Odallus: The Dark Call is, by nearly all means, a modern tribute to Castlevania and similar games of that generation. In almost every inch if the side-scrolling platformer's direction, design, music, and art, it can be seen. The player controls Haggis, a war-worn warrior that just wants some rest. But in the classic hero's cliche, his village has been attacked by a dark power and his son was kidnapped by an evil, magical antagonist. They can use throwable items like axes and torches to deal damage that their primary weapon cannot reach, they can find alternate exits to the level, unlocking a new zone, all of the things we know an love about the retro games. It even has a fake CRT screen effect, with scan lines curving gradually with the convex nature of a tube TV.
The game gives a fantastic first impression, especially if you're someone who loved the Castlevania games. The retro graphics and well-composed music really tickle the nostalgic in you. The introductory cutscenes are long enough to get a feel for the situation you're in, while not dragging on longer than needed. Then gameplay begins and you're feeling that fun sense of adventure and challenge.
Creatively, Odallus: The Dark Call is amazing for someone like me. It manages to find a perfect balance between creating high-quality imagery and riveting music while still keeping faithful to the limitations of the Nintendo Entertain System from which its inspirations haled. You don't see more than 25 different colors at a time, nor do you hear much beyond low-bit chiptunes, but you don't need to, it still felt perfect the way it was. It allowed me to fully embrace the nostalgia in me, without any of the dredge of remembering how flawed older games often were.
The story fit the bill equally well. One could argue that a man tired of war having to go back to battle once again to save a family member is pretty cliche, and maybe it is. But it's the exact kind of thing I would expect, and hope for, in a classic 80's piece of media.
Everything about Odallus: The Dark Call's presentation was grand, which only made it so much more frustrating that it would fall short on the gameplay itself. The game has a few problems, just about all of which being various gameplay aspects. The levels were frustrating more than not and the boss battles are inconsistent or uninteresting.
When you're limited by the technology of your time, you're forced to make up for gleaming and dynamic audio-visuals by having engaging and entertaining level design. There are hundreds of school courses out there that will break down all the reason the first level of Super Maro Bros is masterfully done. Unfortunately, Odallus failed to retain this aspect of the former generation.
Each level, while linear overall, has a certain lack of directional focus. Often times, you'll be presented with a few potential directions to go, and you won't be sure which way is the "correct" way. This left me feeling lost more than it felt rewarding to explore. There were plenty of times I had to turn back because I had reached a dead end or area I wasn't intended to access yet. After a point, I grew sick of wandering, diminishing any enjoyment I was having.
And then there's the Aquaducts.
I get that the concept of good and bad is relative. And when it comes to enjoying something, there are no absolutes. But if there is one hill I'm willing to die on, it's that interfering with the player's ability to control their character is garbage and should be shamed out of gaming as a whole. This is a wholefully unfortunate position to take, given that the Aquaduct level in Odallus is 90% pushing the player around via running water.
So take all of the confusion of being lost in an aimless landscape, and throw in some "constantly pushed off the edge" for good measure. Did I mention that the player stops moving when you attack? Cause I sure haven't forgotten. This review took notably longer than normal to write. And part of that was because of how badly this level made me not want to keep playing.
The worst part of it all, though, was the boss. For a while, I was enjoying the mechanics of each boss fight I had faced. They were difficult enough that I most likely would die my first attempt, but would get a little better each time. Until I hit the Aquaduct boss. It was remarkably easy to defeat, having only taken one hit of damage the entire fight and defeating it my first attempt. This isn't the only time a boss felt disproportionate to the difficulty of the level it concludes, but it stuck out the most to me.
In the end, I'm left with mixed feelings about Odallus: The Dark Call. The visual and audio design was wonderfully done and paid an excellent tribute to the games that inspired both me and the developers. But man oh man, did those levels make me want to eat my shoes after a point. With all of this combined, I rate the game as follows.
If you like classic retro games like Castlevania, and you have a healthy dosage of patience, then I recommend this game. I recognize that willingness to explore and dealing with frustrating controls is very subjective to the person playing, but it was a hindrance that I simply couldn't ignore in the end. But given the good things that were clearly there and the very reasonable price tag, it's definitely worth a shot.
Odallus: The Dark Call originally released in 2015 for PC. It also released February 8, 2019, for the Nintendo Switch. The review above is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. The game costs $9.99 and $11.99 respectively.
A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of this review.