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[Review] Odallus: The Dark Call – Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: JoyMasher
  • Publisher: Digerati
  • Release Date: 08/02/2019
  • Price: £10.79 / $11.99
  • Rating: PEGI 12 / Teen
  • Review Code provided by Digerati

Introduction:

Odallus has you take control of the warrior Haggis (not the Scottish delicacy) on a quest to save his son. The Odallus is a mystical gem that has been broken into shards and strewn across the land, the level bosses have been corrupted by these shards so must fight these hideous beasts to claim the shards for yourself. Odallus hearkens back to NES era of 2d action platforming games like Castrlevania, Ninja Gaiden, or Metroid. The game was originally released on 15-July-2015 on Steam.

Haggis in his 8-bit glory

Odallus’ game play loop consists of Haggis entering one of the game’s levels and traversing through until you get to the boss fight. When the boss is defeated it will stay defeated, and any short-cuts or openings will be open for future play-throughs. The level select map has 4 levels that go in a straight line to the end boss, but each of the main levels has a secret finish that opens up an additional level. There will be a significant amount of back-tracking to find all the secrets but at least it feels like you are revisiting an area you’ve been to and it’s not just replaying the same level over and over.

Level 1 boss seems to have some issues with Haggis

Each level has multiple paths to explore, to unlock secrets and different levels. Haggis primarily fights with a sword that can be leveled up throughout the adventure, throughout the levels, different sub-weapons can be found like an ax, torch, or a spear. These sub-weapons perform similarly to those in Castlevania or Ghosts n’ Goblins, there are limited quantities of each but they’re typically longer range and can be used to engage ranged enemies or ones out of reach from the sword. Haggis can find a variety of relics throughout his journey, these relics are primarily used to interact with the environment or explore different pathways that were previously inaccessible. There’s a strength relic to move large stones and one to breath underwater for example, other skills you obtain are a dash, a double jump and a sort of floating or hovering type move to hit enemies above you.

Gameplay:

This game is difficult, but for the most part it doesn’t feel unfairly difficult, or difficult simply to be difficult. If you’re unfamiliar with action platforming games from the late 1980s one of the main skills needed was memorizing the levels. Enemies, traps, platforms, etc all spawn in scripted locations so you will notice the game getting “easier” as you replay levels and learn where the hazards are. One oddity in this game is that Odallus uses the A button to jump and the Y Button to attack, controls aren’t customizable either so the only option is to simply get used to the weird control scheme.

When I first started playing I thought that the movement was clumsy and inaccurate, I played the game using both the joycon and the pro controller to see if there was any difference in the controls and I found nothing noticeably better one way or the other. I did find that using the d-pad was a lot more accurate than the joystick so I highly recommend using the joycon d-pad to play the game. I found that my Smash Bros. pro controller wasn’t quite as accurate as needed. The biggest complaint I have about the fluidity of movement is how Haggis freezes after his attacks, this isn’t a game where you can run and slash your way through the enemies like Castlevania or a game like Strider. This causes the player to have to be much more deliberate and calculated when moving through the levels.

The main issue that I had with controls during the playthrough were the incredibly stiff jumping mechanics and having to stick on ledges to reach higher places. There are many parts of the map where it isn’t clear where you’re supposed to go so jumping down a ledge can be blind and result in landing on an enemy or in a hazard like spikes or fire. Along the same vein is that pressing down to attack low or open a chest seems very finicky, this was the reason I tried different controllers to make sure it wasn’t a controller issue and it was a game issue. Very often when pressing down to attack low Haggis would move left or right and it was next to impossible to stay still and attack low.

One of the many turret type traps in the game

The enemies and traps in the game are fairly varied even if it doesn’t make sense what they really are. There’s a good mix of stationary “turret” type enemies, melee monsters and ranged monsters. Melee enemies just run towards you so you either have to dodge or time your attacks to kill them before you get hurt.

