Iola’s dead. She’s been sent to Hades but the ever kindly Charon has agreed to help her escape…for a fee, of course. Iola needs to fight her way to Mount Olympus in order to discover the reason for her death – and fight she shall.
As you may expect from a game set in Hades, Olympia Rising is steeped in Greek mythology. Iola looks like she stepped out of Jason and the Argonauts, and the enemies range from Gorgons and Harpies, through to bosses such as a Cyclops and even the mighty Cerberus. Everything is rendered in gorgeously detailed pixel art, somewhere between the 8-bit visuals of Castlevania and the 16-bit detail of its SNES sequels.
The mention of Castlevania is no coincidence. Developer Paleozoic openly stated that the Konami legend was a heavy influence on Olympia Rising, and it shows right from the start. There’s none of the lengthy dialogue scenes of later Castlevania games, nor any of their open-ended exploration, just Charon chiming in from time-to-time. Iola’s adventure mirrors that of the Belmonts’ inaugural NES foray into Dracula’s home – a linear path through themed levels, each with its own boss character based on the game’s chosen mythology. The difference here is that the levels are primarily vertical and you have to collect enough money to pay Charon’s fee at the end of each level.
The vertical levels show off the game’s interesting combo mechanic, with combos only building for as long as you can stay airborne. Rather than the traditional double jump seen in platformers, every kill essentially gives Iola more mid-air boosts, meaning that vertical chains can keep her spinning through the air for as long as there are enemies left to kill. It makes for an interesting change of pace, keeping things moving as you attempt to reach the exit at the top of each level – you are trying to escape Hades, after all. Some enemies remain rooted to platforms though and, as they need multiple hits to kill, can bring the game to a crashing halt. It also highlights the clunkiness of the combat outside of the aerial combos, especially when combined with the inconsistent damage feedback. It’s possible to die in Olympia Rising without ever knowing you were being hit by an enemy. That famous Castlevania knock-back would actually be appreciated here.
Luckily the levels are short and designed for repeat play, with the only real punishment being the loss of any coins you had at the start of the level. Sure, it can be frustrating in later levels when the difficulty ramps up considerably, or in a level with rising acid (or whatever happens to be flowing from beneath the current area) wherein your upward trajectory is blocked by a platform and you’re suddenly plummeting to your death. Iola can jump through certain platforms but not others, though it’s never quite made clear which is which, and the speed of movement would make it almost impossible to tell even if it was clear. The speed of the gameplay is a big part of why these issues aren’t a major problem, as failing a level only results in restarting it and you’ll soon find yourself back where you were a moment ago. You may even benefit from the restart, as you will have learned a few enemy placements that you can exploit for combo chains and higher rewards, it’s almost a roguelike in that regard.
The only part of Olympia Rising that can become a real problem is its boss fights. None are too taxing but it’s guaranteed that some will require a lot of patience as you inevitably die trying to learn their attack patterns. The clunky combat mentioned earlier heavily affects these fights too, as they go against the flow of the rest of the game and can soon become tiresome as a result. That’s not to say that the boss fights aren’t well designed, one in particular is reminiscent of something seen in indie darling Undertale or perhaps a rhythm-action game, but they could have made use of the verticality that the rest of the game employs. Again, not a game-breaking problem but it’s just another to add to the list.
That list is why Olympia Rising never quite reaches the heights of its inspiration. It does look fantastic and its unique form of action is something to behold in the hands of a master player (not mine, unfortunately), but all those minor issues do add up, including a few framerate drops in certain areas. Iola’s adventure is still worth your time, but it’s not quite the great game it could have been.
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