As I play more and more games that are retro in style, I’m beginning to see differences between them. There are games that would be at home on a SNES, so 16-bit graphics, and others that would be at home on an NES with their 8-bit style and so on. Odallus: The Dark Call fits into the second of the categories I mentioned – an 8-bit Castlevania style game with pixel art graphics. First released by developers Joymashers back in 2015, has time been kind or should it have stayed in the past?
The story found here is the usual kind of high fantasy, overblown narrative that you expect from games of this genre. The old Gods have apparently forgotten the land, and no one could save the people of this land when darkness began to spread across it, collecting human souls for its army. No one that is except Haggis! Yes, really, our character is named after a popular Scottish foodstuff. Haggis has to gird his loins and set forth, armed with nothing more than a broadsword and a bad attitude to put things right. Spurring him on is the fact that the Darkness (no, not the band) has Haggis’ son, so the classic revenge battle is on!
To help in his fight, Haggis has his sword and an amulet that can revive him up to three times. If you should fail to finish the world in these three lives, then you have to start again from the beginning of the level. To help you along a little bit, there are save statues at various points that will allow the chance to respawn there should your clogs become popped, which is nice. Also, as you explore the levels you can find secondary weapons to pick up, in a clear nod to the classic Ghouls n’ Ghosts. These are usually projectile weapons, so if an enemy is far away a swift throw of an axe will soon cut him down to size, without you needing to get up close and personal with a sword. And with the weaponry all set, Haggis heads forth into the world – and into combat with the minions of the Darkness.
Things start off well, with hordes of cannon fodder baddies to attack with a swipe of the sword, all falling quickly before Haggis’ flashing blade. Obviously, as we go on the enemies get tougher leading up to the inevitable boss fights. The stages are a good size, and reward exploration with multiple paths to find. There are also different secrets hidden about, and with the spirit of Castlevania flowing strongly here you won’t be able to access all areas straight off the bat. For instance, in the very first stage you come across some blocks that the game tells you are too heavy, but with the right relic you can then move them. So, with running and jumping taken care of, along with a very useful ledge grab move if you almost make a jump, Haggis is all set to take the fight to the enemy. However, it’s not all plain sailing.
As I’m sure we are all aware, a character “hitbox” is the imaginary box that is drawn around our character on screen, and if anything interacts with this box, it’s counted as you getting hit. Now, the main issue with Odallus is that Haggis has a massive hitbox, and will quite often die to an attack that you would be willing to swear is nowhere near you. A perfect example is the very first boss fight, where the mayor of your village turns into a demon type creature and attacks. His main attacks are to fire out blobs, which are easily dodged, or to shoot his neck out and try to hit you. For attempt after attempt, I’d bait him into using the neck attack, then walk back far enough in order to smack him in his face, which seems to be his weakpoint. However, due to the aforementioned hitbox, it proves very hard to avoid this attack, and if you do you’re usually too far away to hit him with your sword while his head is low. It took me more attempts than I like to remember to finally beat him, and even then I feel it was more through luck than any kind of judgment. This is an issue throughout the game, and comes alongside another annoyance – the jumping mechanic. You see, quite often Haggis refuses to face the right way before jumping, and thus instead of grabbing a higher ledge he’ll hit it with his back and fall down again.
Trying to get him to swing his sword in the right direction is also equally problematic, and quite often he’ll be flailing around to the left while the enemies run in from the right. The controls just feel a little bit woolly, like they aren’t quite polished enough, and in a game that demands pixel perfect positioning they aren’t up to the job. It’s not helped that when you do get hit Haggis flies backwards like he’s been hit by a truck – usually straight into a spike pit or fire trap. These kind of tropes I feel should have been left in the past where they belong, as after a while it’s nothing short of annoying.
Graphically though and all is lovely, with a decent retro look and flow to the gameplay, with simple graphics not really pushing the Xbox One to more than a gentle jog. The cutscenes are presented in text boxes, with the character who is speaking shown in the box, and these again help to keep you immersed in the retro vibe. The sound effects and music are classic for this genre though, reminding me again of Ghouls n’ Ghosts, with jarring, dramatic organs.
Odallus: The Dark Call on Xbox One is a promising retro title that is hamstrung by woolly controls and a stupidly massive hitbox for your character. The annoyances build up rapidly, to the point where the bad starts to outweigh the good, so much so that the temptation is strong to just turn things off and forget it all existed. For fans of retro Castlevania styled games then I’m sure there will be some enjoyment here, as the ideas on display are good. However the execution is enough to put me off and as such this isn’t a game I can recommend to anyone other than fans of the genre.