By Josh Speer / July 22nd, 2015
|Title||Odallus: The Dark Call|
|Release Date||July 15, 2015|
|Age Rating||Everyone 10+|
I don’t know what it is about me. Seems like the older I get and the better computers and consoles become at rendering fantastic, realistic graphics, the more I dig in my heels and look for new retro games. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the ’80s, and perhaps these old-school games are something of a security blanket, but I think it’s more than that. There’s something fantastic about retro game experiences that, in my opinion, most modern games can’t quite capture. Despite being limited by graphics, controls and even music, they often manage to provide compelling and unforgettable experiences. Thus, when I was offered the chance to review Odallus: The Dark Call, I was cautiously optimistic. Though not personally familiar with JoyMasher, their latest game looked like everything I loved about retro games, so I went into it with excitement in my heart. Was Odallus: The Dark Call a new retro classic, or was my faith misplaced?
Going into the game, it instantly made me think of Ninja Gaiden, as it uses those highly stylized cutscenes to tell the story. Enter our main character, a retired swordsman named Haggis (yes, just like the food). The wars of his youth are over and his days are peaceful, but he is mournful since his wife passed away, leaving him alone to raise their son. Despite putting his violent days behind, Haggis still uses his martial knowledge to hunt for food, during which he leaves his child in the safety of his village. It is on one such hunt that everything goes horribly wrong. Haggis finds himself staring into the campfire, hearing a mysterious voice call his name. His very being seems drawn to the flame, until the connection is broken by a sudden commotion. Haggis crests the rise above his village to find it in flames. Picking up his trusty sword, he leaps back into the fray once more.
The world of Odallus is a dark and mysterious one, as the first stage illustrates. Monsters run amok, men make profit off of Soul Orbs (currency in the game to buy items) and old gods long forgotten are returning to prominence. The calm Haggis has so recently embraced quickly is replaced with a world on the brink of insanity, and it is against this backdrop that Haggis’s frantic search for his son takes place. After fighting his way through the burning village of the first level, Haggis finds his son has been kidnapped by a madman named Gael, who wants to sacrifice his child to the old gods. All Haggis has at his disposal is the strength of his sword and his commitment to be fast enough to save his son. Unfortunately, he quickly realizes there is more at play than just his quest, and things get complicated early on when the village elder transforms into a monstrosity Haggis must defeat. Upon cleaving the beast in twain, a mystical shard is released, and it quickly binds itself to our hero. These shards are part of an artifact called the Odallus, and it’s only with their help that he has any chance to save the day.
Though there is only a handful of cutscenes in the game, as well as occasional dialogue between Haggis and his foes, I felt they all served to paint a glorious picture of a world gone mad. The game takes aspects of many classics, such as sub weapons like those in Castlevania, large layered levels like those in Demon’s Crest and even monstrous bosses like those from Ghouls and Ghosts and wraps them up in a dark and delightful package. Odallus starts out relatively easy, with you exploring each stage, beating the boss, and working your way towards the final level. But, once you reach the final castle, you quickly realize there is a lot more to the game. I thought I would beat the game in a hour or less, until my entrance to the final area was barred by a rippling wall of fire. To beat the game, Haggis must explore every nook and cranny of his world, finding mystical artifacts to grant new abilities, curious runestones chronicling dark truths and secret lairs bursting at the seams with hideous monsters. Those secret levels are far more difficult and larger than the ones early on.
Odallus readily embraces the Metroidvania genre, and I felt it articulated very well, most especially since the world map will tell you how many secret items you have yet to find, making backtracking much less of a chore. Better yet, you can save and leave a level at any point, so if you get stuck or lost, you can retreat back at the world map. This was a nice touch later in the game, since the bracelet you acquire which lets you push large blocks is by far the easiest to find, and the rest of the primary artifacts you’ll need to acquire are all very well hidden, forcing you to scour every inch of each level. I managed to beat the game with 96%, and still didn’t get the good ending, if that tells you anything.
