The indie 2D developer ACE Team has given us interesting titles like Rock of Ages and Zeno Clash. Their latest game, Abyss Odyssey, follows in the same fashion as their previous titles in terms of unique style and interesting gameplay. This 2D adventure takes player deep down into the depths of a large crevice to confront an evil Warlock and his monstrous minions. But despite having a strong foundation and inspiration from games of other genres, some issues hold it back from becoming something truly special.
Gameplay for Abyss Odyssey is very similar to titles like Metroid, Guacamelee, and modern Castlevania in terms of exploration and combat. The pull here is that the combat has similar approaches to traditional fighting games, such as combos and chains, and blends it together with fluid platforming and RPG-style progression. Regular attacks are mapped to one button and can be modified with a directional input, as well as special attacks can be as well. Different special attacks can be found and upgraded as you level up defeating enemies in each stage.
The entire abyss that players explore is populated with a series of stages mixed up as easy, moderate, and hard in difficulty. They lead deeper down towards the ground floor where players could fight The Warlock, the game’s main antagonist. There are three main hubs to start from and return to should you fall prey to the hazards within the abyss. Yet while there is a small compass to help navigate through stages, players are limited to viewing a map of the entire abyss towards the end of each stage rather than a menu to pause and observe. This can get very frustrating when trying to choose which paths to take or move on to, especially when other titles in the genre have already addressed this much better.
The overall visual presentation of Abyss Odyssey takes many elements from Art Nouveau and Chilean folklore in a 3D style with 2D design. There are vibrant colors in some of the environments as well as the characters and enemies that populate them, but everything becomes monotonous very quickly. While there are a handful of enemy types, there isn’t a lot of variety scattered throughout any of the stages. Enemy types change as you get deeper into the abyss, but expect to see the same enemies over and over again even in stages that are vastly different than before.
Yet all of this can be mute in the face of other big issues. The technical problems with Abyss Odyssey completely hinder the experience. The game is meant to be played multiple times and have an element of trial and error when it comes to hitting walls of difficulty when exploring. The game however can have sections that almost lock the player into no-win scenarios with enemies that chain attacks and deal damage in unorthodox fashion. This happens frequently even in stages of the abyss classified as easy, yet still put the player at a big disadvantage when getting hit by an anti-aerial attack or ground chain in a corner. Imagine being forced back to the beginning of the abyss after putting in more than an hour of time exploring, only to lose everything in your equipment and progress due to a constant resetting juggle from an enemy in the corner.
This leads into some of the other problems with Abyss Odyssey, the lack of good checkpoints and respawning. There are tokens you can buy from shop keepers to place at altars and respawn should you fall in combat. However the game may not generate an altar or a shop keeper for many stages, leaving you to fend for yourself carefully through a tough area at times. This can be almost borderline unfair when constantly given a terrible path of tough stages to traverse after progressing far into the abyss without any way to not be sent back to the beginning after death. When you die, your EXP stays with your character, but you lose all of your loot and equipment, forcing you to find everything once again. A checkpoint system similar to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night would have been much more ideal for traversing the abyss’ many stages, and would have helped remedy all the times you would get stuck in a no-win situation.
By far the biggest disappointment is Abyss Odyssey’s Co-Op multiplayer both online and offline. Finding a partner is not difficult at all, as players can join mid-way into a game after things have started off. The problem comes from the poor design choices for keeping both players on the screen at the same time. Should a player stay in one place, the screen will not move no matter how far the other player goes up ahead, forcing them to hit an invisible wall and prevent any progression on the stage. This can be flat out game-breaking for each person if there is a disagreement, as the invisible wall can stop players’ mid-jump and cause them to fall into a pit hazard or take damage from an off-screen enemy.
This is only made worst without the ability to kick someone out of a game when you host a session and such a scenario happens. While its valiant to try and work together to prevent this from happening, the game has friendly fire constantly turned on and no option to change it. You will constantly be knocking your co-op partner accidentally to the side of the screen, knocking them out of their attacks, combos, and into hazards or off-screen enemies. Both locally and online, the multiplayer co-op is practically unplayable with so many elements hindering the fun of the experience.
Abyss Odyssey is a great concept with an interesting blend of ideas that can make up an awesome kind of game. Yet the execution of making this a reality is well below the par set by many of the other titles the game is inspired from. The technical issues can be too much of an annoyance for even the most patient of players and the multiplayer is a complete disaster. Many of Abyss Odyssey’s issues can be fixed with some patches and updates, something that should already be noticeable to ACE Team. As it stands now though, Abyss Odyssey comes up short in too many ways to reach its true potential.
This review of Abyss Odyssey was played on the PlayStation 3 and is based off a digital copy provided by ATLUS.