It’s weird to think that, for such a cheerful game, any level of OlliOlli World would absolutely kill you in real life. You would die. You would break every bone you ever knew you had. You would be crushed, flattened, exploded-on-impact. And yet, it’s so lovely! It’s so chirpy!
This was true even before the new Void Riders DLC came along, which brings aliens – okay more aliens; they were already a cameo in the original. And the aliens bring tractor beams, which means that levels become more dynamic and more vertiginous than ever before.
That is saying something. But Void Riders is saying something. It is saying: look at this incredible, magical, thrilling game, and how aliens and tractor beams mean that it’s now even more incredible and magical and thrilling. Void Riders is an absolute treat.
And it’s introduced so beautifully. Tractor beams are the big add here, bringing a bit of topsy-turvy mayhem to the flow of a generous range of new levels. Two things about them: one, they fit into the control scheme beautifully, because you ride them by grabbing the board. Two, they feel like butter – so smooth. You will be falling through the air and then you hit this purple beam of light and within it, you grab the board to rise. It feels elegant – a dream of sudden weightlessness.
What this brings to levels is astonishing. Most obviously, it means that levels can suddenly ping you between beams that loft you up really high. It means that actual ramps and chunks of the earth might be caught in tractor beams, moving around, creating gaps that you can exploit. In one level I went from grinding an alien tentacle to narrowly missing a collision with a whale that was tractored out of the way at the last minute. Then a tractor beam itself: grab, rise, on to the next part of the adventure. Tractor beams fit into the flow!
But more importantly they do dizzying things to your brain. My brain anyway. Most of OlliOlli World for me revolves around the left stick, which I flick up and down to land tricks and grinds. But now grinds are interrupted by tractor beams, so I go from left-stick grinding to right-stick grabbing and floating. It makes the game a conversation between thumbsticks. I am still getting my head around it, but when my brain untangles and my hands do what my eyes want them to do, it’s so thrilling I find myself laughing out loud. Genuinely!
Years back, a colleague told me about the first time they played Mario Galaxy, and how the Wii controls made it feel like they were using a knife and fork for the first time. I got a bit of that here, but I also – and I do not say this lightly – found myself thinking of Galaxy 2. Galaxy 2 is a phenomenal game, because it builds on the foundations of Mario, and Mario Galaxy, until the point where things start to get really odd. The last levels are just points in space that you Mario your way between, dazzled by all that you can achieve, all you can read in the landscape and react to. There is a sense that the developers have broken through game design to some point past complexity where it all becomes will, your passage through the world a kind of consensual doodle performed by you and the designers.
I get that sense here in Void Riders. I promise I do. And I do not mean this lightly. In boss levels, where I zoom back and forth through the ether collecting things or destroying platforms and it’s nothing like a skating game anymore. In other levels where I grind and then jump and the empty air is suddenly filled with rails and platforms that just leap up from the ground to meet me. What a rush. In real life, yes, it would kill you straight up. But what a rush.