Platforms: Switch (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
There’s something appealing about a condensed experience that’s able to captivate you, keep you engaged for a handful of hours, and then reach a definitive end fairly quickly. Olija is an excellent example of quality over quantity, with a campaign that’s genuinely entertaining to play through thanks to the game’s mechanics and style. It’s all over within about four to five hours, but in that time you get to be a part of an exciting adventure that’s great from start to finish.
This Is Nothing Like Gilligan’s Island!
You play as Faraday, whose crew is shipwrecked on a strange country consisting of multiple islands. After chatting with the locals, you set out to find your lost crew members and find a way off the island. It’s not long before you meet some less-than-friendly island dwellers who want nothing more than to stab you with knives, stick you with spears, shoot arrows at you, beat you up, and… well, you get the idea — they don’t like you.
It’s okay, though, because you aren’t crazy about them either. At first, you’re only equipped with your fists. These initial moments teach you the basics of combat, which is a lot more methodical than you might think. Eventually, you’ll find a sword, bow and arrow, and a cursed spear, which is going to be used for both combat and moving around stages. Coming off of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, my first instinct was to mash my way to victory. While this can work in Olija, you’ll soon notice that there’s a bit more weight to the combat.
Though not sluggish by any means, Faraday’s attack animations are a bit more defined. When you’re engaged in combat, you’ll want to take a step back and think about your next attack — at least for a split second. This is especially true when you’re surrounded by enemies. You’ll probably be able to button mash your way out of a difficult situation, but playing Olija this way isn’t as fun as utilizing your weapons skillfully.
That cursed spear you find early on in the game? Yeah, that’s going to be your best friend. Not only does it dispose of minor enemies quickly — but it also allows you to grapple specific parts of the stage to move to far-off platforms. In addition, this spear can also be used to latch onto enemies. This is perfect if you’re taking on one fool and getting shot with arrows by another enemy off to the side. Simply toss your spear at that guy and launch yourself at him, and you’ll be able to isolate the pesky grunt with no problems.
The heavy feel of the combat in Olija makes it a lot different than most other hack-and-slash titles. Your moves matter, and though you’re certainly well-equipped to take on large groups of enemies, the game is by no means here to help you fulfill some crazy power fantasy. This is especially true when you take on bosses, which are typically larger than your average foe and require you to pay attention to their attack patterns and animations. These boss battles are a little bit old school, and they’re a great deal of fun.
Do You Feel That Sense of Dread in the Air?
For as enjoyable as the combat in Olija is, the presentation is just as great. The game’s graphics consist of countless pixels that make up characters and the world around them. These pixels are able to blend simple-looking character designs with detailed backgrounds. Every area you visit looks distinctly different from the last thanks to the game’s sharp art direction.
The sound design is also really good. There are a few themes here and there, and these are pretty good, but where the sound really shines is in the effects, voice work, and environmental sounds. The crunch of the ground beneath Faraday’s feet and the crumbling sound of the dilapidated caves and temples you visit are distinct and raw. In addition, the mumbling and speech of the characters you meet give you the impression that these islanders have seen some serious stuff.
The abstract, pixelated visuals and crisp sound effects of Olija come together to create an incredible atmosphere. You know that feeling you get whenever you start playing a Souls-like? Yeah, you know the one: The air is thick with dread, and you can’t help but feel that the land’s ghosts are there, watching your every move. Well, Olija captures a very similar mood. No, this isn’t a Souls-like, but anyone who’s played that type of game will recognize that familiar heaviness in the game’s atmosphere. It’s fantastic… and haunting.
Though it may be somber, Olija is still very much a fun game. Like I said before, the ambiance of it will probably remind you of a Souls-like, but this is definitely not in line with that brand of punishing game. The combat in Olija is more forgiving, even if it can be methodical. The end result is a slower-paced hack-and-slash experience where your attacks matter. And it’s all set in a wonderfully mysterious world that you’ll love visiting.
It won’t take you too long to reach the end, and this may be off-putting for some players, but the trade-off is an adventure that’s polished and rewarding. Olija is able to make a lasting impression in the short time it stays with you, and because of that, it’s absolutely worth playing.