OlliOlli World wants to not only be the ultimate sequel but the ultimate OlliOlli game. It has character customization, more complex stage design, side missions, a cast of quirky characters, a new art style, 3D visuals, asynchronous multiplayer, a slew of new mechanics, levels that generate procedurally, and, of course, a sleazy, business-minded frog, all of which combine to equal a title that is objectively bigger than its two predecessors. While bigger is not always better, especially in an age of aggressively padded open-world games, finding the right kind of bigger was a careful balancing act.
“In the first nine months, we tried loads of things,” said Creative Director John Ribbins. “If this game was shipping with all of the stuff that we tried out in the first nine months, it would just be horribly bloated, but it would have loads of stuff, like quests that pop up on a daily basis or like all of these other things.”
Roll7 was already well aware of what an OlliOlli game was; the studio had already built two of them, after all. Instead of resting on its laurels, Roll7 was trying to experiment by spending months prototyping to see what else could be added in the name of making the most rad OlliOlli. However, not every idea was a winner. Ribbins and the team realized this and came to that conclusion as the project was devolving into a “big bloated project.” And when there’s too much fat, the only way to get rid of it is to start trimming.
“We went, ‘What ones of those actually accentuate the experience? What things actually make it better?’” said Ribbins. “And then did a huge descope and really focused on polishing those bits. And I think that was the right way to go, but I’m glad we didn’t do a lot of the other things that we tried for the first nine months because some of them were cool, but they just felt extra to the experience.”
Grabs and firecrackers are part of those ways the game expands upon its core foundation without detracting from it. The former augments tricks and is something that skilled players can use to add to their multiplier if their brain can keep track of spinning yet another plate. It’s just on the right stick so it’s easily accessible, but the challenge comes from doing it in the midst of trying to safely land or grind and do other tricks. Certain paths will also only open up if players are grabbing their boards, which gives it a useful non-score-based purpose, too.
Firecrackers are not actual celebratory explosives, but a skateboarding term used for sliding down stairs as the back of the board rattles against the steps. Since wiping is harder in OlliOlli World (and part of the game’s attempt to appeal to more people), stairs add a bit more danger to the levels since it takes timing to land on them. For comparison, landing without hitting a button doesn’t slow the player down anymore so this move adds a little of that timing back in without requiring it for every single landing. Co-CEO Simon Bennett talked generally about adding stuff like this into the game and said these changes had to be “meaningful” and work with the “feel and flow.”
“With grabs, we add a really exciting mechanic that helps you traverse later on in the game,” said Bennett. “There are firecrackers that help you expand your combo by literally slapping down a series of steps. In adding them, the crucial part is that they are mechanically succinct and compatible with the idea of traversing and they just don’t feel tacked on. A lot of time was spent during prototyping to make sure what we had was cohesive.”
OlliOlli World’s many additions do feel cohesive as none detract from the experience and only add to it. Aside from the aforementioned grabs and firecrackers, World introduces a more powerful speed-gaining boost and wallrides that open traversal a little more, but all of these new options are stronger when in the context of the improved level design that towers over the prior two games.
Roll7 has shown its mastery of creating OlliOlli levels as the stages in this third entry are significantly more elaborate. Paths can branch with optional (and, thankfully, labeled) Gnarly Routes, giving hardcore skaters the possibility to earn more points, complete challenges, or find side missions. Some even crumble or change the first time through and give skilled players the opportunity to loop back around the same path but with more hazards. It not only makes for a thrilling set-piece but is a brilliant way to recycle the same section with a new twist that rewards those who want an extra challenge.
“When we were in early prototyping and I got to mess around with level design,” explained Ribbins, “[looping levels were] the exciting things as a designer to be able to play around with. It’s just like you can come around and come back the other way. And I know that that has given the designers so much more scope to build interesting levels.”
Branching levels and intuitive moves are just part of what makes OlliOlli World the ultimate OlliOlli World game. Side missions flesh out the world and use the same mechanics in a different context. Players can race bears down a river, be tasked with specific goals in a looping level, or snatch hard-to-reach collectibles. Narrowing in on one specific part of the game is a good enough change of pace and adds to the hefty list of unlockables players can chase.
Customizability is another big, if cosmetic, addition that also acts as the centerpiece of its unlock system. There are hundreds of items that can lead to a whole host of unique skaters and range from normal to outright silly, like an alien costume or a popsicle-shaped skateboard. The staggering list of gear can be found in the menu and clearly lays out just how much stuff there is to find. The array of options is even more clear during the brief load screens as they randomly cycle in the goofy avatars of other players. And while not something that fundamentally changes the game, Ribbins was quite proud to see this feature in the game and was something he’d been dreaming of since the first title.
“I waste so much time in customization, just pressing X and looking at all the different random combinations even though I know everything that’s in there,” he admitted. “I still get a kick out of making a new look for my character. I found on the other day a really early prototype of like customization for the first OlliOlli with the pixel art character. And it was always beyond our reach for what we could do in the first two games, but it was something that was on our wishlist since the first game. And so getting that in and getting it in to the extent that we’ve got it in, with all of the things that you can unlock and customize, I’m really happy with it.”
With remarkably fluid controls, useful mechanical additions, stylish visuals, a long list of unlockables, and more, players have a lot of reasons to be happy with OlliOlli World. Few sequels tend to aim this much higher than their prior installments. And that sense of happiness isn’t only on the player side, either. Ribbins and Bennett looked back fondly on creating this ambitious game, something that doesn’t always happen at the tail-end of video game development.
“Obviously, finishing this [game] is awesome, but we were thinking all the way back when it was a prototype,” revealed Ribbins. “We were joking that the first game was a year of arguing while we not only figured out how to make the game but also how to make video games in general. It’s been great to do the most ambitious thing we’ve made and probably the best thing we’ve made. But it was also great for this process this time around to not be a three-year-long argument. It’s actually been a really enjoyable journey.”
Bennett was just as gleeful.
“Every time I pick it up and play it, I smile,” stated Bennett. “I definitely can’t say that at the end of any other project that we’ve had. I usually get to the end of the project and I’m tired. We’ve been crunching. I’ll pick it up and I’ll just see all of the mistakes. And all I see with this is that we made the game we wanted to make and you have to thank Private Division, our publisher, for helping us have the time, resources, and trust to actually make that game. And I think this is the first time that we’ve had that as well, which is great.”