Bosses are a bit more interesting for sure, bosses have multiple different attack patterns and different tells to indicate which attack they’re going to be using. Overall the bosses had a nice amount of variety, on a few occasions it cost a life or two to learn the boss’ attack patterns but there wasn’t anything unfair or terribly difficult about them. Each boss has been corrupted by a fragment

This guy has a monopoly on all sales

Each level also has multiple shops where Haggis can purchase items like subweapons, extra lives and health replenishment items. One thing to take note about the shops is that every time you buy an item the cost increases……permanently, even after death and restarting. This forces the player to really be strategic in how items are purchased.

Audio & Visuals

Odallus really does an amazing job of bringing the player back to the late 1980s. The game plays in a simulated 4:3 ratio box and the sidebar menus are actually curved to make it look like you’re playing on an old CRT television. The developer even included scan lines to further enhance the CRT television experience. I don’t doubt that Odallus is doing a lot more than would be possible on an 8-bit system, but it really does feel like Odallus would be right at home on a “hidden gems of the NES or Sega Master System” collection.

You can see the curved aesthetic of the game to simulate a CRT television

Haggis’ character sprite is very detailed and there are a few different skins that you can select that change Haggis’ appearance, but otherwise doesn’t change the gameplay mechanics. The enemies are much more plain, most standard enemies are one single color, this really helps the bosses stand out as the exceptional monsters that they are. Joymasher really tried to recreate the retro experience by not adding modern elements to the retro pixelated, there’s no lighting effect, rendered explosions. All shading is done on the sprites just using the color palette available.

Odallus does suffer from some slowdown which can cause issues with the trickier platforming sections. While the NES certainly had it’s share of slowdowns and flickering graphics it’s tough to know if Joymasher intentionally left the slowdown in to make it more authentic or if it was simply a result of the game’s programming.

The music is exactly what you would expect from a game, the music is catchy without being repetitive or annoying and the sound effects add to the nostalgic and charm of a 1980s NES game. The music isn’t anything that most people would rush out and buy a soundtrack but it fits the theme of the game just about perfectly.

Final Wrap-up

In the essence of full transparency I was ready to write Odallus off as a game that was clunky, too difficult and trying to hard to appeal to the 30-somethings that are nostalgic for their childhood NES days. After doing some research and looking at reviews and feedback about the game I knew I had missed something about Odallus. It required me to change how I played the game, I switched to using the d-pad, and I slowed down and was more deliberate in how I attacked enemies. This really allowed the game to shine as I shifted my mind away from modern gaming and went back in time to when I was sitting in my living room playing games like Castlevania as a child.

Joymasher has really done something amazing with Odallus and their other retro offering Oniken. They have re-created a modern game that would surprise nobody if it was a port from an actual NES game. In today’s gaming landscape you see hundreds of games with pixelated graphics but almost none really recreate the feeling of being a real 8-bit retro game. Joymasher could have tried to inject a deep story or modern visuals, but literally everything about Odallus feels like it’s a true classic retro game.

Does Odallus have issues? I’d say so for sure. As mentioned above the controls when using a joystick are wonky and inaccurate, but original NES controllers didn’t have joysticks did it? There’s some slowdown, there are enemies placed in aggravating spots, but overall the game is meant to be tough, but as said previously is fair in it’s difficulty.

The game should take most people around 6-8 hours to fully beat so for the price-point it might be a little short for a game that’s over the $10 mark but the quality of the game and the replayability (there is a veteran difficulty which makes enemies tougher and moves items into different secret areas) makes it a decent value.

Pros:

  • Classic look and feel of an old 8-bit game – captures the retro vibe of the 8-bit systems almost perfectly
  • Bosses are unique, tough, but fair as long as patterns are learned
  • High replayability as you collect items to unlock secret paths and power-ups in previously played levels.

Cons:

  • Haggis freezes after attacks and sticks to ledges making movement and fighting take some getting used to.
  • Weird control scheme and non-customizable button layouts.
  • Some areas have pretty hefty slowdown causing issues with accurate jumping and fighting

Overall Odallus is a game that is definitely highly recommended if you’re a 30-something+ gamer that needs a nostalgia shot and you don’t want to dust off the NES or Master System or you’re a younger gamer that’s interested in seeing what games used to be like. I almost made the mistake of not giving it the credit it was due, don’t make the same mistake.

Score: 4/5

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