We've met the developers over at Roll7 before, and they come across as a nice bunch. But perhaps, behind the smiles and the friendly handshakes, there's something more sinister lurking - a sadistic side to their collective personality. That would certainly account for the brutal, hair-pulling, soul-destroying difficulty that you can find in the later levels of their skate-themed sequel, OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood.
If you played the first game then you'll have a fair idea of what's coming your way in Welcome to Olliwood. If not, the premise is thus: you control a skater, pulling tricks and grinds through hectic obstacle courses, using precision button presses to land moves and take home huge point hauls. There's a variety of tricks that can be executed via twisting and turning the analog stick, and landing a trick - and getting the points for it - means hitting "X" at EXACTLY the right moment. Mess up the landing, wave goodbye to your points.
There's a few differences in the sequel, which we'll get to in a bit, but for the most part this is a solid and consistent follow up to a game that we thoroughly enjoyed when it launched on PS Vita last year. This time we played primarily on the PlayStation 4, and while it was nice on the big screen, we stand by our assessment of the original as it applies here too; this is a great game to play on the go. The relatively short bursts of action are ideal for mobile gaming, and during any session there'll be plenty of quick-fire restarts, similar to the equally enjoyable/frustrating Trials series.
That said, while each attempt might be short, after a while conquering each level can take quite a long time. OlliOlli 2 is a ruthless game that demands absolute perfection from the player. There's different levels of mastery to aspire to. The basic level comes from simply completing the stages. There's fifty all told, half of them amateur, half of them professional. Even the latter amateur stages are challenging, and more than once we threw our controller down in disgust at our own ineptitude, before later descending into pure rage after repeated attempts ended in abject failure.
Perhaps our biggest gripe with OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood is that it gets too difficult too soon. We don't mind sinking slowly into an absurdly sturdy challenge, but after a while spent throwing ourselves at one particular level we simply got bored of the constant failure (that said, we kept going back for more). Luckily hitting that brick wall isn't the end, because there's more than just the challenge of getting to the finish line. Each level has five objectives that, when completed, open up a pro level in the same world (there's five worlds, each with two sets of five levels). Wrapping up all five objectives is tough enough on the easiest of levels, but after the while it starts to feel near-impossible.
There's plenty of room to grow and improve. Timing the jumps, tricks and grinds needed to complete a stage is difficult enough, but once that's been mastered you can go back to previous levels and go again and aim at score challenges, pick up items as you grind through, and put together the specific combinations of tricks needed to unlock the stars required to open up the pro levels (and later the more densely populated stages found in the RAD mode). Learning the skills needed to complete the objectives and earn the stars will improve your all-round play, so getting stuck often means going back, getting better, and then returning for another crack at the harder challenges. Like the first game before it, it's easy to envisage dedicated players getting extreme value for money.
There's some new tricks in the sequel, the most notable of which are the manuals that can be used to link grinds into ludicrously long combos (and thus equally ludicrous scores). On top of that there's new reverts and grind switching, as well as a couple of other tricks that have been added to the ‘Tricktionary'. There's also new ramps that you can use to perform tricks (perfect timing provides a boost and extra distance). If you're dedicated to high score chasing and showing off slick moves, there's even more room for player expression.
There's a few returning features. The Daily Grind is a great mode whereby you can practice on a track and, when you feel ready, you can "play it for real". Whatever score you achieve in your real run is then added to leaderboard, at which point you must wait for the next day and a new challenge. If you want a point of reference, it's similar in style to Spelunky's daily challenges.
Add to that the unlockable RAD mode that you access by completing all the challenges on a pro level, and the shorter bursts of play you can find in the Spots mode (you only get one combo to register a score that you can then post on global and friends leaderboards). There's a huge amount of content to trick and grind your way through.
The five different Olliwood worlds are far more interesting to look at when compared to the fairly run-of-the-mill backgrounds we got in the first game, and the fact that there's alternate routes through many of the stages ensures that there's even more variety. Each stage is decorated with nice cinematically-themed details, and everything from the movement of the skater through to visual effects and background animations is a step up from the original. The soundtrack has also been updated, with new music to underpin the action (while it might not be to your personal tastes, it does suit the action nicely), and there's some decent sound effects to accompany your on-screen trickery.
For all the positives, it must be said that this game is a real stick buster. The rubber grip on our DualShock 4 was already a little frayed, but just a couple of hours spent with Olli Olli 2 and the lower part of the grip disintegrated. This was less of an issue on PS Vita, however, when we played the original on the handheld we saved the stick by playing on the D-pad. Sadly this isn't an option on the Vita version this time; it's analog only (this applies to the DualShock 4 too).
Aside from a couple of minor gripes, this is a great package. There's plenty to do, and there's a huge amount of challenge for players to get their collective teeth stuck into. Those who dedicate themselves to perfecting the tricks and grinds needed to compete at the highest level will have potentially dozens and dozens of hours of game to busy themselves with, while everybody else will at the very least have plenty to do before they're beaten and move on to something else. It's a stern challenge whichever way you look at it, and as such it won't be for everyone, but competitive masochists and high scoring perfectionists will find plenty to enjoy in Roll7's skater sequel.
There's also a four-player split-screen mode coming to the game in a post-launch patch. We've not had a chance to try it for ourselves as yet, but once it's available we'll give it a bash and update you here.