Olija review: On stranger tides

Thomas Olsson of Skeleton Crew and Devolver Digital's latest title follows a group of castaways on a harrowing journey to their homeland. Our review.

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We’ve come to always expect something fresh and unique from publisher Devolver Digital, and that’s precisely what we get with Olija. Developed solely by Thomas Olsson of Skeleton Crew, Olija follows a man stuck in a mysterious land after a shipwreck leaves him stranded. Equipped with a legendary harpoon, Faraday will embark on a dangerous quest to return home.

Castaway

Faraday and a group of others find themselves stuck in the mysterious land of Terraphage after being shipwrecked. I was really taken by the story in Olija. Faraday is a character players can easily attach to, and his journey is one of struggle and hardship. The story has strong themes of overcoming the odds and fighting through adversity.

With Olija being an action-oriented game, I was really glad to see the story remain at the center of it all. The world is so heavily inspired by sailor’s lore and Asian fantasy. This not only serves to drive the story forward, but plays into the game’s gorgeous visuals as well.

A mystical land

Olija is done in a very minimal art style, with most characters being blank faces outside of cutscenes. This works to the game’s benefit, as we can still feel all of the emotion and expressions from Faraday and other characters. Even the enemies and monsters follow this simplified design approach.

It’s also present in the environments as well. Even with most of the settings and landscapes consisting of large pixelated blocks, Olsson is able to make each of them feel unique and stand out with his use of color. Sometimes, the minimalist art style means that chaotic combat scenarios get a bit jumbled and confusing, but that’s the only time it ever felt like a hindrance to the game.

The sound design is also superb in Olija. From the melodic music to the ambient noises of the diverse environments, the sounds in Olija really immerse you in the world.

Fight for your life

As solid as the narrative is, Olija is also an exceptional 2D platformer. With his newly-acquired legendary harpoon, Faraday takes on some dangerous creatures on his journey back to the homeland. Combat is simple, controlled entirely from the keyboard. Players can string together punches and kicks for some cool combos, and even see some unique animations. I really liked how holding the directional button when attacking would trigger unique combat animations, like the devastating drop kick.

Combat feels especially satisfying in Olija, mainly thanks to the aforementioned sound design. The sound of the wind whirring when you swing your weapon, the “wham” you hear when you make contact, it’s all done really well. You can also see the damage numbers during combat, providing even more feedback to the player.

The journey home

Olija is incredibly cinematic, despite its minimalist approach to art style. The game still feels fantastical thanks to an incredible attention to detail with both the visual and sound design. In addition, Olija tells a heartfelt story with important themes, while keeping satisfying gameplay at the center of it all. It becomes even more impressive when you realize the game was practically developed by one person, Thomas Olsson of Skeleton Crew Studios. Olija is a pleasant treat and likely an early frontrunner for one of the best indie titles of 2021.


This review is based on a digital download code provided by the publisher. Olija is available now for $14.99 on PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Nintendo Switch.

Contributing Editor

Donovan is a young journalist from Maryland, who likes to game. His oldest gaming memory is playing Pajama Sam on his mom's desktop during weekends. Pokémon Emerald, Halo 2, and the original Star Wars Battlefront 2 were some of the most influential titles in awakening his love for video games. After interning for Shacknews throughout college, Donovan graduated from Bowie State University in 2020 with a major in broadcast journalism and joined the team full-time. He is a huge Star Wars nerd and film fanatic that will talk with you about movies and games all day. You can follow him on twitter @Donimals_

Review for
Olija
9
Pros
  • Great narrative
  • Interesting characters
  • Satisfying combat
  • Superb visual and sound design
Cons
  • Art style can make combat hectic
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