I was born in 1999, barely missing the cutoff for the golden age of skater culture, but my next door neighbor wasn’t. He was as much of a skater as you could be in a rural town: those “punks” who bring their deck with them everywhere aspiring to be Tony Hawk, all while looking like a Spencers mannequin. The one time I convinced him to let me skate, I ate it seconds after placing my foot on the board. So I turned to skateboarding games instead. I must’ve put dozens of hours into Tony Hawk’s Underground; I never really made any progress, but I became addicted to stringing together tricks through manuals and ollies and grinding. Years later, that’s still the case, so thank the skate godz for OlliOlli World.
Developed by London-based studio Roll7, OlliOlli World pushes well past its predecessors into the gnarly ranks of skate heaven. The game is a visual treat; vibrant colors pop out against variously themed foregrounds no matter if you’re stringing together a combo or just cruising along. The simplistic character designs are chock full of charm, effortlessly combining humans, talking lizards, and ridiculously goofy skate godz into the cohesive collage of happiness that is Radlandia. It plays as good as it looks, maybe even better, but its own ambition sometimes buckles under the weight of its conflicted level design and its unrewarding challenges.
Radlandia is exactly how it sounds: a pure haven for skaters by skaters. Everyone skates in some regard across the land, but the gnarliest of all are the Skate Wizards, who are chosen by the skate godz to be the intermediary between mortal skaters and the godz. The current Skate Wizard, Chiffon, is looking to retire and find a worthy successor: that’s where you come in. After nailing the try-out, you embark on a quest to skate around Radlandia with Chiffon and her gang to meet each of the five regions skate godz and reach Gnarvana.
OlliOlli World has an impressively dense character customization; you control everything from hair and glasses to truck color and tattoo designs. It cleverly side-steps the gender binary, referring to the player solely with they/them pronouns and allowing you to thrive in this androgyny if you want. This inclusivity speaks to its overall sense of positivity and acceptance. OlliOlli World runs on good vibes and lofi beats, a welcoming far cry from the punk nature that defined the skater community for so long.
The good vibes extend to the gameplay, which is simple to learn and not too hard to master. The left stick controls all your jumping tricks and grinding, pressing A pumps you forward and builds speed, the triggers rotate you, you get the picture. Should you happen to bail at any point through the challenging levels, a quick button press respawns you at one of the many checkpoints. Playing on the Xbox everything felt natural, at least until you start trying more complex tricks, at which point the controller can feel a bit crowded.
The entire tricktionary is open to you from the beginning, so if you feel the call of the skate godz you can learn various tricks long before you’d learn them. Or, you can be like me and discover them while accidentally mashing buttons. It felt almost like cheating when I learned to manual, stringing together massive combos that put me into the tens to hundreds of thousands in points. Success felt amazing and my combo addiction hit me hard; whenever I wasn’t playing OlliOlli World, my thumbs were itching to get back to the controller.
Each of the six regions around Radlandia is filled to the brim with levels and challenges, often asking players to not only get to the finish line but to land certain tricks on the way there, or high five one of your friends, or even beat the level without grinding once. There are even special challenge levels with harder tracks or one-off missions to change up the pace. I was dead set on conquering all of them. Before I could move onto the next level, I would make sure all the items were taken care of: I’d beat the level, then beat it again without checkpoints, have all three challenges done, and dominate the high score. Rinse, repeat. Sure, checking all these boxes rewards you with new customization options and tracks, but I never cared for that—I was in it for the glory.
That’s where OlliOlli World turns from a chill good-time into a gnarly nightmare. The levels, which at first are straightforward stages to demonstrate your rad tricks, morph into longer and longer challenges of endurance and reaction speed. Some levels, specifically in the desert area of Burnt Rock, become labyrinthine puzzle boxes that require intense planning and painful precision to completely beat. Jumps grow from short hops into giant fissures, often requiring ridiculously specific timing that’s counterintuitive to the game’s innate sense of speed.
The further I progressed, the less in control I felt. Challenges start demanding you beat the level in one combo, matching dangerous terrain with exact button presses. Even the Local Heroes, the non-playable characters whose high scores you compete against, become unchallengeable as their scores skyrocket into the millions. Many Local Heroes are difficult to beat as early as the second world, causing me to question if those who don’t teach themselves tricks early ever actually win. In this way, the design of OlliOlli World doesn’t just encourage you to look ahead and try new things way ahead of schedule-it practically demands it.
My vibes were tarnished. Where I once spent minutes breezing through levels, it would now take me 10 minutes or more to beat a specific section. The lofi beats which once relaxed me grew irritating, as their lack of specificity made every song blur together into an aggravating jumble. Trying to complete the challenges twisted into a Herculean task that I simply could not bear. Unlocking cosmetics—something I rarely touched after initially designing my character—was simply not rewarding enough to warrant the pain of trying. The combos and tricks lost their luster and I had to put my board away.
All of this is to say: I really like OlliOlli World, but I dislike both how I played it and what it becomes. It’s whimsical and relaxed, propelled by vibes and an incredibly addicting gameplay loop, until it isn’t. Later challenges taunt me with their specificity, their unfilled shadows a blemish on my previously almost perfect record. The level design pivots hard from tricks into punishing precision; near the end, I stopped feeling responsible for each time I died because I couldn’t differentiate what made a successful run from a failure.
I look forward to coming back in a few weeks with a clear head and strengthened resolve, but for now, I need a vacation from Radlandia. I went from feeling miles ahead of the curve to having my wheels slip out from under me and wiping out hard onto concrete. Honestly though, there may not be anything more skater than that.
OlliOlli World was developed by Roll7 and published by Private Division. Our review is based on the Xbox Series X version. It’s also available for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Switch, and PC.
Mik Deitz is a freelance writer and Paste intern. They inhale stories in videogames, films, TV and books, and have never finished God of War (2018). Yell at or compliment them on Twitter @dietdeitz.