Six months after being announced, Skeleton Crew Studio, Thomas Olsson, and Devolver Digital’s Olija is now available on consoles and PC. Is this adventure worth taking, or should you look elsewhere for some fun? Check out our review and find out.
Olija starts with a man named Farady setting out to sea. Farady is a lord in a town that is catching less and less fish. After a few weeks at sea, the crew encounters a giant storm and a colossal whale. Being more akin to Lovecraft’s Dagon as opposed to an actual whale, the whale consumes the ship and drags it beneath the waves. When you wake up, you are in a different kind of land; a land of despair and hopelessness.
Not ready to throw in the towel quite yet, you set out to find your crew and to find a way out of this nightmarish world. You quickly find a compass that shows you a vision of a harpoon, a legendary weapon from this area. After acquiring the harpoon, you find out that the Rottenwood clan is trapping everyone here, and that you need three keys to escape. With a map and compass in tow, you leave the shantytown of Oaktide, seeking the creatures that have these keys. There is no in-game timer, but the game runs between approximately six to eight hours.
Olija is a 2D side-scrolling action-adventure game with some light RPG mechanics. Farady carries two weapons at a time, and one of them is the harpoon. You can use that to attack and bash enemies, or you can toss it into enemies. Once an enemy is impaled, you can then press the button again and warp to your harpoon and keep beating on them. My typical strategy was to use my harpoon to get me in close, then use the rapier as my secondary for quick strikes. The harpoon is excellent for closing distance, but it is very slow to attack.
There are two ranged secondary weapons as well. However, both require ammo that can be crafted or collected throughout the game. There is also a sword that let’s you warp to it, which can make things a little crazy. You can use your harpoon to activate a trap or trigger, then warp to your sword and retrieve it before warping back to your harpoon to finish off an enemy. That might sound like a lot of work, but it is pretty simple once you are used to the control scheme. The combat is flashy, but is not overly complicated. It is also brutal, with limbs and gore flying all over the place.
In-between all this combat, you will be rested as Lord Farady in the makeshift village of Oaktide. Oaktide is where all the stranded sailors consumed by the whale go. It is a bleak place when you arrive, with sailors starving and waiting to die. As you get more keys and rescue your crew members, Oaktide becomes more and more lively. Soon they are cooking food (which you can eat to heal), making spears to defend the town, telling stories, and cheering your name. It is here that you can make hats, upgrade your maximum HP, and send a sailor off to collect resources for you.
The hat system is the main form of upgrading in Olija. Hats can give you a few different benefits, and you will need crafting materials to make them. You find these through combat, in chests, or when your sailors get back home. There are eight hats in total, and each does something different. One lets you charge up lightning as you attack, while another makes you resistant to acid damage. By the end of the game, you should have all of them unlocked. Admittedly there are a couple of stinkers in the bunch, but the right hat can make or break a boss fight.
There are a few things I don’t like about Olija. Even though you pick up maps in the game, there is no actual map for you to look at. You also can’t look at your inventory, which is really weird. You can see how many of a crafting material you have, but you can’t scroll over to it and see what it is called. The checkpoint system is also brutal; there was one instance where I was facing a boss, and I really wanted to switch my hat so I could absorb lightning easier. I had two choices: beat the boss, or start a new game.
With Olija, what you see is what you get. It is well-executed for the most part and is an absolute joy to play. If this is your type of game, don’t hesitate to pick this one up.
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