Olli Olli isn’t the type of game I’m normally attracted to by any means: it’s repetitive, arcadey, and just plain frustrating. You play as a pixel-art (already losing interest) skater who has to jump from grind to grind and land with perfectly-timed button presses in order to reach the absurd level goals. However, like so many other games I’ve bought, I listened to the reviews and paid ten bucks for the download.
What I found was that, even though I don’t play it competitively, I still really enjoy Olli Olli. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the reason I was enjoying myself was because of the way the game handles restarting a level. There are so many things thedevelopers did right in this respect, it would be a crime not to acknowledge them.
I read an Escapist review a while back that, while mostly accurate, gets one thing completely wrong: it claims that “you can’t just jump right back into the game” because “each restart has you looking at the challenge list before watching the Skateboard Guy perform a dull run-up.” Okay, yes you do see the goal list again and yes you do watch the guy do a run-up before the level starts but these things are ESSENTIAL to the feel of the game.
“No loading screen, no ‘please wait’ message. Just push and play.”
The goal list serves as a reminder of what you need to do in the level and what you’ve already accomplished. To some, that might seem tedious but I find it useful, especially if I complete a goal, bail, then restart the level: all of a sudden one of the goals is marked as complete and I feel like a million bucks. Not to mention that getting that the goal screen acts as a “pause” button before you start the level (you have to clear it before your dude jumps on his board again).
What makes the Escapist claim even more ridiculous is that the goal window is cleared with ONE BUTTON. HOW WEAK ARE YOUR HANDS THAT PUSHING A BUTTON IS CONSIDERED TEDIOUS? No loading screen, no “please wait” message. Just push and play.
Secondly, the claim that the run-up is tedious is absurd. There’s this thing called “pacing” in games. And in movies. And in music. And in LIFE, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. If the game restarted you in the middle of a grind or an inch before a rail, you would be even more frustrated. The run-up provides you with a nice little two-second break before you have to feel your heart pounding again as you bust a move (or multiple).
One other thing about the game that no one seems to have noticed–although Polygon touched on it when they said that the game doggedly persues one single idea–is that the music doesn’t stop when you restart a level. This is so incredibly key to the flow of the game and doesn’t get the credit it deserves. How many times has restarting a Tony Hawk level felt twice as frustrating because now you’re not listening to that sick punk track from the previous run?
Because the music continues on after I bail, I never feel frustrated by seeing my dude crash for the umpteenth time that day. Everything about it feels silky smooth, something most games miss by a wide margin. Reading “hints” that I already know while waiting for my game to load or watching some stupid loading animation play in the corner of a dark screen every time I die is just rubbing salt in my wounds.
One of the best exceptions to my personal rule of “I hate all loading screens” was a Katamari game for the 360. I didn’t even realize this quirk until halfway through the game: you can control the loading animation (a floating head with text coming out of the mouth) with the analogue sticks. Each stick controls either the head or the direction of the text! Needless to say, every loading screen in the game was infinitely more enjoyable after that discovery.
The truth is, Olli Olli does so many things well, ragging on how frustrating it is to restart a level is just asinine. Yes, it is a frustrating game, but the developers have done everything right when it comes to making sure that the repetition transitions incredibly smoothly from one attempt to the next.