It's easy to drop an hour or two into OlliOlli World without even realizing it. Send your cartoony character careening down one of its brightly colored 2.5D skateboarding courses and you might find yourself trying again and again to nail a tough jump, or discover the right pathway to slip into a background portion of the level and unveil new secrets. It's a game that invites you in with catchy music and a lighthearted art style, but can quickly make time evaporate as you fight to complete one last challenge, hit one last high score, or beat one last rival.
The balance between chill and intense, between losing yourself in the skating flow and feeling like you need to check off every challenge the game can throw at you, is a precarious one. What makes OlliOlli World so good is that it manages to nail that balance, providing a bunch of different experiences even on the same course. You can take the more carefree approach, nailing tricks here and there and just enjoying the ride, since merely getting to the end of a level allows you to advance to the next. Or, you can make the game feel as hardcore as its predecessors, the often-punishing 2D arcade skaters OlliOlli and OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood. Developer Roll7's top-flight level design makes this a game that supports a variety of approaches to playing it, improving on the things that were fun about the earlier games in the franchise, while opening up the formula to new ideas.
In the past, OlliOlli games have tried to focus on the technical difficulty of skateboarding, translating that into button movements on a controller that require precise actions and timing. OlliOlli World, somewhat mercifully, pulls back those demands. As in the series' earlier games, tricks are performed by moving your controller's left analog stick in specific ways, not too unlike the special moves of a fighting game. As your tricks get more advanced, they also become more complex, with grinds also requiring you to push the left analog stick, grabs added to the right stick, and spins on the shoulder buttons.
In older OlliOlli games, however, the most important part of it all was the landing, which you'd have to stick by pressing a button in time with your character hitting the ground. Blow it, and you'd blow the trick, falling and forcing a reset. The landing timing still exists in OlliOlli World, but it's not essential for actually staying on your board. Instead, your character automatically lands almost all of their tricks, provided you're coming down on a flat, stable surface. You still have to hold the analog stick in a certain direction to execute a grind, and hitting stairs or an obstacle, for instance, will trip you up. If you do hit the right timing on a landing, you earn bonus points for your run's score.
Roll7 has said that, with OlliOlli World, it was looking to make a more welcoming entry in the series, and this certainly hits that mark. It's possible to finish the game without ever really leaning into the most advanced moves or challenges the game has to offer, and the removal of the landing requirement to stay standing makes it fully reasonable to complete the game even if you're not an OlliOlli pro. It can still be a tough, challenging game that tests your skateboarding skills and timing along the way, but it's not so hard that the difficulty tends to act as a gatekeeper. And that's a change that makes OlliOlli World all the more fun and inviting, and encourages skill-building even more.
The other major change from earlier OlliOlli games is that this one has characters and a narrative, although it's fairly thin. You travel around the skateboarding haven of Radlandia with the goal of honing your skills to become the next skate wizard--a sort of skater guru who brings balance between the people of Radlandia and the heavenly skate gods who created the land. There are a variety of other skaters to meet along the way who, along with your small crew of companions, mostly exist to encourage you.
It's not an especially deep story and the characters mostly hang around to be funny and cute, but these little additions pair well with the generalized sense that OlliOlli World is a game about having some relaxed fun, regardless of how intensely you get into it. The skate wizard story and its characters are consistent reminders that this is about the experience, rather than your score. You never encounter negative people, or find yourself goaded into competition. You can do as much or as little as you want. You can run a course until you know every inch of it, or you can take your time and enjoy the scenery, and both approaches are equally viable for reaching your goal of becoming a skate wizard. OlliOlli World excels at feeling like a place where you're hanging out, as much as you are taking on its arcade challenge.
