For anybody that grew up playing games on the NES, there’s a certain charm to side-scrolling action games that make them very fun to play. Whether it’s the 8-bit rendered visuals and sounds, the varying difficulty levels, or the nostalgia from a time long past; these games stick with those that are brave enough to dive into them. This is the case with Odallus: The Dark Call, an indie title that recreates the flair of many older NES games while trying to blend together different gameplay elements into something unique. If you resonate with gaming from the 80s and early 90s, you’re going to like what Odallus has going for itself.
There’s a very strong inspiration from games like Castlevania and Ghost N’ Goblins that shows in Odallus. Outside of the platforming and combat that is very similar, it’s the dark tone and gothic fantasy setting that make Odallus’ world so appealing. One can clearly see the nods to 80s gaming and other pop-culture icons but the game follows through with them by fully committing to similar themes and overall tone. The music has that dark 8-bit style that gives a sense of the harsh environments you visit in each stage, alongside sound effects that feel like the game could’ve been right at home on the NES. Anybody that loves getting a retro experience will appreciate the attention to detail here.
But is the gameplay fun enough to warrant all of this praise? Odallus puts you in the shoes of Haggis, a battle-hardened warrior that echoes the platforming classics of the NES with something from the Highlander movies. Across a variety of levels, you’re jumping and attacking monsters while exploring areas for hidden passages to new stages and other hidden secrets.
The game has the same level of control one would’ve found on the NES back in the day, unfortunately too much in some cases. Jumping around and moving does feel a little bit stiff and weighed down, especially when you’re trying to attack enemies that quickly rush at you. It’s something that takes a little getting used to for anybody more accustomed to modern games. You can feel this very clearly when jumping to higher ledges and need to climb up partially to reach new areas.
Fighting monsters also have some weight to it. Every time you swing your sword there’s a momentary pause that can work against you in many encounters. This is definitely the 8-bit approach to showing a character’s massive power in each swing, but it can become a hurdle for encounters where you’re wildly slashing. Jumping and attacking can suffer from this when you need to take out a monster above you or with a specific weak point.
To aid in this, you have various sub-weapons you gather from chests you find scattered around stages or by purchasing them at a shop. These sub-weapons include spears, axes, and even torches that can be used at any time, provided you have enough to spare. These are obvious nods to Castlevania and Ghost N’ Goblins and are very situational in some stages, allowing you to open up new areas and hidden routes that would otherwise be inaccessible.
The interesting part about Odallus is how there are multiple stages that be opened up outside of the main levels that play out the story. The stages themselves are large enough for you to explore with an almost Metroid-like openness, including the ability to revisit them later on when you have new abilities and weapons. But finding alternate routes opens this up even more and lets you fight new bosses and enemies.
Getting to these isn’t hard, but you’ll have to be diligent enough in your exploring to find them all and have a full map opened up. Much like Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse on NES, the alternate stages can be very different and a little more challenging than the standard levels. Are they worth the trouble to find? They certainly are since they reward you with new abilities and items that become incredibly helpful later on.
Odallus: The Dark Call is a fun time for gamers who love taking a trip back to the past. There are moments when it tries to be a little too authentic and misses out on addressing a few issues that modern games have solved, but the majority of the experience is fun to dive into. It’s straight-forward action and platforming will speak to older generations while its challenge will give the new blood something tough and dynamic to sink their teeth into. What’s old is new and what’s new is old once again here, and it works out just fine.
This review is based on a digital review code for Odallus: The Dark Call for Nintendo Switch, provided by Digerati.