Olli Olli: How to Make a Repetitive Game Satisfying

olli olli

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).

olli olli 3

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.


  1. pine717 said:

    Have you played Super Meat Boy? It is very similar and a good example of not letting frequent deaths interrupt the flow of a game. When you die in that game, you are reconstituted at the beginning of the level within a split second.

    Also, I totally know what you mean about the music. Other people tell me I’m crazy, but it always causes me to wince when the music in a game abruptly changes or resets mid-level. It’s such a small thing, but it really helps maintain the momentum of my adrenaline if the music remains untampered.


    • I have not actually played Super Meat Boy although I hear people talk about it all the time. Is there unlimited lives in that game? I didn’t mention it in my post but that’s part of what makes the repetition in Olli Olli a lot more bearable: not worrying about losing progress.


      • pine717 said:

        There are no lives in SMB, except on the optional warpzone stages where you can unlock new characters. It also saves after you beat each level, so you never have to beat anything twice if you don’t want to.


        • Nice, I’ll put that on my list of games to play then.
          Thanks for reading!


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