That atmosphere lends itself to providing lots of different ways to engage with OlliOlli World, and the variety results in it feeling like it offers a whole lot of opportunities and content. Most of the game's courses have multiple pathways through them hidden in their backgrounds, which you can sometimes access by hitting a button at the right time to "change lanes," and sometimes have to find by completing a quick jump or riding a less-obvious or hard-to-reach grind rail that deposits you in a new place. The more hidden routes are sometimes designated "Gnarly" to point out that they're tougher, and they'll usually help you attain higher scores. But these routes can also lead you to characters who bring you to additional side quest levels or are necessary to complete a course's three special challenges, which range from doing specific tricks at key moments to popping inflatable pool toys or avoiding hitting specific objects. Even if you're not interested in topping the leaderboard for every level, there's plenty of engaging adventure-platforming to do as you scrutinize each to fully understand them, and it doesn't require mastering all of the game's more technical aspects.
In addition to extra routes, each level packs three challenges that encourage exploring, and high scores set by non-player characters for you to beat. It's possible to beat all elements of a level, but you needn't do any more than you want if you just want to unlock your next course. However, knocking out challenges and racking up high scores does earn you cosmetic items to deck out your character, so there's a light incentive to master each one.
As you progress through Radlandia's five different areas, each a Super Mario World-like map with a variety of smaller levels for you to access, OlliOlli World's difficulty ramps up. The five different biomes each focus on a different skill or trick, and so playing through the game makes you a better skater as you learn more techniques and work them into your play. That doesn't mean your abilities are gated until you reach a certain area, though--if you're an OlliOlli veteran, you can deploy more advanced tricks and techniques that are common between the games right from the start--but your journey through the game world creates a sense of consistently becoming better. What's more, having new skills in your metaphorical bag of tricks makes revisiting older levels a fun exercise in seeing how far you can push yourself.
And once you've completed everything the game has to throw at you on a given track, you can take on other players with some excellent asynchronous multiplayer elements. OlliOlli World tracks all your scores on every level, and after you complete one, it'll find another player with a score near yours but higher, and present them as your rival. The rival's score hangs on the screen, giving you a target to aim at; beat it and the game will provide you a new rival to go after. The other player's avatar even shows up at the beginning of your run, just to give you a face to focus your competitive urges on.
More multiplayer options unlock as you start completing biomes and gaining access to Gnarvana, the ethereal home of the skate gods. Gnarvana includes a League mode, in which you're thrown into a group of skaters to face one course per day, trying to get the highest score you can. The top skaters advance up the ranks, and you can run the course as many times as you want to bring your best score to bear. There's also the Portal, where you can use a couple of simple menu options to procedurally generate new courses. You dictate which biome they're located in and select from a list of adjectives like "tricky," "burly," or "gnarly," and OlliOlli World kicks out a level. Each course comes with a code that you can share with other players so they can access it as well, providing some added competition and challenge, as well as the ability to play your favorite courses again and again.
OlliOlli World provides players not only with a massive amount of things to do, but just as many ways to do them. That said, the game isn't without its occasional frustrations. Players who want to go hard and max out their scores will definitely have to push themselves, because this is a game that demands perfection if you want to brush its skill ceiling. However, there are also places where executing a jump or a grind just a hair's breadth too late results in a fall, and in these places, it can be difficult to tell what you're doing wrong in order to fix it. On more than one occasion, I used my PlayStation 5 to record a video of a run just so I could go to the tape and try to figure out why I couldn't jump a long gap or kept slamming into a certain object. It's not a problem all the time (and often these challenges are optional anyway), but struggling to understand why you're failing makes it difficult to succeed.
Still, there's so much to OlliOlli World that you can always leave a course to try something else for a while before coming back. That freedom to just leave a problem and tackle it again later, or to shut off the point-scoring part of your brain and get into the flow, is what makes OlliOlli World so endearing. Its controls feel great, its art style is gorgeous, and its characters are light and fun. It's a game that will push you to be the most ridiculously skilled skater you can be, or just let you spend some time in its world for a bit. Either way, it's easy for hours to evaporate as you rattle off tricks and snag sick grinds. That seems like a perfect conception of skateboarding to me.