Review: Olympia Rising

In Olympia Rising, titular Iola (with an I, as in, not Lola) must ascend the depths of Hades’ underworld in a truly Greek fashion: by paying off her debts. Jokes aside, Iola starts the game in a poor predicament – awakened from paradise, she’ll be pitted against hell’s worst fiends in an attempt to reach Olympus and find out the meaning of her awakening. Failure – which will come often – results in being the butt of Charon’s jokes, the mythological ferryman turned skeleton comedian, with his snarky remarks whenever Iola fails.

Olympia Rising is a 2D action platformer where the player must collect a set amount of coins per level, which are either static and have as the only challenge being able to chain enough kills and gather enough treasure to pay your passage, or timed maps where Iola has to gather coins while ascending away from a rising hazard. Coins are found in treasure piles or by killing monsters, and the more monsters you kill without touching the ground, the more coins you get. The move set to do so is simple: Iola can jump up to two times, and if she has enough energy can hold the second jump to fly in any direction; she can attack with her sword, which swoops in an arc; and can cast a few spells, from shielding herself and tossing fireballs to an enhanced, lightning sword attack.

The lush pixel graphics set the different scenarios' themes perfectly.
The lush pixel graphics set the different scenarios’ themes perfectly.

The gameplay is tight, but suffers from a lack of control options: you are unable to change the keybindings, which is specially bad for the casting, which requires you to press down and your sword attack – a difficult move to execute, specially while you’re airborne, and which I never fully mastered (played on keyboard). Another issue that’ll pop up is the difficulty to spot which platforms block your upward movement and which allow you to pass, a trait that isn’t identifiable from visuals alone and will require trial-and-error to uncover. The feeling I got was that combat and movement was good, but could be made much more fluid with a couple of simple changes, starting with an extra keybinding for casting spells.

There are six worlds in total, and each have a few levels, alternating between the already discussed static and ‘flee the rising water’ modes. At their end you’ll face a boss, a creature of ancient Greek mythology – their fights are of varying creativity and easier, for the most part, than the levels: that they have a set-in-stone pattern, as opposed to the levels, which quickly degenerate into unique experiences each time you enter them, means a couple of calm-minded attempts will net you victory – this detracts from the satisfaction of reaching a boss fight, as they are easy and often consist of basic movesets. Each victory will give you an extra heart to soften the increased difficulty to come. Different worlds introduce new creatures and spells, adding variety and increasing the game’s difficulty at a rate which some might find too steep. This is a game where dying and trying again is core, and if you play it with different expectations you might be disappointed.

The first boss fight was particularly disappointing, though future ones aren't as bad.
The first boss fight was particularly disappointing, although the later ones get better and more varied.

Sadly, the game’s speed-running and competitive potential is diminished due to a lack of completion scores or level timers. This won’t detract from the game itself, but could breathe a nice amount of replayability into a genre that generally explores this to its benefit (i.e. Volgarr the Viking, They Bleed Pixels).

Each world has a theme of its own, and they are all superbly rendered in pixel graphics and fluid animations. Creatures of ancient myth and modern creations mingle together in these dungeons, with a wide variety and different mechanics for each of them.

Surplus coins from an easier stage are carried into other levels and can ease your run, should you stay alive to keep them.
Surplus coins from an easier stage are carried into other levels and can ease your run, should you stay alive to keep them.

Olympia Rising is a hard game with simple rules. It isn’t particularly novel in any sense, but most of the things it sets out to do are done well – the trophy going to the graphics and animations, with evident care and detail in the scenarios and varied creatures. The game controls in a fluid and easy-to-grasp, hard-to-master way, and would be perfect if it weren’t hampered by a lack of different keybindings and some difficulty distinguishing the types of platforms. Because of how easier they tend to be than reaching them, bosses lack the panache usually afforded them in video games, and are sadly uninspiring despite the amount of mythological beasts they could’ve been shaped from. Olympia Rising does many things almost right, falling short of being a staple entry in the genre by lacking incentives for replaying the game, better boss fights and more control over your settings. If you’re a fan of the genre, you’ll likely enjoy this – even if it is a bit more of what you’ve seen before.

Olympia Rising was played on final retail code provided by the developer.

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