Right off the bat Olija seems different. It starts with the name; Olija. Immediately you wonder to yourself what could it be? What does it mean? That feeling of wonder continues as you start playing the game; everything seems mysterious, there are strange symbols, peculiar characters that you come across, and everyone speaks in a mumble, which to me quickly starts sounding as if it could be the strange native language of this land. The game is an action platformer, with a hint of Metroidvania. It has a large focus on both combat and exploration, and players must take advantage of their full arsenals to explore and defeat everything in their path.
You play as a man named Lord Faraday, and after your ship capsizes you and your crew find yourself in the strange, mystical land of Terraphage. You must find your crew and try to escape this unusual setting. The land of Terraphage is made up of a number of islands and it has an Eastern Asian vibe to it. You can select which island you want to explore from an overworld map. New locations reveal themselves when you find new maps in the different levels. Most of the islands have different paths you can take to explore and find crew members, new items, and loot. Some of the cave systems seem to just keep going and going.
In addition to your crew members you also need to rescue some of the locals who have been captured by various malevolent forces. After being rescued, everyone returns to your new temporary home base Oaktide. You can upgrade/build certain features to give you a haberdashery (hat shop) which sells magical hats that not only make you look sharp but give you various perks – one makes you immune to toxins and also emits its own toxins that damage enemies; another increases your attack speed and movement speed in combat if you don’t get hit. There’s also an explorer that will venture off and later return with currency and random crafting materials if you finance his trip. You can also build an apothecary who will permanently upgrade your health for a fee after you save its proprietor.
Perhaps the most interesting and unique mechanic in Olija is the Harpoon you find very early in the game; the story seems to be tied around it. By pressing the X button it can be used as a regular weapon, and by pressing B and aiming with the left joystick (or D-pad) you can throw it. This is where the unique feature comes in – if you hit an enemy or a destructible object like a crate you can press the joystick in that direction and press B again to warp to the harpoon and slash the target. There are strange black sludgy things around each level that you can target with your harpoon and warp to them, which can be used to reach platforms or ledges that were unreachable with just a regular jump. I quickly learned to chuck my harpoon through any holes in the wall or ceiling I came across because if it hits something then you can use it to warp there and discover hidden rooms which usually contain valuable items like currency, crafting materials, or collectibles. This harpoon mechanic creates the opportunity for some interesting movement in the game and platforming, hitting a black sludge thing and then immediately hitting another without touching the ground. Pressing B without moving towards the harpoon teleports it back to your hand. This mechanic is cleverly used to solve different puzzles such as requiring a button to be hit with the harpoon to open a door, then walk through the door and recover the harpoon which closes the door behind you.
The fighting system is much more in depth than I expected it to be. There’s a combo system you can take advantage of by pressing X and Y in different combinations. The harpoon throw can even be added into a combo dealing a good amount of damage. There’s a power gauge that builds up after you’ve connected with a set number of hits, and then you can unleash a more powerful attack. The gameplay is very forgiving, I haven’t died in combat yet, but it’s still very enjoyable. It seems like a combat system that could be mastered to the point where you become unstoppable, which would make for some good streaming or Youtube videos.
As you can see in the pictures the art in Olija is different. The artists have created their own unique pixel art style, it’s hard to explain but it feels kind of low def. The characters don’t have any facial features, and a lot of the assets are sort of simple looking, they don’t have much shading, but it all comes together really well. Most of the backgrounds are very detailed, and there’s some moments where the camera pans out and you can see just how beautiful the game is. Olija might be a 2D pixel graphic platformer, but it has some well designed and implemented cut scenes and in-game cinematic moments which are accompanied by a stunning soundtrack. The music is very unique, it’s described as a “melancholic soundtrack inspired by Flamenco, lo-fi and traditional Japanese music”. I haven’t heard anything like it in any other game I’ve played but it fits perfectly.
I look forward to playing more of Olija. I can’t wait to explore more of Terraphage and uncover its secrets and hopefully help Faraday and his crew find their way back home. If this sounds at all interesting to you, you should mark your calendar because it’s releasing in the Xbox store as well as Playstation, Switch, and Steam on Jan 28th. It seems like it’ll be a steal at the advertised price of $15. Be sure to pop back to the site nearer launch to read our full review too!Become a Patron!
This game was previewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by the publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.