|Action, Fighting, Platform
PC, PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade
Review based on Xbox Live Arcade version
Developer: ACE Team
Release Date: July 15th, 2014
The story behind Abyss Odyssey is not one about a creature named Abe, but rather The Warlock and three dream warriors. Portals begin opening up around nineteenth century Santiago, caused by the dreams of said creature. While there’s a total of three playable heroes in the game, two of which you need to unlock, the main opponent against this force of evil is a sword-wielding woman named Katarina who exists for a reason. Her goal is to reach the body of the sleeping Warlock, kill the dreamer, and restore peace. The problem is that every time she reaches it, she winds up back at the start, forcing her to travel deep into the abyss once more, a task like a repetitive punishment in Hell.
In a nut shell, that ends up the premise of the game, but there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. There is a story between Katarina and The Warlock that explains why she exists in this world and what has caused this passion to seek out and destroy the dreamer. Much of this is told through journal entries that you can pick up through normal gameplay, though I am still missing one after a good twenty hours of gameplay with as many “wins” if you can call them that which makes me believe the drop for it is broken. There’s also more detail fleshed out the more you play a run through start to finish. Each time there’s additional dialogue that expands on those two, as well as with the other heroes to the Warlock. The problem with that is you need to do it all in one shot. Exiting the game for any reason resets the conversations back to the first exchange you experienced.
As far as the gameplay goes, Abyss Odyssey actually manages to do both too much and not enough all at once. At its core, this title is a side-scrolling platformer that has you descending to the deepest room of the abyss. There are some dungeon crawler elements thrown in to keep you exploring the small rooms, not to mention a few hidden areas. You’ll find a merchant who will sell you items, equipment and weaponry, revival statues that one of the military men who take your place upon dying can resurrect you at, as well as random weapons, treasure boxes, and more. You can also find special boss fights in certain rooms, as well as a special treasure room with plenty of rewards and the option to throw money into a wishing well to activate the third locked character after a while.
Other than providing points to upgrade your special attacks, the Action RPG style levelling system’s only use is to increase difficulty among the three different paths that are your traditional Easy, Medium, and Hard. The shorter the path, the more difficult the descent will be. You start off with the longest but, as you finish the final room of the abyss, you unlock the next path at a different location, eventually leaving three different gateways with their respected difficulty to start you with. There are times where you can move one difficulty higher or lower by exiting a room to the left or right of the screen instead of going straight down. This is only beneficial, however, if you want to grab some extra cash, reach a specific room like the bonus fight room that can restore your health if you defeat all four enemies as a certain other creature, or look for a specific boss fight as indicated on the maps right by the doorway.
Then you have the Fighter elements. ACE Team tries to bring on the concept of two-dimensional fighting between yourself against one or more opponents. Depending on the difficulty of the room, these random encounters can be a breeze to finish, or in one swoop can annihilate you if not nearly get that job done. The best way to progress is save up money and try to buy the best weaponry and armor. Treating these as actual battles in games like Street Fighter or Tekken is basically pointless since button mashing is often the best way to go most of the time. Upgrading your special abilities over time, however, will give you a bit of an edge. Sadly most of these rules are thrown out the window as you level up, allowing you to capture more creatures (which is the only point of mana in this game) which can be called upon at any time. This lets you play as another character all together, keeping the one of the three you selected to start with safe from harm. The higher the level, the stronger the creature which includes mini bosses, special bosses, and even the Warlock itself whenever you reach level seventy.
While most of the enemies are just random encounters, there are plenty of additional floating obstacles to contend with as well. Random plants with ranged poison attacks also exist, not to mention flying insects, poisonous spiders, moving spiked columns, and the random monster patrolling a certain small walkway that is more in your way than any actual threat. But the biggest annoyance are the flying fish that have the power to freeze you in place for a few seconds that just randomly appear. If you’re trapped in a battle and it happens, you’re better off hoping your foes get stuck (which happens more times than you think it would) or the AI decides to be leniant and not try to eviscerate you. And yes, these flying fish are more than just a random obstacle, being one of The Warlock’s most lethal attacks that are just as frustrating during any confrontation where it needs to make room between itself and you. Of course your ranged attacks against it are easily dodged, so using close ranged special attacks end up your only real method of offence if you don’t have a strong creature stored and ready to use.
