OlliOlli World And Neon White Are Scratching A Perfectionist Itch I Forgot I Had

Despite my plans to delve deep into meaty RPGs like Triangle Strategy and Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire while I was on vacation last week, the only game I put significant time into was OlliOlli World, Roll7's wonderful 2D skateboarding platformer. When I got home, I planned to spend the weekend — really, I meant it this time — putting serious time into Triangle Strategy and Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire. Instead, I spent Saturday playing the same few levels in Neon White over and over again in pursuit of presents for my sinner pals and platinum emblems for myself.

This replay fixation is new for me. RPGs are my favorite kind of game; I love getting lost in the lore of a well-realized setting, getting to know three-dimensional characters, and spending dozens of hours inhabiting a big, beautiful world. But, recently, I'm having trouble committing to them. One factor is my job. I write articles like this every day for TheGamer, and to do that, I need to have stuff to write about. That has meant finishing a few games, but playing portions of many. I loved what I played of Vampire: The Masquerade – Swansong. I didn't finish it. I loved what I played of Tunic. I didn't finish it. I loved what I played of Elden Ring. You get the idea.

That's been weird for me. I've never been the type of player to devote myself entirely to one game. I've literally never platinumed anything. But I imagine I've gotten a similar amount of satisfaction just by rolling credits, hitting "Delete Application," and moving on to something new. That has been a boon as a critic and journalist, because I've been able to play a lot of games and build a broad base of knowledge. Not going really deep on GTA V, or The Witcher 3, or Fortnite, has allowed me to do the homework on a lot of other games, from a wide variety of decades and genres (and along a similarly broad spectrum of quality). This year, I've had a hard time finishing the homework.

I don't know why. Maybe it's just general malaise as we trudge through a third year of the pandemic, maybe it's intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world and the US in particular. But, this year, big tasks have been difficult. Accomplishments requiring 10-30 hours, like finishing a video game, have been replaced by small tasks, like getting good enough at one OlliOlli World level that I can complete its hardest optional objective. It's no coincidence that the game I've spent the most time with this year is Downwell, a roguelike where the longest run clocks in around 30 minutes. I've completed it 40 times since the beginning of 2022. So, if you do the math, I've spent at least 20 hours with it and, with incomplete attempts, the real number is at least twice as much. That's more than enough time to have fit a few other games in. I didn't though!

I'll finish Neon White and OlliOlli World too, eventually. But, right now, the aspects of those games that ask me to think even remotely long-term — their stories expressed in short bits of dialogue before levels or between missions — are what I find myself appreciating in theory, but impatiently clicking through in practice.

What I'm drawn to, instead, is the process of getting better at something until I can easily do what was too difficult at first. It's a big part of why I enjoy Souls games. But, where those games begin difficult and continue to get more and more difficult until you reach the mountaintop, finishing most levels in Neon White and OlliOlli World isn't too hard. Instead, it's difficult to complete all the optional objectives, like completing a Neon White level in time to earn the Ace medal or completing an OlliOlli World level without grinding on rails after a certain point. These games have beautifully streamlined the process of self-improvement, so that I can enjoy its arc over the course of one small, contained level.

This isn't a new experience — the draw of platformers like Spyro the Dragon and OlliOlli World's genre cousin Tony Hawk's Pro Skater was that there was a wide array of difficulties contained within the confines of one level. But, as an adult, I appreciate the appeal significantly more than I did as a kid. Back then, I longed for the epic quest. As an adult, it's just nice to be able to finish something — regardless of how small.

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