Olija (Switch) Review
For a game that uses an incredibly low pixel density, it’s strange that the single word that comes to mind for Olija is “cinematic”. Olija is so restrained in so many ways, yet it pushes boundaries way further than would normally be expected from this type of game – from visual style to worldbuilding to gameplay itself.
Olija stands as proof that realism can be as much of a crutch as a boon – and when it comes to expressivity in a virtual space, when released from the shackles of such constrained ideals, the possibility space is endless.
A lot of expectations come with a game published by Devolver. Pixel art style, 2D, hack & slash, action heavy. Olija fits the bill in some respects, but feels like it branches out somewhat from this relatively narrow field of view.
For one, Olija is much less focused on the action and more so on building a world and atmosphere. There’s more quiet places than violent brawl outs across Olija’s collection of levels. That’s not to say that action doesn’t play it’s part – the many combat options at your disposal are needed to be used for something after all – but Olija certainly shines outside of the monster slaying.
Olija has a steady feed of new weapons throughout its runtime, all of which vary greatly in their abilities. You don’t necessarily need to switch it up all that often, but without going too far into spoiler territory, the variety between each weapon is quite astounding. That combined with a variety of hats (unlockable through collecting various materials while out in the world, each of which provide special perks) give the player an incredible amount of customizability in how they approach each area.
And then there’s the king of them all – the harpoon.
Yes, you read that right. Olija’s combat and world are built around a signature weapon – a legendary harpoon. Not only is it a versatile piece of combat equipment – used for both close quarters melee and thrown for ranged attacks – it’s also a crucial part of navigating the world itself.
Said world is intricately built to make use of clever puzzle and traversal mechanics. Throwing the harpoon doubles as a range weapon that can be instantly called back with the ability to dash to the harpoon when it’s stuck in something. This mechanic is used to great effect in both combat and traversal – the latter allowing for some great secret hunting, which feels rewarding every time.
Finally, the design of each level and each room is so purely on point. How Olija imparts it’s mechanics to you through level design brings to mind the classic example of Mario 1-1 – thanks to the minimalist aesthetic and well thought out design, learning the language of the game flows so incredibly instinctually.
Atmosphere and world building are clearly much more of a focus in Olija, and really help it stand out from the plethora of 2D-puzzle-platformer-pixel-art games out there. From the incredible cutscenes, to the sound and animation work focused on the world itself, as well as the way such strong emotion is captured on each character despite such a tiny number of pixels, this really does feel like a master craft in understanding how to push pixel artistry to a whole new level.
Everything mechanically in Olija matches it’s aesthetic – minimalist, while still doing a lot with only a little. Each area in the game feels constrained in the best ways, in that areas are all tight and purposeful. They each provide a small slice of gameplay that switches how you approach each space up in a clever way.
I was continuously pleasantly surprised how much the mechanics are switched up until the very end. Nothing ever feels tacked on or extended for the sake of it. It feels like the creators of Olija focused much more on sharpening the best parts of the game, rather than filling the world out with #content – and the game is much, much better for it.
There is very little to knock at all when it comes to Olija. Pushing a well used aesthetic to new heights, Olija does a fantastic job of knowing when to flourish and when to show restraint. Olija is going to be one of those small games that will hang around on my Switch for years to come, with multiple replays just to enjoy that world one more time.
Rating: 4.5 / 5
+ Uses pixel art to incredible effect
+ Excellent atmospheric world building
+ Mechanically varied in fun ways
- Some might find it too short I guess?