Olija – that’s oh-lee-ya, pronunciation fans – sees our player character Faraday shipwrecked and whisked away to a mysterious land of islands, dour-faced locals, trapped shipwreckees, and nefarious beasts to battle as you explore.
It evokes the spirit of Another World, mixing an enigmatic, alien atmosphere with an undercurrent of narrative driving the whole process – but where Éric Chahi’s 1991 classic was hardly a step beyond Dragon’s Lair in the action it offered, Olija has an often brilliant set of combat mechanics bolted on to the whole thing.
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