Odallus: The Dark Call – Retro like I remember
I’m old enough to have played a lot of NES games back when they were first released. There’s a certain kind of nostalgia filter that colors memories of how good those games actually were. Going back and playing them now on an emulator just doesn’t provide the same kind of experience that I remember having back when they were the newest things on the block. What JoyMasher has done with Odallus: The Dark Call is to make a game that feels the way I remember those other games. Old 8-bit games had a lot of bad to go along with the good, but Odallus cuts that out and delivers a concentrated experience full of the best that 8-bit games had to offer. It may be 30 years late, but I’m nominating this as the game of the year for 1985.
The basic plot of Odallus: The Dark Call is that players control Haggis, a single dad working long hours to provide for himself and his son. While out in the woods to do some hunting, shit goes sideways down in the sleepy village of Glenfinnan and Haggis needs to stop it. He returns home to find demons / dark gods / twisted bad guys ransacking the town like they’re generally wont to do. With his son missing, Haggis goes running headlong into danger and starts hacking apart anything that gets in his way. Do we need more story than that in a 2D platformer? I don’t think so. (There actually a ton of contextual storytelling going on, but there’s a whole blog article on it from the creators that I don’t need to rehash here.)
I need to point out that Odallus isn’t an attempt at creating an authentic NES game. The color pallette is more diverse, the aspect ratio is wrong, and the controls use more than two buttons and a directional pad. However, Odallus is spiritually what those old games strived to be, while at the same time a loving homage to their memory. The execution is nearly flawless and I couldn’t stop thinking about playing more and discovering all the hidden areas while I was supposed to be doing virtually anything else. My first playthrough lasted roughly 16 hours as I scoured areas that I knew still held more than I had discovered the first time through.
The layout of Odallus is absolutely brilliant. It’s presented in a modern aspect ratio while still managing to restrict the game play area to a 4:3 aspect ratio. It evokes the feeling of all those retro titles while making great use of the space available on modern screens by filling it with all of the character information. Again, this is an amazing homage to the games that inspired it while delivering an experience that today’s players expect from a retro title. The game also uses fantastic parallax effects and animations for the backgrounds to add a great amount of character to every level without breaking the retro 8-bit spell it so masterfully weaves. All I’m saying is that if you dig pixel-art games, this one is fucking gorgeous. You know, in a dark, evil-corrupting-the-world kind of way.
Gameplay wise, Odallus is an extremely solid Metroidvania game. It has a series of semi-linear levels that go from the starting village of Glenfinnan to the lair of the final boss. And in true Metroidvania style, it has branching paths to other areas that are only opened once a player finds the correct items and returns later. Players get to see right from the start that other paths are available…if they could only figure out how to get to them. In that same vein, Odallus is set up so that major puzzles in levels will stay solved once completed. I loved having that feeling of persistence in the world as I trekked back and forth among the many stages. I was particularly happy that I didn’t need to get through the boat sequence every single time I went back to Aqueducts area 1.
There are a total of five relics to be acquired throughout the game that will let players push heavy blocks, dash, double jump, slow fall, and even breathe underwater. On top of that, there are weapon and armor upgrades to be found and three separate sub-weapons to be utilized. The game uses a heart container system for player health which can be increased throughout the game as well. There are also backpacks hidden around that will increase maximum sub-weapon capacity up to 50. There’s no shortage of things to keep a player busy on their first time through, presuming they’re discovering everything on their own and not just using a walkthrough.
Odallus: The Dark Call is the most authentic retro game experience that I’ve had in a very long time. I literally found myself sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of my TV to play this game. I’m an adult—I own a fucking couch, but no, sitting on the floor is apparently how I feel most comfortable playing Odallus. It seems to have to triggered long-dormant gaming behaviors previously reserved for my NES days and I think that’s fabulous. I was ready to recommend this game to our readers after finishing the first area, but I decided to beat the whole game before reviewing it instead. I know that a lot of people look at indie games like this and ask themselves, “Should I buy this game?” If you have any love for old-school platformer adventure games, great pixel art, and awesome retro soundtracks, then Odallus is well worth its $15 price.