Game: Odallus: The Dark Call
When I think of games like Ninja Gaiden, Shinobi, Castlevania, and Ghouls 'N Ghost, my childhood comes back to me and the countless hours I spent playing these games and occasionally raging. The stories were told through minimal pixel art and music was chip tune heaven. These games hold a special place in my heart not only because they were amazing to play as a kid, but because they used what they had for the time giving story, music, tone, and narrative through very little means. These games are accomplishments in game design as much as they are fun to play.
Odallus seeks to capture the magic of games of yesteryear and bring some classic gaming nostalgia along with it. I am happy to say it does this in oodles and with it's own unique style. Odallus like the aforementioned titles is a side scrolling action/platformer, paying homage to each title in its own unique way. The story of the game is about a great warrior in a dark time, the gods have turned their back on all humanity and demons and monsters begin to reap souls to their delight. The warrior (you) must fight the onslaught of an army of darkness in search of his son. This immediately sets the tone to one of dark, gothic, horror, and this is captured perfectly. The monsters are grotesque, the architecture is strange, even the save point is a giant skeleton!
One thing that immediately caught my eye was the amazing pixel artwork in the game. Yes, the monsters are hideous and ugly but damn they look good. Cut scenes are reminiscent of Ninja Gaiden(NES) where they are told in clips and scenes that reveal more of the story of Odallus. The main game itself is simple and retro in style. Each area has a color palette and tone to it. This doesn't mean that Odallus is boring to look at, but in fact makes each area feel unique and distinct from the last you were in.
The gameplay is also rather deceptively simple, there is only about 8 buttons for you to manage, that's including the start button. You have an attack, movement and special. There are items that you can also pick up in the game like axes and torches that you throw at the enemy. Things do get a bit more complicated in the late game but I will just cover the basic experience from go. One thing Odallus excels is fantastic level design. The levels are not necessarily straight forward to the boss, rinse and repeat. Matter of fact there are plenty of paths and secrets to discover, even in the first level. This is what takes the simplistic gameplay and makes it unique and challenging. You could just rush to the boss and clear the level but if you take time to explore, gather power ups, heart pieces and other upgrades, these make future battles much easier. Power ups can be found Shovel Knight style, littered about the game, perhaps behind a hidden wall or requiring another power.
Speaking of the battles, Odallus just like games of yesterday, is damn hard! Your character isn't exactly the most agile fighter in the world. Enemies are just as dangerous as the boss, are numerous and respawn very quickly. You constantly must be on your toes or take needless damage. There are things in the level to counter act this, from shops to chests containing standard hunks of meat. There are times that I did rage quite a bit, as Odallus can sometimes have difficulty spikes. Bosses are standard as well, having patterns that once mastered become second nature. I shouldn't forget to mention the map system that let's you choose where to explore. Making returning to earlier levels easy and downright required.
All this is backed up by many modern touches and features. Rebindable keys, controller support, TV mode, and leaderboards. The UI sits on the sides of the screen displaying all important information and upgrades. This is one area that I would've loved a bit of an option on to turn on/off depending on when I needed it. This is a minor complaint and hardly an issue. The only other area that I had an issue was the start up menu. While it was easy to use, on my screen it was super tiny. Sometimes I had to squint to see what I was looking at.
Other areas of the game are also given the classic retro touch, such as the sound track and sound effects. Chiptunes are plentiful having the same gothic tone. This gives the game a definite Ghoul 'N Ghost vibe and every level was like a flash back to a much simpler time. Matter of fact that's how you could just sum up Odallus. It's a flashback to a much simpler time but does things right when it comes to modern features. Things like voice-acting aren't present because that would throw off the tone of the game.
The replay and game length are solely dependent on the player's drive to find all the hidden secrets in the game. This does require retreading the same areas sometimes, so that can be seen as repetitive, but most of the time it would involve an area you haven't been through. The game can probably take anywhere from 5-7 hours depending on your skill level.
I think anyone who loves retro style games will love everything Odallus has to offer. With Shovel Knight giving a resurgence to these style of games. It really deserves your attention if you are looking for something similar. While the game isn't super innovative, it masters the features that we have all come to love and expect from these types of games. From classic power ups, chiptunes, and great pixel art, Odallus brings back the old school flair with style.