Odallus: The Dark Call
Odallus: The Dark Call is a 2015 2D action game by Joymasher. It is inspired by Castlevania III, Ghosts & Goblins, Rastan, and Faxanadu. It’s as good or better than the games that inspired it. OK, it’s not as good as Castlevania III, but it’s better than those other ones.
The first thing you’ll notice about Odallus is the world map that operates as a hub, which is unusual for Metroidvanias. Before entering a level it tells you how many secrets are left and if the boss has been beaten or not. Obviously, you need to kill every boss and get all of the important items to beat the game, and Odallus does a good job of leading you to that goal.
Upon entering the first level, the game throws simple-minded enemies at you to get you used to the controls. The playable character, Haggis (lol) is stiff, slow, and very Belmont-like. The game’s creators weren’t lying when they said they were inspired by ultra-hard NES platformers, though this game is much more forgiving.
Despite Odallus: The Dark Call‘s inspiration from old NES platformers, it’s nowhere near as viciously hard. Ghosts & Goblins is so hatefully cruel as to be considered deliberately anti-player, but Odallus would rather teach you to be good enough to win, and it does so by slowly ramping up the challenge rather than piling it on you all at once.
Combat consists mainly of positioning yourself properly so that your puny sword can actually hit enemies. You also have limited use sub-weapons (again with the Castlevania comparisons) to give you more range for specific tasks. When faced with a new enemy type, I found myself taking a lot of hits until I figured out the ideal strategy and how many sword swings I needed to kill it. Unfortunately, you can beat some of the bosses by skipping plans altogether and just mashing, a problem that plagued Joymasher’s previous game, Oniken. However, I’ll say without spoiling anything specific that the final boss was a real treat and a great challenge without ever being frustrating to me.
The powerups and sub-weapons provide the tools you need to get through the more challenging enemies. The game mercifully makes the enemies in early levels slower and simpler to beat than those later on, creating a perfect difficulty curve. I couldn’t imagine beating the last few levels without all that crap, so I’m glad it exists. This game is hard, but not viciously brutal like Ghosts & Goblins or Castlevania III.
Odallus has some Metroidvania elements. Exploration, puzzle solving, and item finding are just as important as combat. There is heavy use of that Metroidvania trope of getting new items to visit out of the way areas in old levels. It’s rarely as irritating as a big red flashing sign saying that you need a jetpack to get past this point; the use of in-game blockades is more organic and sometimes even ambiguous. CAN you get through this underwater area without the air supply item? You’ll have to work at it to find out; there isn’t a big flashing arrow telling you where to go next.
There were a few minor things about Odallus that I found irritating. It’s sometimes hard to tell what is background and what is foreground, resulting in a few stupid deaths on my part, especially in a section later in the game with a mine cart ride. As mentioned before, many bosses can be beaten by button mashing, and as the level typically ends after one, you don’t need to learn their patterns as often with regular enemies.
Gaelic mythology might be a cool source of material for a story, but *Odallus mostly ignores its vaguely Scottish setting in favor of an HR Giger aesthetic. Since Giger is rad, this is not a bad thing. I was getting flashbacks of Faxanadu, Metroid, and Contra while playing Odallus. The grotesque monsters, the mouths on the walls, and other unsettling imagery made for a great visual palette. I can dig it. It’s not going to frighten any adults, but it’s strange and deliberately ugly and oddly appealing.
The environments, the monsters, and most especially the bosses all look great. Joymasher put a lot of detail into these sprites, and they’re disgustingly eye-pleasing both in motion and as screenshots. The music is suitably weird and dark, but also conveys a sense of urgency, always prodding the player to move forward, explore, and fight.
I was initially disappointed by the lack of a cheesy ending scene like in Ninja Gaiden and other NES games, but I remembered how frequently I gripe about bad video game plots and quickly relented. This game has a barely-there story that you can safely ignore in favor of the superior gameplay.
Odallus: The Dark Call is a good game. It’s more action platformer than Metroidvania, but it does well as an example of either. Aside from a few minor gripes, I enjoyed it start to finish. Give it a shot.