Harrowing harpoon high jinks.
Stories of love and adventure have been a part of not only gaming but also worldwide culture as a method of storytelling for generations. From Captain Ahab’s voyage to take on the legendary white whale to insurance agents attempting to decipher the whereabouts of wayward crews in Return of the Obra Dinn, tales of the seafaring variety have intermingled with these longstanding stories as well. Olija brings together many of these ideas in a button-thumping action-platformer that has the famous Lord Faraday attempting to rescue his lost crew following a mysterious shipwreck. Even with some of the technical hiccups aboard this voyage, and some middling gameplay, Olija excites with the possibility of what could be beyond the horizon and what boss fight could enthrall you next.
On a seemingly eastward passage across the sea, Lord Faraday and his valiant mates have crashed upon the shores of Terraphage, a treacherous country with enemies at every turn. Following his duty and honor, Faraday takes to finding and reclaiming his missing companions, but that is only the beginning of this rollercoaster of an adventure. After making friends with the citizens of a local village and finding a legendary harpoon, Faraday comes across a beautiful maiden named Olija, whom he swears himself to while on his quest. Between entities trying to recapture the harpoon, otherworldly monsters, and the exploration of each corner of this realm, you are placed on a pilgrimage of enlightenment. While other sections of Olija may falter, the story is outstanding from top to bottom. Between the classic ideas present from novels and cinema and the clear Eastern storytelling influence, Olija captures everything you’d want to see from a platformer of this variety to keep you on the edge of your seat.
The other premiere portion of Olija comes in its boss sections, where you’re left to deal with oozing monsters from the abyss and harpoon-hunting baddies alike. These longer sequences of fighting allow for a puzzle-solving aspect to emerge that makes them well worth completing. While they may not top some of the better boss fights you can imagine, they make the journey a hell of a lot more enjoyable.
In terms of the basic gameplay sections in Olija, things simmer down quite a bit between the story sections and boss fights. Platforming is kept interesting merely through the use of the harpoon’s teleporting ability, which, when thrown at certain enemies, allows you to zoom towards them. Otherwise, this portion of Olija, as well as the button-mashing combat, are fairly lackluster. Different weapons and ability-gifting hats can keep things from growing too stale, but beyond not being boring, Olija’s movement and fighting style leave a lot to be desired.
The hub-world village you slowly unlock allows for a satisfying rate of expansion and progress, but again, it doesn’t feel like something that wows in a world of incredible indie adventures. Characters are interesting and dialogue is well-written, but not enough is given to the ability and weapon portions of the game to allow for your home to be as useful as you’d like.
Taking these negative aspects of Olija and pairing them with some technical hiccups on the Nintendo Switch port means this may, yet again, not be the best place to play this title. While the frame rate drops I experienced mostly took place in menus and cutscenes, it was enough to be disappointing regardless. While a day one patch is on the way following Olija’s release on other consoles and PC, the Switch patch will come sometime after release, and even then it doesn’t mention these frame dips. It is nice that some of the other bugs found will be fixed up hopefully soon after launch, but performance is something to keep in mind.
Olija’s soundtrack is fantastic, with influences from Flamenco and traditional Japanese music; this one mixes such an interesting group of sounds together for the adventure. Graphically, Olija has a great, simplistic pixel art style to it that will keep those retro nostalgia nuts chomping at the bit.
Olija has a wonderful story to tell that takes influence from some of your favorite seafaring adventures. While the technical hiccups can be disappointing and the major portion of the gameplay can feel unexciting, the boss fights and story sections bring to life a drab and dreary world that I would thoroughly enjoy seeing more of after the patches roll out.