I don’t like the old 2D Sonic the Hedgehog games. As a platformer that promises blazing-fast movement, it’s way too comfortable stopping you dead in your tracks on level design or having enemies fly into you from off-screen like bugs on a windshield. Some of the earlier 3D Sonic titles addressed these problems by shifting the perspective behind Sonic. It let you see incoming hazards or enemies long before you needed to react to them, all while maintaining that sense of extreme speed. Over time, those games fell victim to nonsensical plotlines, gameplay bugs, and awful new game mechanics, but it was always satisfying when you were allowed to move as fast as possible. When Sonic said “gotta go fast,” I felt that.
It was a couple hours into OlliOlli World that I realized I was blazing through levels in a wicked blur, shockingly similar to in those classic Sonic the Hedgehog games. However, failure never gave way to frustration, and more often than not, I could clear a course on the first go without needing to painstakingly memorize the entire route. OlliOlli World provides the true promise of the Sonic experience as your equal parts goofy-and-cool avatar grinds through levels at high speeds. So, what’s it doing differently?
The simplest fix OlliOlli World offers is for how it handles the times when levels make you stop. Putting obstacles in your way or providing gaps for you to jump over is a fundamental aspect of platformers, but in the Sonic games, running into a ledge just halts all momentum. Afterward, you need to build up speed again, and it can feel incredibly sluggish in comparison to how fast you were just moving. Meanwhile, you can absolutely smack into walls or fall off ledges in OlliOlli World too, but the difference is you don’t get back up and keep going. Instead, you instantaneously reset to an earlier point in the level, in the same vein as splatformers like Super Meat Boy or Celeste.
This quick restart offers an easy opportunity to correct the mistake you just made and doesn’t let you linger on the failure as you’re put right back into the action. It also makes it much easier to learn a level’s layout, no matter how difficult it is, as you’re able to retry specific sections over and over rather than an entire level as a gauntlet. Although, the option to retry whole levels does exist as well and is equally aided by the speed of the restarts.
OlliOlli World goes a step further to get you zooming through levels as soon as possible, in that its pastel aesthetic deliberately paints important objects in easily spotted colors. Yellow rails stand out against mono-color backgrounds; giant purple crystals grab your attention and signal you to react with the corresponding inputs to keep you skating. These design choices help you make it through levels the first time, allowing you to better learn how to fully meet their challenges on repeat runs. In contrast, Sonic the Hedgehog games revel in their background art, which may look great but runs the risk of blending or obscuring the path forward, especially while scrolling at high speed.
Another issue with the original Sonic games is that they tend to sacrifice their speed philosophy as they add more complexity to late-game stages. Rather than running through levels, you’re made to navigate mazes, wait on elevators, and, most egregiously, roam underwater. None of these activities are out of place in a platformer, but they don’t complement the speed ethos of Sonic.
It ultimately points to a deeper problem: When Sonic is moving at full speed, there’s little to no actual gameplay involved. Sonic just needs you to hold right on the controller, and he’ll take care of the rest. So any attempt to increase challenge and add actual gameplay requires slowing Sonic down.
OlliOlli World corrects this issue as well. The motif of arcade skateboarding demands that you use your environment to land tricks and maintain a combo for high-scoring runs. As a platformer, this changes the primary goal from reaching the end of a stage to making the most of your trip through it. Most of the obstacles in this case exist to give you opportunities to pick up speed, get big air, and pull off sick moves. All of OlliOlli World‘s platforming obstacles either increase your speed or test your reaction time to keep you moving.
I’ve spent a long time unable to understand the appeal of those classic Sonic games. But thanks to OlliOlli World, I think I finally got what Sega was aiming for. Young players who grew up with the games weren’t spoiled for choice like gamers today; if you were given a game, it was all you were going to play for a good long while and you were going to find a way to like it in that case. I think when players stuck with Sonic and learned every stage by heart after weeks or months, they got to feel the speed and satisfaction that Sonic the Hedgehog, as a character and marketing campaign, convinced us of. But finally, 30 or so odd years later, OlliOlli World provides that same satisfaction in the first 5 minutes.