I don’t think I’ve played many games where a harpoon is your main weapon. In fact, I can’t even think of one at all off the top of my head… maybe one has showed up in some RPG or something down the line? Who knows?
Either way, it’s your weapon of choice in Olija, the 2D adventure from publisher Devolver Digital and one-man developer Skeleton Crew Studio that sees you embarking on a quest to rescue your lost companions and find your way home after crashing your ship upon the land of Terraphage. This isn’t an ordinary harpoon though; it has mystical powers attached to it that act as the crux of the main gameplay experience.
As mentioned, Olija takes place in Terraphage after main protagonist Faraday sees his ship crash upon the land. It turns out that it just so happens to be a pretty dangerous place thanks to its abundance of nasty creatures and hazards, whilst there’s also only one way to leave: via a strange door which requires a trio of keys to open. Sounds like the perfect setup for a grand adventure to me, especially when you uncover the previously mentioned harpoon and a peculiar but enchanting lady named Olija in a nearby village.
From there? It’s all about exploring the land, helping rescue the folk who find themselves in trouble, and ultimately opening the door to make your way home. I suppose it’s nothing you wouldn’t have seen before as far as fantasy-adventures are concerned, but the narrative does more than enough to keep you invested in the tale as you journey across the perilous land. Add to that a stylish cinematic presentation that fits the minimalistic art style of the game perfectly and you’ll find that the storytelling of Olija is of a consistently high quality throughout.
At first glance, it’d be easy to look at Olija and think to yourself that you’re in for an experience similar to the likes of Another World, and yeah, in many ways you would be right. There’s plenty of platforming to be done in the game, there are hazards you’ll need to avoid by pulling off quick and accurate manoeuvres, whilst there’s also an element of puzzle-solving in place that’ll have you scratching your head as you figure out what you need to do next.
What makes Olija feel more unique though is the way that the harpoon ties into gameplay. Remember how I said that it has mystical powers attached to it? Well, you’re able to throw your harpoon around the environment and a quick button press will then teleport you right towards it. This can be used in combat (in a similar vein to Noctis’ warp-strike in Final Fantasy XV) or simply when navigating the environment, with clever use of the harpoon’s capabilities often imperative to simply traversing from point A to B. You’ll eventually find that your harpoon unlocks additional abilities that tie to traversal and puzzle-solving too, ensuring that its use manages to feel fresh and enjoyable right until the very end of your adventure. It adds a fresh twist to the 2D exploration we see so much of in indie titles these days, giving Olija that unique and fun hook to help it stand out in the crowd.
The only area in which it ever felt lacking came with the combat, with the enemies rarely putting up too much of a fight and often falling victim to my button-mashing combos before they really had a chance to fight back. It’s a shame because a bit of thought has clearly been put into stringing together different combos when using the harpoon, whilst the array of additional ranged and melee weapons could easily add a bit of variety to battles – it just never feels like you need to do more than mash a few buttons to succeed.
Whilst not solving puzzles or battling foes, you’ll spend a lot of time simply exploring the world with plenty of secrets to uncover across Terraphage. You’re able to expand the village you visit earlier in the game by rescuing other folk stuck on the island, unlock additional upgrades to your stats, and even collect new hats that bring with them an assortment of different buffs. It adds that extra incentive to spend time exploring the environment, though the satisfaction of navigating with the harpoon means that you probably won’t need MUCH encouragement…
I guess my only real complaint would be that it’s over too soon. I was done and dusted with my adventure in Olija in around three-and-a-half hours, with little blocking my progress during my journey. As mentioned, the combat is straightforward and easy, whilst the puzzle-solving never requires too much brainwork before you figure out how exactly you need to use your harpoon to progress. It’s just a pretty easy-going game really, which works in its favour in some ways and against it in others – just don’t expect there to be much incentive to do a second run when you’re done.
Still, I really enjoyed my journey across the land whilst I absolutely adored the game’s art style too. There’s something about minimalistic visuals that really ticks plenty of boxes for me, with Olija certainly embracing the ‘less is more’ mantra with its environmental design. It manages to look beautiful throughout though, whilst the atmospheric music and sound design fits the vibe of the game perfectly too… it’s just lovely.
Olija’s adventure might be a short one, but it’ll certainly prove memorable for players thanks to its fun harpooning-action and its minimalistic yet impressive visual style. Add to that an intriguing narrative that’ll keep you hooked in until the very end and it’s clear that Devolver Digital and Skeleton Crew Studio have a winner on their hands here.
Admittedly, the combat mechanics were a little underwhelming and the lack of challenge did feel like low points of the journey, but Olija still did more than enough to ensure that its harpoon-fuelled escapade is one that fans of 2D adventures won’t want out miss out on.
Developer: Skeleton Crew Studio
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC