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Odallus: The Dark Call Strives for Authenticity with its Mix of Wonder Boy and Castlevania

JoyMasher's gothic tribute to 8-bit action is faithful on all fronts... Including difficulty.

Article by Bob Mackey, .

When I took one look at Odallus—released yesterday on Steam—my immediate reaction was, "Yes game, I will review you." But you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men: They get all screwed up and junk.

(Apologies, they never made me read much Robert Burns in college.)

So yeah, Odallus: The Dark Call is a tough game. And if you'd permit me to make the Dreaded Dark Souls Comparison, here goes: It actually reminds me quite a bit of Dark Souls. Like Shovel Knight, Odallus borrows a bit from From Software's RPG, though it's mostly interested in digging up a style from the past with the benefit of hindsight. But while Yacht Club's tribute to DuckTales and similar games offers a healthy challenge the player can organically adjust on the fly, Odallus is simply NES Hard from the outset. Plenty of 8-bit games earned this title due to the ineptness or lack of experience from their respective programming teams, but thankfully, Odallus presents a tough-but-fair challenge where every death can be blamed squarely on yourself.

In terms of how it plays, Odallus feels like a Castlevania-themed Wonder Boy: While the weapons, items, and enemies are alarmingly similar to those from Konami's famous platformer, Odallus contains the exploration elements you'd find in Westone's long-dead series. Note that I didn't mention Metroid, because Odallus doesn't offer an interconnected world; instead, you're presented with discrete levels that offer an incentive to come back once you pick up the proper equipment to overcome certain obstacles and enemies. Yes, Odallus is another indie Metroidvania, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Like Shovel Knight, it's slavishly devoted to presenting its world via the means of technology a half-step above the NES, giving it an authentic look that can't be achieved with a pedestrian approach to sprite art.

It's a tough game, but "tough" in terms of the modern video game experience; from the beginning, you can take quite a few hits from enemies, and bottomless pits simply shave a heart away after dropping you off right before the jump. Still, you have to approach each enemy with caution, since, as with Simon Belmont's whip, there's a real deliberate nature to protagonist Haggis' (yes) sword swings. Most levels feature multiple branching pathways—with some you'll have to explore later—along with plenty of shortcuts to open up for the sake of replays. And while the first few levels won't offer too much of a challenge, by the time level three hits, most of your time will be devoted to opening up the next shortcut so you can make it to that area's boss with all of your lives and most of your health intact later down the road. Mercifully, there's a state of persistence to the world, and while enemies may regenerate once you scroll them off the screen, the changes you've made to the levels themselves stick around, even if you leave. The inclusion of lives is a bit of a bummer—even if they make sense within the context of a retro tribute—but getting booted out of a level doesn't necessarily entail doing everything all over again.

Above all, JoyMasher has a real knack for understanding what makes 8-bit classics work so well. Odallus' bosses serve as a real master class in NES-era game design, with each one running through a series of manageable patterns that give you a small window of time to evade their attacks and get in a few hits yourself. One of my favorites so far takes the form of a massive ball with three heads growing out of it; as the fight goes on, the boss cycles through distinct attacks from each of these heads, and once you take them out, the second phase of the battle ups the stakes by introducing alternating currents of wind into the arena. Slaying this boss required more than a few tries, but it wasn't frustrating—with every replay, I had the satisfaction of getting just a little bit better.

If Shovel Knight is on par with the greatest Capcom and Konami 8-bit classics, I'd say Odallus feels a lot more like the best of the NES' B-tier offerings, like Shatterhand, Kabuki Quantum Fighter, Totally Rad, and Power Blade. That doesn't necessarily make Odallus worse, though; its style of play just reminds me of different source material than Shovel Knight's. While I haven't digested enough to justify giving it an official review score, the five-or-so hours I've spent with Odallus have definitely been worth the price of entry, and I'm honestly looking forward to seeing what secrets old levels hold once I get the proper tools to break them open. The big games might be holding off until Release Season begins this fall, but with games like Odallus floating around on Steam, it shouldn't really matter.

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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #1 SargeSmash 3 years ago
    I'm definitely looking forward to giving this one a try.

    Also, Shatterhand is definitely A-tier.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #2 brionfoulke91 3 years ago
    Nice article, looks like a fantastic game! The only thing I disagree with is that I think it's not a bummer for lives to be in the game, lives are a great mechanic and there's always room for them, even in modern games. But this game certainly gets everything right in terms of presentation and style. And the art is beautiful for an indie game.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #3 VotesForCows 3 years ago
    Odd contrast between the Greek 'odallus' and the more prosaically named Haggis! Looks like a solid game though. Shame it's not on consoles.
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  • Avatar for StevieWhite #4 StevieWhite 3 years ago
    For some reason I saw this and instantly thought "Astyanax"
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  • Avatar for Tebunker #5 Tebunker 3 years ago
    @StevieWhite Me too, I also see some Cadash and Exile in here... It's like TG-16 and NES had made an action platformer
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  • Avatar for sandrapentecost #6 sandrapentecost 3 years ago
    Deleted July 2015 by sandrapentecost
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #7 brionfoulke91 3 years ago
    @StevieWhite Absolutely, I thought Astynax too! And certainly Cadash also. You can also really see the Demons Crest influence in the boss designs.
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  • Avatar for iameod #8 iameod 3 years ago
    lmao at calling Shatterhand B-tier
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  • Avatar for Sturat #9 Sturat 3 years ago
    I would consider all of Natsume's NES games released in the US to be B-tier: essential for collectors, but not for people who only own a couple dozen NES games. ...But while Shatterhand is easy to recommend, I'd say Totally Rad and Kabuki Quantum Fighter are barrel-scrapers that fit alongside stuff like Felix the Cat and Krion Conquest.
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  • Avatar for Mikki-Saturn #10 Mikki-Saturn 3 years ago
    Luckily, we're getting a new Wonder Boy... sort of.
    http://www.monsterboy.com/
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  • Avatar for StevieWhite #11 StevieWhite 3 years ago
    @Tebunker@brionfoulke91 Yeah, definitely seeing some Cadash in there. I gotta replay that!
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #12 SargeSmash 3 years ago
    @Sturat : I'll agree with some of them, but I find Shatterhand and Shadow of the Ninja as good as some of the other great platformers on the system. They remind me a lot of Sunsoft's NES games, particularly Batman.

    Power Blade is definitely B-tier, I like Kabuki a lot, too, and Totally Rad is just a touch above average. Interesting ideas, not stellar execution. Although the surfer dude dialogue is hilarious. :)

    And hey, Felix the Cat is pretty good, too. Krion Conquest feels all sorts of sketchy, though. Shows the Mega Man formula can be done wrong.

    @Tebunker: I'm glad I'm not the only one that saw the strong TG-16 resemblance from this game!Edited 2 times. Last edited July 2015 by SargeSmash
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  • Avatar for Sturat #13 Sturat 3 years ago
    @SargeSmash The way I see it, the top tier side scrolling platformers of the NES library would be games like Contra, Mega Man, Mario, Castlevania, and Ninja Gaiden. Games like Shatterhand, Shadow of the Ninja, Vice Project Doom, Power Blade, and Bucky O'Hare feel like they'd occupy a lower tier, even though I'd still recommend them and rate them highly. If these were A and B tier, the games I could see going either way would include Adventure Island II, Blaster Master, Bionic Commando, Ducktales, and maybe even Little Samson, Metal Storm, Rygar, and Batman. The difference between the games I'd be on the fence about and the games I'd confidently put in the 2nd tier is the amount of creativity and effort put into the design. Shatterhand and its ilk are still good games, they're just not nearly as interesting or memorable.

    ...Kabuki Quantum Fighter, on the other hand, is pretty flawed once you reach the third level. Like, Ninja Crusaders-caliber flawed.
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  • Avatar for inkybutt #14 inkybutt 3 years ago
    @Sturat Agreed 100% on your ranking here. "B-tier" games may be excellent in execution, but don't bring as much new to the table. Let's say you missed the 8-bit generation and want to go back and experience game history. You can understand the key concepts of the era just by playing those A-tier games (only mentioning platformers so far, but of course you'd also play stuff like Zelda, Metroid, Dragon Quest). Then the B-tier games are great to follow up with if you enjoy that style of game.

    "Yes, Odallus is another indie Metroidvania, but that's not necessarily a bad thing."

    Pet peeve time? It annoys me when people act like 8-bit throwback games somehow preclude the existence of something else. Like I see a lot of people saying "why don't indie developers make N64 throwbacks instead?" And it's like...because that's exponentially harder for a small team, and the early 3D era hasn't aged particularly well anyway. Or "throwback indie games aren't even 100% authentic." Who cares? Do you want them to be?
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  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #15 Captain-Gonru 3 years ago
    @VotesForCows I totally agree. I just don't do much gaming on my PC, and I find myself more comfortable with the controllers available for consoles (yes, I know there are adaptors. But that's money I'd rather spend on games).
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  • Avatar for KaiserWarrior #16 KaiserWarrior 3 years ago
    @inkybutt Honestly? I kind of do, if they're going out of their way to be pixels-and-boops. I can appreciate "retro-ish" games when they're well-made games in their own right, pixels or no. But there are a lot -- and I do mean a lot -- of indie games out there that feel, for lack of any better words, insincere. As if they utilize pixels-and-boops not because they had any particular passion for that presentation, but because their creators know that pixels-and-boops will sell just about anything to a certain market segment.

    It's the difference between something like Shovel Knight, and something like They Bleed Pixels.

    That being said, I have a lot of respect for Freedom Planet, by way of example. They wanted a retro-ish aesthetic, and they wanted to make a very Sonic The Hedgehog style game, so they went with Genesis/Megadrive style aesthetics rather than NES/TG-16 style. Little things like that, where it doesn't take too very much in the way of additional work to get a lot more effect out of it, if you're going the retro route.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #17 VotesForCows 3 years ago
    @Captain-Gonru For platform games I'd definitely opt for a controller too. Still, I'd like to play more on my PC, but even retro looking games have heavy system requirements nowadays. I suppose they've no need for the heavy optimisation required by actual old games to fit on the old consoles.
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