Olija plays Lord Faraday, the leader of a fighting fishing village who is shipwrecked during an expedition. He wakes up alone in Terraphage, a collection of islands corrupted by an ancient evil and home to an alien civilization ruled by the mysterious Lady Olija. Who is Olija, what is this malevolent force and how does Faraday save his crew and return home? Answering these tempting questions is a great thing because Olija looks good and plays better, making it one of the first pleasant surprises of the year.
Static images of Olija (pronounced “ooo-lee-ah”) do the presentation a disservice. It looks simple and pixelated, but is backed up by smooth animation reminiscent of classics like Prince of Persia and Another World. The game has days of style too thanks to its dramatic cutscenes (expect frequent cuts in black), foreboding soundtrack, and surprising gore. The unfamiliar language with subtitles contributes to this cinematic quality, although my favorite moments are communicated non-verbally. One great scene is delivering a rose to a virgin without her knowing it, resulting in a cute interaction that doesn’t require a single word to be spoken.
Olija is a satisfying action game in addition to its simple appearance. Players can trigger multi-hit combos, shoot enemies in the air, juggle them a little, and let them fly against walls – and it feels good. A magical harpoon acts as your main weapon and can impale enemies from a distance so you can then move towards them. Teleporting in the face of airborne threats feels good, as does remembering the harpoon to hit enemies on the return trip. They also have a collection of sub-weapons, like the fast and combo rapier or the powerful shotgun. Best of all, sub-arms can be swapped on the fly, so you can mix and match attacks and customize strategies.
Special hats serve as the only form of equipment. You make these items yourself and each hat has a unique benefit, such as: For example, firing dagger-like feathers when dodging, sucking health away when killing (my favorite) or the ability to turn the harpoon like a circular saw. These skills are mostly fun and definitely can help, but they are also not make or break tools. You are tied to one hat per mission, but I’ve rarely felt that each task requires special headgear. While this allows for flexibility, it also makes hats feel a little inconsequential. They make Faraday look pretty chic though.
Levels have multiple paths and strangely enough, no dungeon maps. While I haven’t turned around often, there are larger, harder to track areas that a map would make exploring easier. I had a great time exploring Olija’s world. Platforming feels good and the environmental puzzles are clever. For example, correctly navigating through huge mouths that Faraday warp on the map (read: spit). Unique segments like a fully stealth-focused area and exhilarating escape sequence keep exploration up to date. Plus, I never got tired of throwing the harpoon off the screen, clinging to something and then warping out to find a secret collectible or Find a captive crew member. Generally, you are looking for keys to open a large door at the end of the level, which usually results in a fun boss fight. While some battles involve large-scale battles against grotesque monstrosities, one-on-one fights with human enemies change things with a more intimate, strategic focus that requires reading behavior rather than just attacking full force.
Between the islands, you’ll build Oaktide, an abandoned port that serves as your home base. Rescued crew members return here, and the more you find, the livelier and happier the harbor becomes, which in itself is a reward. Players can unlock a potion shop to permanently increase the health bar, dine in a soup kitchen to restore vitality, and pay a captain to search for additional treasure. I’m a fan of this type of basic education feature, and while Olija’s version is far from the deepest example, it is nonetheless gratifying. The only downside is that once you have completely improved your health and got every hat, the money and jewelry you keep collecting will become useless (which is not difficult to do).
Olija is not a long game; It took me a little over four hours to finish, even after collecting most of the collectibles. But it packs a lot of good stuff in that time frame and never exhausts its reception. With tight gameplay, fun exploration, and an alluring atmosphere, Faraday’s disastrous journey turns into a rewarding expedition.