On the face of it, there’s very little to compare between these two interesting indie titles.
One is a racing game, a genre associated with high-speed intense action with an EDM and rock soundtrack. The other is a skateboarding game, a genre associated with high-speed intense action with a punk rock and hip-hop soundtrack. Okay, maybe they aren’t *that* different, but the point remains – one is about racing hard and being first across the finish line, and the other is about racking up as high a score as possible and completing map-based objectives.
Both genres are many things, but neither of which are what you’d call relaxing.
However, these two quirky little games are not traditional examples of either genre. And through their respective philosophies, they end up producing a gaming experience that’s far more similar than you would expect.
First released in July 2015, Absolute Drift is an isometric top-down driving game focused on the art of drifting. The game puts the player in charge of various imitations of cars from drift and tuner culture and asks them to score huge amounts of points, break obstacles and solve puzzles – all by driving sideways. The point is not to finish first, but to finish in a cloud of tire smoke leaving a snaking trail of black lines on the road.
Meanwhile, OlliOlli2 – released a matter of weeks after Absolute Drift – is a 2D side-scrolling skateboarding game focused on the age-old tradition of doing tricks, racking up huge combos, and completing extra objectives by exploring the level. Unlike in a 3D environment where everything is laid out for you however, one less dimension means concentration is key as ramps, rails and obstacles fly in very quickly from stage right. Timing is vital; tying everything together with perfect landings is the key to keeping both your score piling up, and your character’s speed high enough to make it through the level. Too many rough landings won’t give you enough momentum to make it over the next jump at anything higher than a malnourished snail’s pace, leading to a headlong plunge into pain, agony and the restart button.
So far, so good. Both are very enjoyable games, and two of my favourite low-key discoveries of the past few years. But aside from being released very close to each other – and both being built in the Unity engine – what links the two games?
Simple; the feeling they give the player.
Aesthetically, the similarities begin right away. Absolute Drift uses simple shapes to create an almost toy-like world, with no backdrops and the white surfaces that make up the majority of each map floating in the middle of eternal nothingness against a flat turquoise background. Meanwhile, OlliOlli2 has a very retro feel to its imagery; the player-character almost looks like a pixel art figure, a character from an old 8-bit era game. Lush and artistic backdrops are set flat against the intricate foreground of each level. Both use bright colours and create a gorgeous environment, one about as far away from the grey-brown coffee-stain-on-the-camera look that populated AAA gaming as its possible to be. Combine this with the use in each game of minimalist, low-fi EDM music for a soundtrack, and right away we arrive at common ground; each presents a very relaxing, welcoming setting for the player to lose themselves in.
No amount of pretty colours is going to be enough to absorb the player’s attention without great gameplay though, and here the similarities only continue to – pun intended – ramp up. Be it a car or a skateboard, both games involve piloting something at speed and pushing them to the edge of control; be it flying sideways into a corner as fast as possible and trying desperately not to smash into the nearest wall, or flying through the sky whipping out tricks in mid-air and trying not to smash flat on your face upon landing again.
To this end the controls are super-tight in each game, as they obviously need to be when such perfect timing and button presses are required. The core mechanics are relatively easy to learn thanks to very well-designed tutorials, but devilishly difficult to master. Usefully, both games also feature a Hotline Miami-style Instant Restart button, to whisk you back to the start to try again before any controllers get broken. And trust me, you will be tempted to break a controller or two if you spend a considerable amount of time with either of these games.
But here’s where we arrive at what unifies these games stronger than anything I’ve discussed already. Yes, both titles are incoherent-swearing-levels of frustrating when things go wrong. And quite often, things will go wrong. But the instant restart button helps alleviate that stress, putting you right back into the action quick enough to nip any brewing rage in the bud.
And when you nail every button press, when you become at one with the game and everything flows perfectly, the feeling of satisfaction and zen-like calm is a joy to behold.
And that’s what these games really encourage. Granted, it’s not quite ASMR: The Videogame. But as the frustration slowly subsides and you hook into a flow, rattling off epic combos or chaining drifts together, subconsciously nodding your head to the low-fi liquid beats, both these games turn around and go from infuriating to infectious.
Given how noisy and foggy my brain can be on a daily basis, it takes a lot to calm it down into a state of sublime, peaceful focus. But both of these games do just that.
And that’s why I love them.