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Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

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Flowzone takes OlliOlli World into the clouds

World 5: Skyland.

OlliOlli World's last DLC brought in aliens and anti-gravity beams and made me think of the Mario Galaxy games, particularly in the way that its levels seemed to push at the edges of what a platforming or skating level could be. These were high-wire acts, some of them dauntingly sparse. And yet once you came to understand what was demanded of you, there turned out to be ample room for showboating, points-hording, and self-expression, the last element being the thing that OlliOlli World is really all about.

The new DLC made me think of Mario too, but a much earlier incarnation. I can still remember the time I reached Sky Land, or World 5, in Super Mario 3. I explored the map and then swooped up into the air, where I found the second half of the world's challenges nestled within clouds.

This is Finding the Flowzone. It takes OlliOlli World and thrusts you up into the clouds. There's even a new overworld map that sits above the original one. I absolutely believe that some kind of folk memory of Mario 3 was in play when this all came together. It feels new and exciting, but it also feels like coming home. Flowzone - spoilers - is completely rad.

Finding the Flowzone is the new OlliOlli World DLC.Watch on YouTube

Alongside a new boss, a bunch of new levels, trickier routes and all that jazz, the big addition here is the wind. Gust patches, each labeled clearly with an arrow displaying the direction of flow, are scattered across the map. They can give you an almighty boost if you race through them and you're already going in that direction. They can lift you up into the sky if they're coming in from below. But the game's best use of gusts is to point them in the opposing direction. Weird, but it works.

They operate like switch backs, and they give Flowzone levels a unique shape, and almost a sense of being a mechanical object. You swing one way, are immediately gusted back, and find that the route that you just traversed has been quietly transformed. You're headed back the way you came, but it's all different - higher, lower, allowing for new connections.

This is ingenious stuff, and reminds me that OlliOlli World's level designers are really some of the best out there. More than that, though, a sort of theme emerges from these levels. Not a story theme, but a preoccupation in terms of what you're doing. Flowzone is all about keeping your momentum at the forefront of your thinking, ensuring you are travelling fast enough to connect with spare pieces of land sticking out of the clouds, but also ensuring you're not travelling so fast that you overshoot everything.

Finding the Flowzone
Finding the Flowzone is a beauty.

I know: this has always been part of OlliOlli World. But here it's the main event. Each level I play I'm thinking about how to modulate speed and momentum, how to open up different routes and make different connections, and how, ultimately, to use the gust patches rather than being used by them.

The reason for these different routes is not just the desire to rack up greater scores, either. Flowzone unlocks new levels by making you collect fragments of map hidden in the levels you already have access to. It's great to connect with a map fragment, but actually it's even better to be coasting to the finish line and see a map fragment that you simply have no idea how to get to.

Flowzone feels like a fond goodbye to this magnificent game, a game that has eaten so much of my life over the last year. It's challenging beyond anything I've encountered so far, and it also brings so many of the threads of OlliOlli together. In new configurations, of course, because Roll7 wouldn't have it any other way. What a game.