Sometimes you can tell when a game is a labour of love. Olija is a one-person project by Japan-resident developer Thomas Olsson, a strange and gratifying throwback to the kind of enigmatic, pixellated early-90s adventure games that you might have found on the school computer. With its ambiguous lo-fi art direction, minimalist but impactful sound and muted palette, it captures the mystery of games such as Another World, where each distinct screen brought new dangers. However, unlike its inspirations, it feels snappy and instinctive to play, with exciting fights and a magic harpoon that zips you thrillingly around the screen, slicing through pirates or transporting you across chasms towards the next encounter.
We play Lord Faraday, shipwrecked somewhere mysterious and unwelcoming after setting sail in search of a more promising future for his subjects. Exploring a ruined archipelago full of abandoned temples, demonic foes and the occasional taciturn survivor, you search for keys that might unlock the way back home. One island is a kind of home base, where Faraday’s former crew join the refugees you rescue along the way and create a little community where you can regroup, buff your weapons and craft amusing hats that add little flourishes to the fighting – flying feathers, or poison resistance.
Olija is impressively atmospheric and its narrative is interesting, but it’s the fighting that pulled me effortlessly through this short and enticingly personal game. Whether with a rapier, a shotgun or spinning harpoon, combat is fast, fun and just complex enough to elicit a feeling of mastery. Enemies are sent flying by powerful strikes, thunking satisfyingly to the floor or into walls, sometimes rising again before you use the harpoon to fly towards them for a finisher. The animation deserves especial praise here – Olsson conveys such movement and energy within this limited pixel palette.
This game made me feel like a swashbuckling stranger in a foreign land for a couple of evenings, and left me wanting more. What’s there is lean and sometimes exquisite, but there wasn’t time to fully explore the different weapons (or try on all those dapper hats) before Faraday’s adventure came to an end after around six hours. I could have spent twice as long exploring this beautiful and mysterious creation, but I’m grateful nonetheless for the journey I’ve had.
• Olija is available now; £11.99.