STAFF REVIEW of Olija (Xbox One)

Thursday, February 11, 2021.
by Adam Dileva

Olija Box art Every now and then a game falls in my lap to review, usually something that was not even on my radar but is a pleasant surprise. Olija is one of these occurrences, as I never saw about it aside from what was listed on the digital store, but never really paid much attention to it either. That turned out to be a mistake, as by the time the credits for Olija rolled, I was really glad that I got to experience it, even if it wasn’t the longest experience.

Developed at Skeleton Crew Studio, more specially one developer at the studio, Thomas Olsson, Olija gave me some serious vibes from old classic games like Secret of Monkey Island, Prince of Persia and Another World in terms of its classic pixel visuals and ‘gibberish’ voiced dialogue, yet the quick pace of the combat felt very modern.

Olija tells a tale about Faraday, a Lord of a small fishing village who not only becomes shipwrecked, but has his people and crew captured. He manages to survive when he’s saved by an old man, brought to a small remote island. Now stranded in the lands of Terraphage, Faraday is going to have to sail to different islands to explore and find magical keys that lock a mysterious door, hopefully that will lead to back home. The old man agrees to take you by boat from island to island to help you on your quest, and thus Faraday’s adventure begins. There’s a bit more to the narrative, involving a royal-like woman named Olija, but I don’t want to give much more else away as the whole game only took about four hours or so to complete, and any spoilers would take away from the experience.

At its core, Olija is a 2D platformer adventure title with some light puzzles and combat. While not overly difficult, there’s plenty of secrets to find, enemies to battle and bosses to overcome, even if its runtime isn’t terribly long. You begin on an island that acts as your home base and hub, eventually expanding as you rescue people during your journey.

Faraday will find a mystical Harpoon early in his journey that is somehow linked to him, allowing him to not only throw it like a weapon, but will be used as a tool to maneuver through levels, as he’s able to teleport to it when thrown into specific anchor points. This is how you’ll traverse around the levels, and even used in combat as you can stick enemies with your harpoon and use it as an instant dash to them, a tactic you’ll need to master against bosses.

Combat is fluid, fun and surprisingly brutal. You have options from a handful of weapons, but your main will most likely be your rapier, a quick stabbing device that will kill almost any enemy quite quickly with its rapid hits. You’ll also have access to a few other weapons that require ammo, but I never really had to rely on using them outside of a situation or two. While Faraday does have a dodge button to get out of harm’s way, I found it to be somewhat useless, as if you dodge into a wall or barrier, you fall down, taking a moment to get back up. I’m sure some players will rely on it, but I didn’t use it once after half way through.

As you hop on the old man’s boat and show him a map you’ve found, you’ll be able to sail to any of the destinations uncovered thus far. Olija is generally progressed linearly, so you’ll play most levels in a designed order, but your goal is to find a gold key or two after beating a mini boss to gain access to that island’s boss to obtain a blue master key. These master keys will be needed to gain access to the final area and boss, and thankfully Olija slowly teaches you every skill you’ll need to master by the time you reach these doors.

Each level is hand crafted and a joy to explore. While most paths are going to be linear, there are secrets hidden throughout for those that want to take the time to find them and materials for crafting hats. That’s right, there is hat crafting included. Gather specific materials along your journey and you’ll be able to craft a variety of different head ornaments that each have their own bonuses and uses. Some are better than others, but there should be one that suits your playstyle, even if there only a couple choices to craft. You’re able to select any of your crafted hats before you enter any level, so feel free to experiment, though I basically stuck with my favorite almost the whole playthrough.

There are some light puzzle solving elements included as well, nothing terribly challenging, usually revolving around utilizing your harpoon teleport to get around blocked areas or to electrify switch panels. Eventually you’ll have a second way to teleport to one of your weapons, adding another layer of puzzle complexity, but again, nothing too challenging. Truth be told, there was really only one section, a boss fight near the end, which took me a few tries to complete. Outside of that I breezed through Olija, which I appreciated, as it wasn’t purposely trying to be difficult just for the sake of it which is honestly what I expected.

Olija’s pixel art is fantastic. As I mentioned above, it has a classic feel that looks as if it’s from the same era as the classic Another World and Prince of Persia. If you’re a fan of this retro style you’ll be smiling throughout, as the animations are fantastic and smooth, and the backgrounds are varied and detailed even being crafted from pixels. The audio is fitting for its oriental themes with its melodic soundtrack, almost always putting you at ease.

Olija feels unique, original and has a lot of charm to it. It’s abundantly clear it was created with a lot of love and care, and while the journey didn’t last as long as I’d hoped, I enjoyed every minute in the lands of Terraphage with Faraday.

** Olija was reviewed on an Xbox Series X **

Overall: 8.3 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 7.5 / 10


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