I had to go back and play the first OlliOlli to get a better idea of what had changed for number 2. That’s not a bad thing because plenty has, it's just the more important tweaks are subtle, under the hood stuff that makes for a far more fun game at a basic level.
It’s hard to pinpoint, but everything in OlliOlli2 just feels smoother and swisher somehow; the first game seems almost juddery and crude by comparison. There are new features (which I’ll get to) that massively alter the gameplay in obvious ways, and the art’s had a reworking, but my main takeaway from playing the sequel is that Roll7 has made a more refined version of the original experience. I can’t tell if it’s better level design, re-balanced controls or something else entirely but everything just feels nicer under my sore and dented thumb.
Part of the improvement comes from how the expanded options increase the vocabulary of what you can actually do. In the original game you could only really trick from jumps and drops, using grinds to link combos. It was a slightly pressured and limited approach: still a fun challenge but perhaps not overly interpretive; to some extent you could only really do what the level let you. Your desperate score-chasing button presses confined by predefined layouts.
Here, the same basic mechanics apply: tricks and grinds are pulled off with different presses and flicks of the left thumbstick (I’ve been playing on Vita). But now there are manuals to link combos, and larger, more open levels with numerous options to pluck desperately out of the air as your little skater hurtles past. So, where before the first game presented discrete arrangements of jumps and grinds to test reactions, here new tricks and multiple routes make it feel far more like lines are there to be discovered and exploited, rather than handed to you predefined.
Although the outcome is largely the same: crash, swear, restart, crash, restart, RESTART. One potentially genius move is that the level restart is now permanently mapped to triangle. It becomes a nervous twitch: the ability to wipe away failure before bad words have left your mouth or the little broken body has stopped bouncing. The instantaneousness of it keeps you in the game, your thumb flicking out without any conscious provocation to trap you in endless do-overs.
The expanded trick set (as well as manuals, there are reverts, revert manuals and switch grinds) might appear daunting but all are gently introduced and easy to learn. Before long entire levels fly by in single combos, something that’s hugely satisfying to pull off, if stressful the whole time you’re risking it. As ever, timing is crucial, with perfectly placed stick and button movements rewarded with higher scores and small speed boosts.
Even if you just play straight through, completing levels in turn and ignoring the challenges, there’s plenty to do before you have to start looking at high scores, specific objectives or the asynchronous multiplayer leader boards (currently, pre-release, I’m about middle placing for most levels. I expect to disappear within hours of the game coming out). When you do go back you'll likely find your increased skills opening up earlier levels in new and enjoyable ways. Nothing is more satisfying than returning to a previous stage you'd struggled to finish and then racking up a previously unimaginable score. If nailing the hard stages is work, going back to five star easy ones is a holiday.
The more polished experience seems to buff away any frustration that built up over repeated plays in the first game. The expanded move set, with the freedom that grants, means there much more opportunity to ‘play’ with levels, rather than simply ‘beat’ them, and make this a far more satisfying and morish thing. It might look similar but the changes run deep and it's a rewarding challenge as a result. Almost to the point where the first (already good) game starts to feel like it was just a practice run for this.