In early 2019, I reviewed what would turn out to be one of the most pleasantly surprisingly gaming experiences of the year. It was far from triple A, and on the Switch, it kind of snuck on to the e-shop with limited fanfare (like the majority of non-Nintendo releases I guess). But you know what, I think that’s what made it so special. I knew very little about the developer and basically nothing at all about the game, but after just a few minutes, it was clear that Odallus: The Dark Call was my kind of game. With so many retro-inspired releases nowadays, simply wrapping an old school action platformer in 8-bit era visuals is no longer enough to pique my interest, but in the case of Joymasher’s, Odallus: The Dark Call, that visual style was perfectly married to its superb artistic design and perfectly pitched gameplay (gameplay that echoes the style of the era while ironing out many of its more obvious deficiencies and limitations). Almost a year later, I find myself reviewing the game again and, despite the experience no longer coming as a surprise, it remains as fantastic on Xbox One as it did on Switch.
Despite Konami and Nintendo’s apparent unwillingness to provide the kind of 2D Castlevania and Metroid games that so many of us are clearly craving (beyond the rather fantastic Metroid: Samus Returns on 3DS of course), over the last few years, indie developers have really picked up the slack and delivered a host of genuinely top-tier Metroidvania-style video games. From the brilliant Hollow Knight and Axiom Verge to the, well, equally brilliant Bloodstained and Dead Cells, despite Konami and Nintendo’s general lack of input, you could argue that the genre has never been in better health.
While this glut of consistently fantastic games invariably makes it harder for new teams and developers to make their mark, indie developer, Joymasher has manged to do just that with the largely great, Odallus: The Dark Call. This is a game that wears its inspirations prouder than most while managing to infuse the experience with enough in the way of subtly implemented modern-day quality of life additions to create a game that feels genuinely retro without suffering from any of the more annoying traits and issues that often plagued games from the late 80s and early 90s.
More importantly though, Odallus: The Dark Call benefits from taking a slightly different approach to the majority of its modern-day peers – rather than delivering yet another Metroidvania clone, Joymasher have leaned far more heavily towards the Castlevania end of the spectrum (specifically NES-era Castlevania). There is still a bit of back tracking for those who wish to unlock everything that the game has to offer, and there are multiple paths for those eager to explore, but this is a much more action-oriented and largely linear experience than its modern-day counterparts.
Whether that’s for better or for worse will largely be down to personal taste, but as an 8-bit homage to NES-era Castlevania games, Odallus: The Dark Call really does hit it out of the park. A big reason for its success is the games’ ability to perfectly balance its recognisable and nostalgia-fuelled visuals and mechanics with enough in the way of modern(ish) gameplay options and systems to make it a genuinely playable game in 2019.
At a glance, this really does look like a NES game – the 8-bit aesthetic is pitch perfect and the tone and intentionally hammy writing do a great job of capturing the feel of classic Castlevania games. Yes, that invariably means that the gameplay is rather basic, but by making a few subtle changes to the formula, Odallus: The Dark Call manages to feel surprisingly modern without the need to undermine the classic gameplay that it so successfully recreates.
From its solid range of secondary weapons and cool selection of alternative outfits to its array of secret loot and unlockable abilities, Odallus: The Dark Call builds on the classic Castlevania template without ever losing the essence or feel of the original experience. The same is true of the occasionally clumsy, but largely welcome, platforming abilities – these skills, while still very basic by modern standards, add just enough in the way of mechanical depth to make the larger stages genuinely interesting to explore.
Again though, despite the additional freedom, this really isn’t a Metroidvania. Yes, it has elements of the Metroidvania design ethos, but at its heart, this is pure Castlevania. The new abilities and skills do offer you the opportunity to replay completed stages and discover previously locked-out paths and treasure, but for the most part, you’ll be taking a relatively linear path through the games’ pre-defined stages.
While its commitment to recreating the tone and feel of 8-bit Castlevania games ensures that Odallus: The Dark Call ultimately lacks the depth of many recent releases within the genre, that same passion also helps to deliver what is a surprisingly unique gameplay experience. By embracing Castlevania’s 8-bit roots, Odallus: The Dark Call stands out from its more Metroid-inspired brethren. More importantly though, by refusing to simply rehash the same kind of 8-bit inspired gameplay experience in the name of nostalgia, Joymasher have delivered a game that feels both old and new, retro and forward thinking. Like any great retro experience, the beauty of Odallus: The Dark Call is that it plays like you remember rather than what NES-era games were actually like.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
Subscribe to our mailing list
Get the latest game reviews, news, features, and more straight to your inbox
Thank you for subscribing to Bonus Stage.
Something went wrong.
Odallus – The Dark Call Review
Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Replay Value - 8/10
By embracing Castlevania’s 8-bit roots, Odallus: The Dark Call stands out from its more Metroid-inspired brethren.