There have been a few great games throughout the years which have been developed by a single person.
‘Stardew Valley’, ‘Minecraft‘ and 2008’s ‘Braid’ come to mind as works which started life from a single individual’s vision, and ‘Olija’ is one of these. Developed mainly by Thomas Olsson, working at Skeleton Crew Studio in Kyoto, this side-scroller is both a homage to old games like the original ‘Prince of Persia’ while also adding new fun gameplay to bring it into the modern day.
You play as the enigmatic Lord Faraday, the sea-faring leader of a small town that’s fallen on hard times. You wash up on a beach after surviving a shipwreck while out looking for something to bring hope to your village. Instead, you find a harpoon. This weapon makes up a big part of the gameplay in ‘Olija’ – swift, fluid combat against gangs of enemies. This spear teleports you to wherever you throw it so you can zip around the place and get in an enemy’s face, while also allowing you to strike in different ways depending on which direction you’re pushing the D-pad in.
The game’s cinematic style, blended with the 8-bit graphics, makes for a really engaging atmosphere. ‘Olija’ is gorgeous to look at, with a masterfully told story. Inspired by old Amiga and MS-DOS side scrollers, the camera doesn’t even move as you enter and exit each frame. The characters and sprites give off so much personality, despite being drawn with only a few pixels.
It’s what you could imagine a platformer about Moby Dick might play as – yet it’s disappointing that the gameplay doesn’t evolve to match that. New enemies are introduced, new levels and art-styles are displayed in that beautiful retro style, but the narrow vision of it all means that it just barely fills its 5–8-hour total run time. It’s a game you can complete in an afternoon, but it’d be a well-spent afternoon.
All that considered, there’s been a real lull in game releases lately, so this could be perfect for your lockdown life. Perhaps you’ve been enjoying the newly released ‘Hitman 3’, but more likely you’re feeling like us and still find yourself wistfully staring out of windows, mourning what ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ might have been. In any case, ‘Olija’ is a short, enjoyable break from reality for those seeking a story-driven side-scroller that’s heavy on the nostalgia. It might even remind you of some games from your childhood, as you regress into the warm soothing embrace of the past. ‘Olija’ won’t change your world, but it leaves an overall impression of it being a commendable labour of love.