Developer - Skeleton Crew Studios Publisher - Devolver Digital Platforms - Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows, Playstation
- Total Score - 8.3/108.3/10
Short-but-sweet, Olija successfully reels you into its intoxicating world and tight gameplay but with few reasons to return to its oil-slicked shores.
When it comes to storytelling in games or movies, tone and style are often conflated. In reality, you’re looking at different perspectives of something. Style is the rhythm of your work while Tone is the author’s own outlook on the story, and how that affects the audience.
I mention this because Olija is a seldom-seen gem regarding style and tone in a game. Created by the highly talented Skeleton Crew Studios based out of Kyoto, Japan, Devolver Digital has published yet another pixel art banger to its growing roster.
Storytelling & Narrative
In Olija, you take up the mantle of Faraday, a fisherman shipwrecked in the cursed chain of islands known as Terraphage. Broken by the circumstances that led him to these oil-slicked shores and without his crew, Faraday stumbles across a cursed spear that allows him to teleport to the spear and vice-versa. Steeling himself and armed with this cursed weapon, he sets off to lead the numerous castaways out of these islands and back to their respective homelands.
That’s the simple gist and I wouldn’t dare spoil any of it beyond that, but it’s honestly compelling beyond its premise to an outstanding degree. The atmosphere oozes shades of cosmic distortion with characters talking of curses and magic just subtly enough to catch your ear. Bosses speaking of past encounters with the harpoon before revealing what some of the darkness of Terraphage truly looks like. The world around you is cracked and bled dry but you’re breathing life back into it for the lost people trapped on these islands.
Grappling Hook Supremacy
Grappling hooks make everything better, right? We’ve agreed on this without having to say it, but in Olija, this the core of the game. Your harpoon allows freedom of traversal…almost too much freedom.
Just about anything you stick this into lets you choose to call the harpoon back to you or vice-versa. This gives you immense control over platforming, puzzle-solving, as well as combat. Enemies you stick this into can be teleported through, leading to follow ups from numerous weapons you collect in your adventure.
This statement also fails to touch on how surprisingly varied your attacks can be. Striking enemies repeatedly will build up into super attacks that do immense damage, and directional inputs will give you different attacks. This even applies while airborne, letting you dropkick an enemy into a wall from a jump and following up with a plunging ax kick on an enemy below.
You’ll never find yourself falling short in combat, which might be one of the few true criticisms to be leveled at Olija as a whole. Your abilities far eclipse just about any enemy you will encounter, including bosses, which some may consider a true detriment, I consider it something that could be improved in games the Skeleton Crew Studios develops in the future.
Home away from Home
As you explore, you’ll have access to a hub area full of castaways you can find and rescue on surrounding islands. Every time you rescue one, they come back to the hub and you can devote resources to them to restore the town. This also unlocks additional access, including max health upgrades, ammo creation for your weapons and the all-important “magic hat” shop. You can choose a different hat to wear whenever you leave for an island and each grants a bonus in combat or traversal. Some might cause teleporting with the harpoon to throw out daggers, another might resist acid traps. This gives some level of customization but it’s ultimately window dressing for your playstyle.
While I wholly endorse you to go out and try Olija, supporting the developer and games like it, Olija is not perfect. Completing the game took me roughly 4-6 hours, by which point there isn’t a lot of reason to come back outside of re-experiencing the same story and atmosphere you already went through. Additionally, as I mentioned earlier, you will never truly experience a tough encounter to defeat through combat. So if you’re looking for a challenge, you probably won’t find it here.
Olija is a great game and one that Skeleton Crew Studios should absolutely commend itself for creating. The story, atmosphere, and combat are incredibly satisfying when explored, but the brief foray ends too soon. I think there are a great many things worse than wanting more though, and we should all eagerly look forward to what we’ll see next from this promising developer.