But it’s not all exploration in Odallus, there’s a lot of fierce combat, as well. Haggis can jump and slash, as well as use sub weapons he collects or buys from a sinister merchant. There are only three of them, and they all serve a different purpose. The Axe flies straight ahead, and then rebounds when it collides with something; The Torch burns a path in front of Haggis and the Spear flies in a sharp arc, hitting foes above and then below him. Best of all, none of them consume Hearts like the Castlevania games that inspired them. You can start out with a maximum number of each sub weapon, but can increase your bag size by finding artifacts, allowing you to carry up to 50 of each. This is important since the sub weapons are also used to destroy blocks that bar your way to hidden treasures. As for Haggis’s swordplay, though your initial sword is pretty standard, you can find a couple others that increase your striking speed and power. And, as if that wasn’t enough, you an also find better armor and more heart containers to increase your maximum life, which becomes very important later in the game.
Using all these tools, you’ll fight against a diverse horde of monstrous beings. Some of my favorites were wall-crawling pink cactus creatures who shoot quills at you; bloated mer-creatures who extend their limbs to slash you; pulsating mounds that spew face-hugger lookalikes; snowball hurling ice giants and many, many more. There are over 50 different enemies in the game, and you’ll need to learn all their attack patterns to have any hope of surviving. But it wouldn’t truly be a Metroidvania without crazy boss fights, and here Odallus does not disappoint either.
It’s almost impossible to narrow down my favorite boss fights in Odallus, since the vast majority were awesome. Each and every boss and mini-boss is different, with complex and vicious attack patterns. Some are gargantuan, others are human-sized, but all of them offer a distinct challenge. The only one that I took issue with was the final boss, since, if you swing wildly he will deflect all your attacks, forcing you to wait until he attacks you in order to deal any damage. As if that wasn’t enough, that fight is composed of different segments that you face back to back with no checkpoint.
The art direction of the game really appealed to me. I would say it most reminds me of a NES representation of Demon’s Crest (and no, I’m not talking about Gargoyle’s Quest 2). Each level has a distinct look to it, from the burning village to ruin sheltering forest to ancient aqueduct. This also translated to the sprite design, and each and every enemy had a unique and creepy look exemplified by bold colors. The only ones that felt like rehash were the fire and ice mages, who were color swaps. The music, composed by Serenati, was mournful, menacing and dark. Complemented by the shrill cries of slain foes and the roaring of giant beasts, it all kept me fully immersed in this dark world. The only thing that bothered me a little was the dialogue. Though, for the most part, it was well translated, there were a couple of silly errors that hurt the experience. Most of the time this didn’t bother me, as Symphony of the Night has shown bad translation can have its charm, but when I was trying to figure out the plot, it frustrated me. That said, by far my favorite line in the entire game is “Don’t waste more of my time, vicious prick. Where is my boy?” Might not be as good as Dracula’s SOTN line, but it certainly works.
However, not everything about the game was silky smooth. Though for the most part the game ran really well, and played fluently on my XBox 360 controller, I did encounter a couple of hiccups. The first occurred in the Forest stage when I was jumping to a platform occupied by a plant monster. Generally, the monster would spew a stream of gas and then wander about. As I leapt towards him, I found the gas was frozen in place, and I collided with it, dealing Haggis harm. Another similar incident occurred once when I fought an Ice Mage. Normally, they will hurl lone icicles at you when you are distant, but, all of a sudden, that lone icicle became more of a machine gun, and dozens of icicles manifested. Finally, when I fought one aquatic boss, an attack that should have disappeared after initiated instead was frozen on screen, and caused me damage whenever I touched it. While these incidents were few and far between, they were frustrating, since they were blemishes on an otherwise spotless experience. Hopefully, these glitches will be patched by JoyMasher sometime in the future, preferably before the more challenging Veteran Mode is added.
If it sounds like I’ve mostly been gushing about Odallus, that’s probably because I was utterly transfixed by the game. I could barely put it down, and whenever I got stuck, I just got more compelled to keep playing and playing til I found what I needed to progress. Odallus: The Dark Call is a fantastic game for any retro fans. It has great style, compelling and challenging combat and a dark and mysterious plot. The highest praise I can give it is that it takes inspiration from many classics, and yet remains true to its own vision. I clocked in at a little over six hours in my playthrough, and still need to find that last 4% to get the true ending. For $14.99, Odallus is a fantastic bargain. If you are a fan of Metroidvanias, retro games or just challenging yet fun experiences, then go buy it now! Just don’t stare too deeply into the fire…
Review copy provided by publisher
JoyMasherMetroidvaniaOdallus The Dark CallPCSteam