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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (353)

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Lands of Lore: Throne o... 2/5
Rage 2 4/5
EnHanced 3.5/5
Blossom Tales: The Slee... 3.5/5
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 2.5/5
Far Cry 5 4/5
Jotun 2/5
Armada 4/5
RiME 2.5/5
Song of the Deep 4.5/5
Shadowrun: Hong Kong 4/5
Destiny 2 4/5
Shadowrun: Dragonfall 4/5
Shadowrun Returns 3/5
Kirby Star Allies 3.5/5
Dark Quest 2 3.5/5
Never Alone 3/5
Octopath Traveler 3/5
Guacamelee! 2 4/5
The Incredible Adventur... 4/5
Fallout 4 3/5
Tomba! 5/5
Odallus: The Dark Call 4/5
Dragon Quest Builders 4/5
Call of Juarez: Bound i... 3/5

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Odallus: The Dark Call   PC (Steam) 

ProtoRetroMetroVania    4/5 stars

“Odallus: The Dark Call” (“Odallus”) is the second game by Brazilian Indie developer, JoyMasher, a tiny group of people trying to make a name for themselves by recreating the so-called ‘Glory’ Days of the 8-bit era for a modern audience. It is unsurprising that this team is, in fact, based in Brazil, since, due to worldwide economic forces, the most widespread videogame technology in South America is still 16-bit, leaning heavily toward the Sega Genesis.

Personally, I’m not blindly nostalgic about anything from the 8-bit era, and JoyMasher’s first game, “Oniken,” which hearkens back to titles like “Ninja Gaiden” and “Contra,” did nothing to capture my attention. “Odallus,” on the other hand, is an attempt at recreating Konami’s classic ‘Castlevania’ series. ‘Castlevania’ is a rather baggage-laden IP. While it did have three clunky, generic platformer titles on the NES, my first experience with it was the abysmal Tiger Handheld ‘port’ (and I use that word loosely) of “Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest.” It was horrible. But word of mouth insisted that ‘Castlevania’ was amazing, so I kept trying to like the franchise with the three terrible Game Boy Brick entries. It wasn’t until “Super Castlevania 4” on the SNES that I first started to understand why the series was popular, but even that game felt clunky compared to other platformers, and after struggling through the brutal Level A and Level B, then immediately dying to Dracula, I diligently wrote-down my password and took a break, only to discover that the password put me right back at the beginning of Level A. “Super Castlevania 4” got sold to the Friendly Local Game Shop at that point.

But that’s just my personal baggage with the franchise. The main thing that makes ‘Castlevania’ difficult to nail-down is the fact that it keeps changing its paradigms. While the NES games, the SNES games, the Game Boy games, the Genesis game, and the TurboGrafx game all cleaved to the paradigm of the generic, clunky platformer, in the 5th Generation, Konami, the IP’s developer and publisher, changed gears and blended the basic (and increasingly outdated) platforming gameplay with more Action/Adventure elements, lifted directly from Nintendo’s ‘Metroid’ series. The result was “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night,” the game that coined the sub-genre name ‘Metroidvania’ and set the paradigm in place for the next decade, with Game Boy Advance and DS ‘Castlevania’ games all falling in that mold. Konami wouldn’t attempt to change gears again until “Castlevania: Lords of Shadow,” which attempted to turn the series into a 3D (yuck) Action/Adventure.

“Odallus” awkwardly straddles the divide between ‘Old Bad Castlevania’ and ‘Metroidvania,’ leaning more heavily toward the former. However, by incorporating some modern Quality of Life features, it manages to be far better than any of the NES platformers it so desperately wishes to emulate.

Presentation
While it was published in 2015, “Odallus” looks like something right out of 1985. The game is created from a handful of 2D sprite layers that include parallax scrolling, while the color pallets for each area are artificially limited to invoke the technological limitations of the past. Of course, “Odallus” isn’t actually a game from the past, and weighs in at over 400MB, which is closer to what one would expect from an early CD-ROM game, not an 8-bit NES or Sega Master System title. While the visuals are intentionally limited due to artistic choice, they do actually look quite good for 8-bit style graphics. Characters and enemies are all very large and well animated, while environments are detailed enough to include visual cues for where secrets lie (which real NES games rarely, if ever, did). There’s no flickering or slowdown due to too many objects on screen, either.

The audio is just as stylized as the visuals. The soundtrack consists of a variety of catchy and thematically appropriate chiptunes, and there are even a handful of heavily compressed, poor-quality voice clips used as sound effects.

Technically, “Odallus” is alright, but not flawless. It has a tendency to freeze at a blank screen during initial launch, and the option menu is only available from a tiny launcher window that can’t be resized. Regardless, the game looks clean and sharp at the widescreen resolution of 1080p and includes native Xinput support, putting it ahead of all old PC games and a number of newer ones.

