Review – Olija
Olija is Devolver Digital‘s latest release; a beautiful homage to the early days of 2D pixel-art action and platforming. You play as Lord Faraday, your story beginning as you set sail in one last attempt to bring riches back to your people and your poverty stricken land. After getting shipwrecked on a mysterious island, you must search for an ancient harpoon of legend and rescue your crew.
On its surface, Olija feels like a very safe entry. Lord Faraday battles his way through levels and uses weapons he finds to assist him as he platforms from point A to B. Puzzles are never all that difficult and the only actual source of difficulty is with the later boss levels, but it never feels entirely easy. Olija stays right in that safe area, keeping you engaged while never feeling you are just going through motions.
What I appreciated most about Olija was when you scratched under that surface. Olija has a surprisingly rich tale. It isn’t deep, by any means, but much like story time in grade school, I found myself sitting there, listening intently. For all its grit and action, Faraday isn’t fighting for revenge, he is fighting to save his people. Olija is a story with heart and about redemption. Olija is a love story, believe it or not.
Your main weapon and traversal mechanic is your trusty harpoon of legend. With it, you slice your way through occasional enemies, throwing it and returning it to your hand, or throwing it and pulling yourself to an enemy in a powerful attack. You also use its pull ability with set markers, allowing you to traverse otherwise impassable sections of the world. It’s the harpoon that is your main gameplay weapon and tool.
The next most used items you will come across are the many hats you can swap to and from. As you play, you collect the needed currencies to purchase a different hat from the village tailor. With about eight hats in all, these are your passive abilities. One hat may make you immune to poison, another will drop health after a kill, or you have more offensive ones such as causing an electric discharge when your power meter is maxed. The downfall of the offensive hats is that you have little control of when to use its ability. When your power meter is maxed out, your next blow will activate the ability.
And lastly, you collect secondary weapons as you play. There is a sword, a repeater crossbow, a shotgun and then finally, the Moonblade. I say lastly because these secondary items are almost an afterthought. The repeater is honestly the only secondary item I even thought of switching to. The Moonblade is less a secondary weapon and more a puzzle mechanic for the last 4th of the game, allowing you stab it into the ground and then teleport to it when needed.
The game is split up into four sections of a map that you need to sail to. Each area has two or three docks you where you can land and explore those islands in search of keys needed to unlock the final area and boss fight. When you are finished, you unlock a new quarter of the map so you can rinse and repeat until all four quadrants are complete. The first two boss fight are rather pedestrian, using the skills you honed along the way. The last two boss fights are noticeably more difficult with the final boss having a significant spike in difficulty compared to the rest of the game.
Visually, Olija does the most with the minimum. Any screen shot looks like it was created on my Commodore 64’s paint program, but the level of life given to it is rather surreal. Your duel with Olija really stands out to show how gorgeous and immersive even pixel art can be when done well. The fluidity of the movements should not stand out, yet they do. I could picture each move the pixelated two dimensional characters were making as if I were watching it live.
The best audio work you can do is always something that parallels perfectly with the visuals. This is the case in Olija. You don’t need a lot, you just want to get the most out of the minimum. There is enough intention behind the ‘Charlie Brown like’ mumbling to get exactly the inflection intended.
Full disclosure, I did run into a bug at the very end of the game. Four separate times on PS4, and then lastly testing on PS5, the game would freeze on me and the application would close during an important battle. Speaking with the publisher, we were informed the glitch had already been identified and it’s going to be fixed on Olija‘s day one patch, so, apparently, there’s nothing else to worry about in terms of performance or glitches. The rest of the game ran smoothly.
Olija never sets out to be more than it is. It plays it safe, delivering an action platformer with a traversal mechanic and never straying too far from what works. But Olija has an undeniable depth of charm and character that some higher budget productions just can’t grasp. Olija is a tale that deserves to be heard at least once.
2D pixel art that looks dated when static, but suddenly flows with undeniable richness when you’re playing the game.
Main traversal and combat mechanics are tight. Secondary items and head gear are ok, but almost forgettable.
Sound and music that perfectly match with the visual esthetics. From the Eastern rhythms to the gurgling voices that somehow communicate inflection.
A safe yet fun game with surprising depth. Olija is a tale that deserves to be heard at least once.
Final Verdict: 7.5
Olija is available now on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch.
Reviewed on PS4.
A copy of Olija was provided by the publisher.