I grew up playing countless side-scrollers on the NES. From platformers like Super Mario Bros. and Mega Man to action games like Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden, to adventure games like The Goonies II and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link – there was definitely no shortage of these 2D masterpieces. As gaming evolved there was a long period where 2D fell out of vogue and if a game didn’t feature polygons it was considered archaic. Thankfully we’ve since come full circle with the rise of indie developers over the past ten years or so, and now there’s once again a plethora of high quality 2D games to enjoy.
Some go for an artsy aesthetic while others push for cutting edge high definition graphics. And then there are games like Odallus: The Dark Call that purposely limit their color palettes and add in scanlines to mimic the 8-bit visuals of the NES. Some of these titles are clever enough to successfully tug at the nostalgia muscle in our brains, but far too many end up sad disappointments that offer little in the way of substance. Odallus falls in the middle by offering up some entertaining gameplay mechanics with some frustrating design choices. Luckily these didn’t get in the way of having a fun time, but what could have been a 9 out of 10 was hindered by a few factors.
Odallus is an old-school 2D side-scrolling adventure game. It borrows a map from Castlevania, except you can go back to the levels you’ve already completed to search for secrets. The levels are multifaceted so you won’t just be moving from left to right. There’s some verticality in each stage, and often different paths and corridors to explore. In some ways the game has some minor Metroid-like elements to it, where you’ll find an item and be able to go back to a previous level to use it to access different areas, but the world isn’t interconnected into one continuous map. I liken the overall experience to something like Wizards & Warriors or Faxanadu on the NES. You control a dude with a sword and there are minor RPG elements like weapons and armor that will aid you on your quest. The game contains eight stages with branching paths and secrets to discover. You get sub-weapons to help you on your way, like axes and flames to take down pesky to reach enemies. The game has a story, but it’s so inconsequential that I couldn’t tell you what happened. That’s not a bad thing, but don’t go in expecting a great plot.
What the game does best is allow you to explore and find items and secrets on your own. I really liked some of the level design and there are a decent variety of enemies and bosses to that kept me interested. Play control felt good and I never really had any issues with how the character moved on the screen. I did, however, have issues with the button layout. You press A to jump and Y to swing your sword. Most games would have you jump with B and swing with Y, so this took some getting used to. There didn’t seem to be any way to map the functions to different buttons, which is very frustrating in this day and age. Otherwise the game played fine on both the handheld and the TV.
Graphically the game does its best to emulate an 8-bit Nintendo game. Some of the bigger bosses and environmental effects, like parallax scrolling, might not have been doable on an actual NES, but this game looks like what your mind probably thinks a game from the ‘80s would have looked like. If you’ve played any of the classic NES games via the Switch Online service or the NES Classic Edition, you’ll know that Nintendo has done a great job allowing players to adjust the visuals to their liking. Things like perfect pixel mode or scanlines are nice options to mess around with to see what looks the best. Unfortunately this game did not allow for these things to be changed and what that means is you’re stuck with some really awful scanlines that make the visuals somewhat muddy and blurry. I would have much preferred to play the game without this effect turned on and it’s disappointing that I couldn’t turn off this “feature”.
I’ve played a lot of these “8-bit but not really 8-bit” games over the past few years and oftentimes the one area where they fail to capture the essence of the NES experience is with the soundtrack. I have to commend the developers of Odallus because they really nailed the music. They managed to create some wonderful chiptune tracks that not only fit the mood of the game, but also are catchy to the point where I was humming them a few days later.
Like many games of this ilk, Odallus has difficulty spikes throughout, but overall it probably won’t frustrate hardcore gamers until some of the later bosses. The game does a good job of allowing players to farm orbs that can be used to purchase things like health and extra lives. Even so, I can see some becoming frustrated with some of the deviously designed platforming and enemy placement. It’s nothing worse that something like Ninja Gaiden back in the day, but those of you that didn’t grow up playing hard as nails games will most likely find this one challenging.
Overall I had a fun time with Odallus, despite its lack of control and visual options. It’s not going to light the world on fire with some super cool gameplay mechanic that’s never been seen before. But I don’t think it really has to. For the price ($11.99 at the time of this review), I think there’s more than enough here to satisfy the cravings of 8-bit gaming aficionados.
Odallus: The Dark Call Review
Final Thoughts: GOOD
Odallus does a good job replicating old-school 8-bit NES adventure games of yore. The lack of button mapping and the inability to remove the scanlines dampened my experience with the game, but it’s still a fun and challenging title that should appeal to veteran gamers.