Review: Abyss Odyssey
Abyss Odyssey exists at this weird crossroads between art nouveau stylings, Smash Bros mechanics, and roguelike design. If that just made your brain ache I implore you to stay with me, because it’s not the mess it might seem. No, it’s a potent mix that you never fully get used to, one of those rare indie games that feels incredibly indie no matter how long you play it. Perhaps even more remarkable is the way these elements harmonize to form something not just unique, but entertaining as well.
It’s the close of the 19th century and something nasty is happening under the streets of Santiago, Chile. You get dumped into the world as the absolutely drop-dead gorgeous Katrien, a hardy swordswoman who is refreshingly up-front about her mysterious origins. There’s a warlock slumbering deep beneath the surface, and his nightmares are becoming reality. To put a stop to it, you descend through a randomly-generated network of caves, collect gold, weapons, and items, and defeat a bizarre host of monsters on your way to end the warlock once and for all.
The way this plays out is in a long series of short levels that are light on platforming and heavy on beat-em-upping. Comparisons to Smash Bros are not lazy, because this game uses the same facing systems, same jump mechanics, and it even has a sort of Smash button for special moves. If you ever played the story mode in SSB Brawl, in fact, this will feel very familiar. Monsters range from jaunty skeletons to deer people to flying regalia, and the bosses that you sometimes run across are some of the most unique I’ve ever seen. There’s also a really cool capture system where you can claim an enemy’s soul to use as a second character, making the wide variety of creative foes even more appealing.
My only real knock against this game is the uneven difficulty curve… or maybe it’s actually the learning curve. The first few times I played, I couldn’t make it more than a few floors. Then one night I had some kind of breakthrough, and I haven’t died since. One irritation is what happens when you die, because you get replaced with a weak, clunky soldier and you can’t get Katrien back unless you find a special shrine that only appears once every few floors. Floors can be rated easy, medium, or hard, which has a dramatic effect on how aggressive enemies will be. However, the AI can get confused pretty easily, slipping between countering every move and standing there to get wailed on. You’ll need to stick with it awhile to really get into the flow, but there’s a surprising amount of secrets and special floors to discover along the way.
I don’t need to tell you how good this game looks, because just look at it. The art style sets the whole thing off, working perfectly with the late 19th century setting and the dreamworld motifs. There are two additional characters to unlock, additional special moves to upgrade, and a colorful cast of mysterious figures to learn about. It’s going to take some getting used to, no doubt, but the eclectic style and unabashed uniqueness make it worth the effort. Once you learn the rhythm of the game and learn where to spend your gold, you’ll have plenty of fun venturing into the abyss again and again.