Skateboarding is a solitary thing. Yes, we often do it with friends and our best tricks often come out during those outings with lots of folks around us to hype us up, to push ourselves, and to get back up after we get bodied by a rail or stairs, or both. But the actual act of skateboarding is solitary. There is no two-person board. Our body controls the board and that’s it. Skateboarding is as much a game of skill as it is perseverance in outwitting, outsmarting, and overcoming all of the damage/panic/”do not do this!” reflexes of our body and mind. Skateboarding, when you think about it, is also fundamentally illogical. There is no reason to throw our body down a set of stairs or to balance precariously on a rail or wall. We trick gravity, logic, and our own body to do this thing that we love. And we do it alone.
One’s best skateboarding, in my experience, comes through when we start to reach a flow state. For me, it is a sense of selfish, one-track-minded tunnel vision I get after battling a trick or obstacle or line for hours. We start to become hyperaware of every little movement we do as the rest of the world around us loses focus—it is just me and the obstacle. That is why so many skaters get annoyed when that flow state is interrupted by someone snaking you at the park, or by some oblivious person who sits down on the ledge or bench you’ve been skating for hours. All of this is to say that OlliOlli World is probably the best example of the skateboarding flow state in games. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater comes close but OlliOlli World’s hyper-linear structure really hones in and distills the feeling into a genuinely tangible thing.
The way the game’s mechanics work ensures that we enter this flow state. Levels are rife with obstacles and places to falter, and the game’s controls (and speed) demand the full attention of the player. On top of that, stringing combos is incredibly important, and all of this mixes up to make a potent “you’re in a skateboarding flow state now” concoction. The real world around us and the parts of the game’s digital world that aren’t important in the moment (everything that isn’t in the foreground of a stage) fade away as we try and keep whatever bonkers combo we have going. It feels genuine and earned. There aren’t really any gimmicks that push us into this feeling, it just happens by way of the game’s design. And funnily enough, like certain aspects of skating in real life, the game is very good at breaking that flow state.
OlliOlli World, like that one friend who talks throughout every skate session even when you’re battling a trick, does not shut up. Between each stage, there is lots of dialogue to click through, and I’ve started clicking through it as fast as humanly possible. I get what they’re doing and the dad joke, skate reference heavy writing might work for some, but man, the “Adventure Time but skateboarding” vibe of the game does absolutely nothing for me. I still love OlliOlli World, and it is probably my game of the year so far, but it really doesn't know how to get out of its own way sometimes. If I finish a level, then that flow state is broken when that level ends, but only marginally. There is a chance for me to hold onto it as I enter the next level, but that gets evaporated once the characters get to yapping. This sort of transition phase between flow states is akin to when you’re just on one at your local skatepark or the place you skate that has multiple obstacles that you can hit in succession. There might be lulls in between hitting each obstacle, but the one-track-mindedness of it all continues until you fall, come to a full stop, or get broken out of your concentration by some external force. The fact that OlliOlli World loves to snap you out of it is a bummer, but the fact that the game can recreate these sorts of flow states at all is commendable enough. I just wish that there was an option to more or less turn off whatever the game is trying to do narrative-wise because it doesn't work and there’s nothing there. But you should play this game, and when you feel yourself getting hell-bent on completing a level or starting to enter that sort of high-tension tunnel vision, just let it wash over you. You might be surprised at the outcome…or you’ll barely miss getting that high score you want and find yourself entering that flow-state on repeat until you’ve done it. Either way, it rules.