Much like the gameplay itself, the visuals are both a lot, yet not enough. ACE Team present a mixture of the hand painted art style similar to the recent Prince of Persia reboot (not the movie tie-in) in a restricted side-scrolling environment. The end results simply looks gorgeous and a feast for the eyes. While the beautiful craftsmanship actually goes above and beyond what you would expect for a title like this, the environments themselves end up incredibly repetitive. There’s the traditional dungeon, a stunning forest environment, and a stunning world of ice, and that’s it. The same backgrounds repeat until you reach the next of those visuals. For a game that a single run through can be completed in about thirty five minutes or less with the right weaponry and captured monsters you obtain or buy at the third entry way, the lack of variety is greatly disheartening. Hopefully more scenery will become available through downloadable content, as more expansion to this beautiful mythological world would be a warm welcome.
And then there’s the audio, which really isn’t that much. The conversations between characters are all voice acted which, for the most part, is fairly well done. The musical score overall is rather minimal and basic, often just enough to suit the terrain you are traveling through, and the sound effects seem a bit more stock than original. But when you look at the final product, what can you really incorporate in this respect that wouldn’t feel completely out of place other than the bare essentials that do manage to get the point across?
But the biggest selling point behind Abyss Odyssey is the idea of the community. The more The Warlock is “defeated,” the more the stone mask chips away. The number of times you complete the final room and win the encounter is added to the number of times other players have done so as well. Once the stone mask breaks, The Warlock’s next form is revealed, which is a red devil-like face, as well as more creatures are unlocked for you to fight against, capture, and play as. At this time that second phase has been unlocked on the Xbox Live Arcade version (and surely on other formats as well), though whether or not this is the final form is unclear.
That said, there are some negative selling points as well. First of all, the game doesn’t really take the time to explain things. Since there’s no physical manual, you either have to figure things out on your own or check out the How to Play section from the Help Menu, which still doesn’t explain much except what buttons do what. I honestly didn’t even know I could capture enemies until I read about it on-line by the time I was level forty. There is a brief introductory level that shows you combat, but that’s all it shows you. Had that bit been included, which believe me makes the game so much more fun compared to the same three playable characters over and over again due to additional combat dynamics, the overall experience would have been a lot more enjoyable.
And then there’s the multiplayer. While the opt in and out concept works well, and searching for a game usually connects you quick enough, the biggest flaw was the decision to include friendly fire. Given the close quarters of this game, it’s nearly impossible not to hit your buddy. My very first time playing on-line it took no less than three rooms for me to accidentally kill my partner, who then immediately killed me for revenge. This happened twice with two different players, making any sort of level progression impossible without capturing creatures, using them, and one of standing off to the side to avoid hitting each other unless a foe wandered in from off screen or made its way over. Hopefully this element is removed at some point. It’s pointless, breaks the mode, and many times leaves you in arguments with someone who more often than not doesn’t speak the same language you do (though some swears and variations on words describing genitalia, certain cleaners for those body parts, and the proclamation of another person who spent the night with my mother were still pretty clear).
Abyss Odyssey isn’t really that closed off a game overall, but, much like their Zeno Clash and Zeno Clash II titles, there’s no denying its going to end up an offering embraced by more of a niche audience than a general mass market. Knowing that, you’ll probably see more life with the game through the Steam network than you will on any of the consoles. ACE Team’s incredibly noble attempt at weaving Chilean mythology into a game that spans across a couple different genres reminds gamers that this is a company that likes to try and do something different. Other than the repeating scenery and counter productive friendly fire of multiplayer really do end up being the only faults of this title. Hopefully ACE Team fixes those issues soon, as well as releases some downloadable content at some point to expand on this world since the way its set up leaves them free to do so much with this title for a very long time. If you’re a fan of that developers work, chances are you already have this on one format or another. If you’re unsure whether this is a game for you, I strongly encourage you to grab a demo and at least give it a shot, especially if you can appreciate the direction they went with the story and community progression unlocking more.