Thursday, April 21, 2016

Microreview [video game]: Odallus: The Dark Call by Joymasher

Retro Done Right

I'm a pretty big fan of the Castlevania series. They're generally a great blend of action, platforming, great music, and tons of weird monsters. The series has had far more hits than misses, and it's disappointing to me that Konami appears to be withdrawing from the video game market. Doing so will take Castlevania away from us forever, and we'll be left replaying those excellent classics and wishing we had something new. But the indie developers at Joymasher also apparently loved Castlevania, because Odallus: The Dark Call bears its influence proudly and it's magnificent.

Odallus is a neo-retro game; it's obviously a fully original game but its done in the style of games made 30 years ago. It's got the Ninja Gaiden style cutscenes, beautiful sprite based 2D graphics, and a chiptunes soundtrack. On my hard drive, it takes up 415MB so it's far beyond the storage capacity of an NES cartridge, but the look and feel is all there. It even occasionally has NES-style graphical glitches.

This still image doesn't convey how good this cutscene looks.

As Haggis, you find that your village is burning and your child is missing, so you strike out to fight demons and monsters and all sorts of nasty stuff and get him back. Haggis is armed with a sword, which isn't a chain whip, but it's perfectly satisfying when it comes to chopping up monsters. There are also subweapons that augment your fighting capacity. It mixes up the Castlevania formula by giving you a throwing axe that flies straight, a torch that burns like holy water, and a javelin that flies in an arc, and all three are readily available once you've found them. You'll often rely on those subweapons to do real damage, at least early in the game, because your starting sword is a little weak and slow.

Here you can see one of the mostly human enemies.

Odallus also takes some influence from the Metroid series in that you can find relics that enhance your movement abilities, such as being able to breathe underwater and double-jump. The game is also full of secret areas, some of which require these relics to find. It's not a fully open map like Metroid, but it's broken down into levels that can revisited from the world map. Stuff like secret areas and multiple level exits are things that I loved about old NES games and they're done well.

Difficulty in the game is almost perfectly balanced. It's falls just on the right side of almost infuriating but still encouraging you to try again. Every time I ragequit on a boss (which happened once or twice), I'd jump back in after 10 minutes because I wanted to beat it and I knew I could. The final boss is absolutely brutal and I beat it with barely a sliver of life left, but it was so rewarding when I did.

This is the first boss, and one of the least weird. Other bosses approach R-Type levels of body horror.

I really don't have much to complain about here. The mine cart level kind of sucks a little, but it's nowhere near as frustrating as some classic counterparts. Odallus: The Dark Call is a must-play for Castlevania fans, or retro gaming enthusiasts. I've seen a lot of retro-ish games, but this is easily one of my favorites and one that gets it right.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 9/10

Bonuses: +1 it's basically a new Castlevania

Penalties: -1 limited appeal if you're not into Castlevania or old NES games

Nerd Coefficient: 9/10 (very high quality/standout in its category)


POSTED BY: brian, sci-fi/fantasy/video game dork and contributor since 2014

Reference: Joymasher. Odallus: The Dark Call [Joymasher, 2015]