It is very rare that you come across a game that’s special enough to make you feel like you could play it anytime, anywhere for the rest of your life. Let me give you a couple of examples:
Road Rash 2 is rather simple. It’s a motorbike racing game for the Megadrive. In addition to having revolutionary controls for the time, it has the added bonus of being able to attack other riders with chains and baseball bats etc. Plus if you’re not careful you can get busted by the cops. The sense of speed and fun in every track resonates over 20 years later. At the other end of the spectrum, Full Throttle is Tim Schaefer’s first solo adventure game and it’s a masterpiece of writing, characters and story. The quasi-futuristic world it creates is magical. I could hang out in those bars and trailer parks all day long. The concept of a second Full Throttle tattoo is never far from my mind.
These games are the ones I turn to when the vision of a post-apocalyptic world comes up. It wouldn’t matter if every other game in existence was reduced to dust because I would be happy to play these two for 100 years. Again and again. I never get sick of everything they offer. So I was never sure if a third game would ever enter this highly exclusive group. Perhaps these titles from the 1990’s were so influential to me simply because I was a younger man. Maybe that part of me had grown up and moved on.
Olli Olli is, without a doubt, that third game. It locked itself into position only after a few hours of playing it. It is perfect. It stands tall as one of those mythical ‘desert island’ games. The kind that you could lose yourself in for hours no matter what. Everything else just fades into the background. Nothing else is of consequence while playing Olli Olli. It’s like you’re wired into the singular purpose for which it was designed. Phone ringing? Olli Olli. Dishes piling up? Olli Olli. Need to go out and run some errands and maybe pay some bills before they come knocking on your door with a court summons? Olli Olli. Olli Olli. Olli Olli.
But hold on a minute. This is just a 2D skateboarding game we’re talking about. Each course can be finished in about a minute and once you’ve figured out the double-tap ollie controls, you’re all set. On the surface, this is practically a phone game right? I’m afraid not. Olli Olli picks its battles very carefully when it comes to razor-sharp game design. Not only is the gameplay staggeringly addictive, it is as deep as an ocean trench. This tiny skateboarding sprite of a man in a red cap has an insane collection of tricks and skills in his arsenal. Much like EA’s Skate series, they’re all there for the taking from the start rather than prizes to be unlocked. You just have to get as good as the game convinces you that you can be. It pulls you along each course with exciting, unrelenting momentum. It never wants to let you go and never allows to think that you can’t do better.
The platform of choice also mattered. Olli Olli was released first on the Vita in January. There, it was great. It felt like it belonged. It fit alongside such unique experiences like Hotline Miami and TxK that made Sony’s handheld such a compelling system for incredible, ‘one-more-go’ games. But then, in August, it came to the PlayStation 4. Unexpectedly, the upgrade to the DualShock 4 controller made a significant impact. To put it another way: on the Vita, nothing was wrong but on the PS4, everything was right. If there was a controller + game combination that seemed like they were made for each other, it’s these two. Using the touchpad to restart the course is a stroke of simple genius.
Olli Olli is the most difficult game I played this year. The positive aspect to this was I never felt frustrated. Every mistake I made was mine and mine alone. At no point did I feel like the London-based developer, Roll7, was punishing me. On the contrary, I felt like they wanted me to succeed. They charmed me into continuing whereas lesser games might get deleted from my library. Whatever dark magic they injected into their game to balance that line between elation and despair, it worked. It’s a stunning game on all fronts. I can’t wait for the sequel.
Oh, and the soundtrack is consistently amazing.