Everyone’s heard of Feisty Pets, right? You know what I’m talking about – those cute animal teddies that once squeezed turn into the most horrific of creatures, enough to give your little nephew furry inspired nightmares for weeks. Oliver’s Adventures in the Fairyland is pretty much one of those. At first, your adventure seems fairly mundane and breezy. We have a fantasy land in turmoil and you’re the unlucky sod who’s been roped in to save the day. But then, at the drop of a hat, things get real. Oliver’s Metroidvania inspired adventure takes a dark turn as you die again, and again, and again. Don’t be fooled by its fluffy exterior, Oliver’s Adventures in the Fairyland quickly turns into a daunting gauntlet of trial and error.
Our story starts with Oliver playing video games, much like me and you, before being whisked away through a magical portal to Fairyland. After a brief exchange of magic spell this and stolen treasure that, Oliver is entrusted to save the realm and bring peace to Fairyland once again. How so? Through an 8-bit Metroidvania platformer adventure of course! Much like any stroppy teenager, Oliver begrudgingly accepts the quest with a cocky sense of confidence under his belt.
It’s that infatuation with one’s own skill that will ultimately be your downfall. A dungeon filled with secrets and perils is laid out before you, as you slowly chip away at the world to venture further within. Like other Metroidvanias, Oliver is a labyrinth of pathways, most starting off blocked until particular items are gathered to press through. You start off with nothing but the shirt on your back. No weapons, no map and the health of a heavy 80-year old smoker. As you slowly gain items, Oliver’s adventure somewhat eases off in difficulty, but initially it’s a slog.
The difficulty wouldn’t even be so much of an issue, but progress is reset by statues which act as save points. Said statues are few and far between and crush any sense of pacing. Starting off with only three hearts, Oliver is able to only take a few hits. You are quickly presented with slippery flooring and a plethora of spikes to meet your sharp, brisk end. Any progress, collectibles or items you’ve collected since your last save are all lost on death, meaning a complete repeat of all the tasks you just performed. This can often consist of long stretches of gruelling platforming sections, resulting in a frustrating repeat of the process. One particularly challenging segment involved me attempting a series of tricky jumps to gain a new item at the end. Completing this section, after many attempts I’d rather not admit to, I died on the return journey. None of this would be infuriating if Oliver had a more robust checkpoint system.
This is not to say games shouldn’t challenge players. In fact, it’s generally welcomed. It just needs to fit the experience, and in Oliver’s case it squanders a perfectly fine budget Metroidvania.
If you manage to break past the initial learning curve, the adventure does open up and become more tolerable as health is increased and further items are acquired. Throughout Oliver’s travels, many pathways will be blocked off, hindering progress until specific items are found. This can range from bombs to blow up blockages, or steel boots to jump from enemy to enemy. Finding items is rewarding and an alluring means of exploration, as you are able to peel back more areas of the world. This is the staple of games of the genre, and Oliver doesn’t reinvent the wheel in any way.
It’s also massively hindered by its map system. Not long into your journey, Oliver gains a map, but to be honest you were probably better off without one. It’s so counterintuitive by providing no real scale of the environment. Every interior is presented as a block room with symbols showcasing the doors to access other areas. It’s impossible to find out which rooms you have fully completed, where the next objective is, or even areas you can now explore with a new ability. Having a map with no features to assist you is about as useful as your dad on a road trip with the sat nav. While the small budget on the game has been utilised to create a wonderful 8-bit art style, it also means rooms are hard to differentiate between as they all have similar variables. Oliver controls with such ease and precision that it’s unfortunate it doesn’t marry up with convoluted exploration. It makes exploring a tedious adventure, which is the opposite of what you want from a game like this.
What should and could have been a short but engaging Metroidvania adventure turns into a drawn out, frustrating descent into what I can only describe as hell. A lovely art-style and precise platforming isn’t enough to carry this teenage boy through his adventure. Much like an angsty teenager I became moody, miserable with moments of happiness, all while consistently dragging my feet across the floor when it came to Oliver’s Adventures in the Fairyland on Xbox One.