOlli2's guiding hand and cruel master.
If the Challenges collectively have a little more intelligence in this sequel, they're backed up by new tricks, and most significantly the debut of the manual - an update which divided the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater audience when introduced to that series in 2000.
For those not au fait with skateboarding parlance, a manual is a 'wheelie' - a trick where you roll along on just the front or back two wheels. Revert manuals are also introduced, adding a 180 degree rotation into the movement, upping both complexity and scoring potential in tandem.
In OlliOlli2, manuals manifest themselves as a more elaborate landing technique that can be used to traverse stretches of open ground. Holding back or forward on the stick while pressing X to land is all that's needed. But in a game of such speed, where furious stick movements are required to wring maximum points from every second, nailing solid manuals that don't sap energy presents a definite challenge.
And the two forms of manual have a significant impact that echoes that seen in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2. By allowing players to link chains of tricks across areas of flat ground, Roll7 has enabled spiralling score multipliers.
The manual has a largely positive impact on the world of OlliOlli2, particularly because they are just testing enough to not undermine creative scoring - as they arguably did for Hawk. As combos build, so does the tension, upping the sense of reward as a firm puff of unconsciously held breath signals a successful conclusion to a 75-trick chain, stitched together with manuals.
A cynic could argue that mechanically manuals offer but another form of grind, of course, although they certainly feel different, and subtly tweak the rhythm and energy of movement. That said, the manuals can lend the game a slightly obsessive focus on clearing stages in a single combo, too, even if the Challenges' knack for encouraging diversity of gameplay somewhat offsets this.
A scattering of other new tricks have also been added to OlliOlli2's 'Tricktionary'. To the untrained eye they may appear to be just another way for a deck to tumble about beneath the skater's feet, but they all provide a universal opportunity to push scores a little higher and explore subtle extensions to the control system. The level design also hits a new high, presenting more sophisticated stages that are at their best when tasking the player with puzzles tackled at lightning pace. OlliOlli2's platforms and rails are a gradually learned language that insists upon fluency. Improvements here have been subtle, but you will notice them over time.
OlliOlli2 remains very faithful to the template its forbearer set, down to the additional Spot and Daily Grind additional modes that focus attention on deliberately brief scoring challenges. Cautious as its updates initially seem, it is another superb twitch game, obsessed with the currencies of difficulty, speed and score. Best of all, it manages to capture so much of the movement and feel of skateboarding without ostracising players who have never touched a board in real life.