Story
It is obvious that the writers for “Odallus’” script are non-native English speakers, as the game’s narrative and dialog are all nearly as inscrutable as genuine 8-bit games. I can’t speak for the original Portuguese version of the script, nor any of the other languages for which it has received localizations, but the English version is just comprehensible enough to work out what’s going on.

Our hero is a retired mercenary named Haggis who lives in a bleak world seemingly inspired by the ‘Conan the Barbarian’ pulp novels. After returning from hunting one day, Haggis finds his village aflame and his son kidnapped by a strange cult who worship a red stone known as Odallus. When he confronts the village elder, Haggis witnesses the man using the Odallus to transform into a hideously deformed monster, which promptly attacks him.

Haggis quickly learns that someone known as Gael has his son and wants the power of the Odallus for himself. Haggis must venture through demon-infested regions in a race against Gael’s forces in order to collect the Odallus fragments for himself if he is to have any hope of rescuing his son.

“Odallus” ends with couple of not-quite-surprising plot twists that still manage to tie up all of the plot’s loose ends into a neat knot. A first-run completionist game takes between 6 and 8 hours, while a speedrun can supposedly be completed in 2, making “Odallus” rather short.

Gameplay
Upon first starting up a game of “Odallus,” it’s obvious that the game tries to follow the same beats as ‘Old Bad Castlevania’ as closely as possible. Heck, the basic structure of the first stage feels nearly identical to the first stage of “Super Castlevania 4.” However, even in the first stage, a handful of mysteries are present that hint at the game’s depths yet to come.

Like ‘Old Bad Castlevania,’ “Odallus” is a stage-based platformer, with a total of 9 discrete stages. Unlike ‘Old Bad Castlevania,’ however, “Odallus” includes a “Super Mario World”-inspired ability to revisit stages whenever the player wishes. This is actually quite important, as each of the first 4 stages contains a secret exit that leads to the latter 4 stages, all of which must be completed before the path to the final boss stage opens.

In revisiting previous stages, the player must also hunt for secrets, an activity which strongly invokes the Action/Adventure elements introduced to ‘Castlevania’ during its metamorphosis into ‘Metroidvania.’ Conveniently, the stage select screen keeps track of how many secrets are in each stage and how many the player has found in each stage – something NO NES game would ever be kind enough to do. These secrets consist of a variety of things, ranging from stashes of money, to permanent character upgrades, to stone monuments which contain fragments of backstory lore.

At its core, though, “Odallus” is a fairly basic 8-bit styled platformer. Haggis starts with the ability to move side to side, crouch, jump, and attack to the side with a sword. He quickly gains the ability to use sub-weapons, of which there are three to find through the course of the game, and can cycle between them with the press of a button. Haggis can also grab onto ledges to pull himself up as he navigates the stages. All of these basic movements are nicely responsive, and far more snappy than a true NES game. But that’s just the start. As the player revisits and thoroughly explores each stage, they will come across upgrades for both Haggis’ sword and armor, but also for his movement, including the ability to breathe underwater, the ability to double-jump, and the ability to glide.

Another rather nice thing about “Odallus” is the fact that it obsessively keeps track of the player’s progress and automatically saves it. While Haggis only starts with three 1-ups, giving the player 4 chances to complete a stage, progress contained within a stage is saved, even if the player dies too many times and needs to continue. Bosses stay slain, secret paths stay opened, and power-ups stay collected, leading to far less repetition and annoyance than the 8-bit games “Odallus” apes. “Odallus” is still a fairly tricky game. There are two distinct instances of That One Boss throwing up a brick wall to progress, however, both of them can be made far easier by exploring, finding all of the power-ups available, and tacking them again later. Of course, because of Haggis’ wildly variable capabilities from the beginning to the end of the game, it’s also the type of game that ‘Git Gudders,’ H.A.R.D.-heads, and e-peen wagglers can attempt with minimal power-up collection on Veteran mode in order to make themselves feel big.

Overall
“Odallus: The Dark Call” is like a forgotten NES ‘Castlevania’ clone that was far ahead of its time. While its stage-based structure prevents it from being a true ‘Metroidvania,’ it incorporates so much of the ‘Metroidvania’ structure, that there’s no reason to ostracize it from the sub-genre. The polished gameplay and brisk pacing are only brought low by the game’s short length and occasional difficulty spikes. Anyone who likes 8-bit games, specifically ‘Castlevania’ and ‘Metroid,’ should definitely give this Indie title a shot.

Presentation: 4/5
Story: 3/5
Gameplay: 4/5
Overall (not an average): 4/5

 

 


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