A Treat for Retro Gamers
No matter how much the industry advances, there will always be folks who prefer their video games pixelated and simple like they were in the 1980s. With the recent release of the NES Classic Edition, there are even more people experiencing video games as they once were. These games stand the test of time because they offer game play and visuals that are totally different from what’s out there today. So strong is the nostalgia for retro gaming that some developers make new games with deliberately limited technology, as is the case with Odallus: The Dark Call.
Odallus: The Dark Call is an action-adventure game with a retro-inspired design, taking pages mostly from the NES era of video games. Players control a warrior with the unfortunate name Haggis as he goes on a quest to free his kidnapped son from an evil cult. The story itself isn’t too special, which is riddled with bad dialogue and weird translation. Fortunately, for a game of this nature, that hardly matters since the game play comes first. There are nine levels to traverse, each one crawling with enemies and unique platforming sections.
The visual aesthetic and level design are most reminiscent of the old Castlevania series from its 8 and 16-bit origins. Levels are sprawling and diverse, often built vertically with long drops and steep climbs. Each level houses a number of secrets, which range from breakaway walls to inaccessible platforms that you need specific relics to reach. You’ll have to uncover secrets in order to unlock health upgrades and acquire the best equipment while also finding the relics that you’ll need in order to advance during later levels.
Game play is balanced between combat and platforming, and each level has branching paths that encourage exploration. Enemies and bosses have varied behaviors. They move and attack in patterns that are largely predictable and possible to learn with a little persistence. Areas that seem overwhelming at first soon become second nature as you figure out how to dodge specific attacks and sneak in a few of your own. Timing, precision, and twitch reactions are all important to survival, and each area provides new wrinkles for the player to master. It’s a classic retro formula, and players who still enjoy classic games from the late ’80s will feel right at home.
Enemies are diverse in their design. Big blue knights vary their attacks to keep you on your toes, while evil wizards will shoot fireballs at a specific rhythm that you can learn. Much like the whip in Castlevania, your sword can destroy many projectiles, and by learning the timing associated with each enemy, you can quash their attacks before countering with a few of your own. Bosses offer the best challenges of all. These large, hideous creatures will often rotate between attacks that affect large sections of the screen, forcing you to dodge, duck, and jump your way past projectiles. The boss fights serve as satisfying conclusions to each level, getting bigger and grander as the game progresses.
Odallus plays best on a controller and features simple mapping that makes use of only a few buttons. This contributes to the game’s retro design, as each input replicates those that could be made on an old NES controller. The game is easy to pick up and play without much of a learning curve. The jump controls are intuitive, thankfully allowing you to adjust your body in mid-air. (Not a given, considering the game’s old-school inspiration.) Attacking is slower than you might expect, but this is a deliberate design choice. You’ll need to plan and time your attacks rather than simply mash the button.
Like the rest of the game, the sound effects and music take a page from the NES standard. The effects are perfectly serviceable with satisfying slashes and moans that fit perfectly into the game’s world. The music doesn’t fare as well, composed of overly simplistic tunes that range in quality from inoffensive to actively annoying. To be fair, that’s not a problem with the medium, as 8-bit soundtracks have a history of sounding phenomenal, but this one fails to offer any memorable tunes.
The graphics, on the other hand, do capture the essence of retro gaming’s best, with diverse environments, cool enemies, and meticulously rendered backgrounds. In many cases, the game plays by the “rules” of the NES. The color palette is limited, and sprites are composed of only a few colors each. On the other hand, Odallus has a ton of parallax scrolling, which means that background layers scroll at different rates in order to simulate depth. This type of scrolling was possible on the NES, but it was difficult to achieve and uncommonly used as a result. It works really well in Odallus as a visual effect, but it also breaks the illusion of playing a truly retro video game. I doubt I’ll ever meet the guy who won’t play a retro game because it has parallax scrolling of all things, but if you happen to be that guy, be warned.
Odallus: The Dark Call is a near perfect game for those who enjoy retro action-adventure titles. The enemies and environments are diverse, the bosses are big and intimidating, and the game play is refined to include only the best aspects of 8-bit gaming while shedding away its lesser qualities. Odallus is the type of game that would be a well-known classic alongside Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden if it were released in the right time or in the right way. Instead, it’s a little known game on Steam, toiling in obscurity when it deserves so much more. Odallus: The Dark Call is a hidden gem, and it deserves to be discovered.