You start off fairly simply, tackling enemies with a basic sword and a bit of jumping and dodging. Soon enough, you’ve grabbed a ranged weapon; great for… well, taking out enemies at range, as you’d hope. You unlock new hats that give special powers, like a damage-dealing feather that follows the path of your dash after you’ve done it, adding a bit of pain to your avoidance techniques.
Then there’s the magical spear, which can be used as a regular melee weapon as well as thrown as a ranged attack, and it can be teleported, too, once it sticks into certain things. Olija builds up the elements around you as you play, so while it may look like a fair chunk on this page, it’s actually easy and straightforward to get your head around it while playing.
But the ever-increasing challenge – especially in boss fights – means you’re kept on your toes, never feeling overpowered even with the steady stream of new stuff coming your way. That’s not to say Olija is particularly Hardcore™ – there was no risk of me flinging my Switch against any walls while playing, even if I did die a fair few times – but it’s certainly a solid challenge when it wants to be.
That just helps to double down on the fact that those combat mechanics are really well done; snappy and satisfying, and the sort of thing you never feel like you’re out of control with. If you press it, you do it.
Conveyor-belting the whole thing along is that narrative: it doesn’t push it too hard, but you’re rarely confused as to what’s going on. As with the abilities you unlock, there’s enough going on, story-wise – and enough with the new areas unlocked and secrets revealed as you play – to push you forward. It’s fair to say no element alone is truly standout. Taken together though, it makes for a fantastic experience.
One playthrough isn’t going to take you forever – a handful of hours, maybe – but the experience you have in those hours is a fantastic one, full of creative twists and surprising turns, as well as that ever-changing combat to keep you on your toes. Sometimes there’s only one real way of saying it, and here it is: Olija is a very good video game.
My head says combat, but my heart goes atmosphere: Olija is positively dripping with character, with the mysteries of the islands you explore sitting front, middle, and back of the screen, teasing you to want to know more.
A wonderfully crafted mix of platforming, exploration, combat, and narrative, well worth the price of entry.
Format: Switch (tested) / PC / PS4 / XBO
Developer: Skeleton Crew Studio, Thomas Olsson
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release: Out now