ACE Team’s latest, Abyss Odyssey, is a 2D platforming brawler with rogue-like and RPG elements. It’s an interesting mix up of ideas and one that works very well in a single-player session. On the co-op side, it’s more of a mixed bag.
Towards the end of the 19th century, a powerful warlock has fallen asleep beneath the surface of a village in Chile. His dreams have become infected with dark thoughts and suddenly his nightmares are invading the waking world. You control one of the dreams that has come to life, the good ones, and it’s your mission to dive into the depths of the abyss to wake the warlock. The abyss is ever-changing and shifting, so the layout of the levels and the order in which you encounter them is randomized each time you descend. If you do manage to defeat the final boss and wake the warlock, you’re far from being done. You’ll do this same task over and over again. Each time you do, you break off a piece of the mask he wears and more items and features of the abyss become available.
The real heart of Abyss Odyssey lies in its combat system, which is simple to grasp and understand, yet there are some complex subtleties beneath the surface. Loosely based around the concept of a 2D fighter, any character you control has a basic attack, as well as a ground attack, air attack, grab, block, and dodge. You also have three special attacks that are activated by pushing in one of three directions (up, forward, and down) and your special attack button. There’s even the ability to cancel out of basic attacks into your special attacks, or from one special attack into another, or even from an attack into a dodge. It is some what reminiscent of the combat found in the Smash Bros. series of games.
Finally, you have a super attack that is charged by collecting mana “drops” from chests, or gaining mana through the use of special attacks. This super attack will not only hit multiple foes for a fair amount of damage, enemies struck by it will leave their essence behind after death. If you pick up this essence, you can then transform into the enemy and use all of their abilities. This is particularly useful as a kind of meat shield. If you lose all your health while transformed, you go back to being your character and whatever health they were at when you switched.
While you can make a fair amount of progress through button-mashing, the underlying mechanics of the game are more focused on chaining these abilities together to finish off foes. Long chain combos going into the teens or 20s are possible, but that kind of combo maneuvering takes times. It is a very deliberate combat system. Turning around isn’t instantaneous and attacks will leave you open to counters, so you have to be mindful of where you are, what you’re doing, and just how to use those special cancels. If you happen to fall in combat, your dive into the abyss doesn’t stop right then and there. Your character will change to a human soldier who isn’t as strong as the three main characters, but is still capable in their own right. Best of all, if they manage to reach one of the altars that are scattered across all of the levels, then your main character is revived and you can continue on your journey. The soldier will also show up randomly in any battles you fight for the next couple of levels after that, so you’ll have a little help to keep you from falling again right away.
Defeating foes within the abyss earns you experience that allows your character to level up. Every three levels, you’ll earn a skill point that can be assigned to one of the special attacks, up to three per special, or to one of the special cancel slots, up to a max of three. Each skill point spent on a special attack will either increase its attack, the mana it generates (which helps to charge up a super attack), or into defense which helps to shield some portion of the attack animation so you’re less vulnerable.
Each of the three unlockable characters - Katrien, Ghost Monk, and Pincoya - initially only have one special attack and one special cancel, and therefore just five slots (three in the special and two for the additional special cancels) where points can be placed. Additional attacks are gathered from a variety of places, such as hitting a certain level, finding them in the starting towns, from special mini-bosses, or from a certain fiddling horned character. Each character will have to unlock these special attacks individually, so expect to do some grinding with them to fully unlock each one of their potentials. These characters also have their own weapons - rapier, broadsword, and halberd - to use and new weapons can either be found randomly or purchased from merchants.
What’s impressed me most about Abyss Odyssey thus far is that it doesn’t ever get boring, despite its repetitive nature. The layout/configuration may change, but ostensibly you’re playing through the same levels, the same monsters, and the same final boss over and over again. Yet it’s a perfect pick up and play game. You make a quick run, gain some more gold and experience (the only things outside of special attacks to carry over through death or victory), and either go again or come back to it later. It’s exactly the kind of game you’d play when you only have a few minutes to spare, or even when you have entire hours to kill and are looking for something that requires just a little bit of thought. The selection of characters gives and their differing move sets lends a certain coin arcade feeling to the game, while the ability to transform into defeated foes is very reminiscent of the series of Castlevania games on the Game Boy Advance. That same arcade feeling translates over to the co-op side as well, and not always in the best of ways.
Much of the co-op action in Abyss Odyssey is the same as the single-player. A player can join a game at any time, whether playing online or locally. Each player chooses which character they wish to play and then they set off into the abyss together to slay monsters, gather gold and experience, and defeat the warlock. If playing online with a friend, progress is saved to both players’ accounts, so any experience/gold that is earned by one player he or she gets to keep when playing solo again. If playing locally, player progress is still saved individually, but it is tied to the host’s account. This means that all of the second player’s progress is only accessible when he or she plays as the second player. If he or she plays on his/her own, he/she will be playing the same characters with the same progression as the first player. While that may not be ideal for all players, Abyss Odyssey is a fairly co-op friendly game.
There’s even a community contribution factor. The more players that defeat the warlock, the more it adds to a much larger goal. When you first log into the game, you’ll see the warlock’s mask on a book. The more defeats the warlock suffers, the more of this mask gets worn away. As more of it is worn away, new content in the game is unlocked. So far, half of that mask has been removed and within the game I’ve seen new weapons and new items become available. ACE Team has promised even more once the full mask is gone, and that that is just the beginning.
Where all of this co-op friendliness ends is with the “Friendly Fire” mode. While you’re down in the abyss fighting the nightmares that are sure to ruin our world, do be mindful of your buddy. If that long combo you’re pulling on an enemy connects with your co-op partner then he or she will get pulled into the rest of it and take whatever damage you’re dealing out. Once your partner is down, he or she will still have access to a soldier that can revive them at an altar, but if that soldier should fall, they’re wholly reliant upon you to make it to the altar. Each altar can only be used to revive one character, so if both players are on their soldiers, only one will be able to revive their main character.
The concept of “friendly fire” certainly isn’t anything new to brawlers, but it is unusual to see in a game where you only have one plane of combat. Many of the classic brawlers (like Streets of Rage) allowed you and your co-op partner to be fighting within the same section of the screen, but on two separate planes to help ensure you didn’t pummel each other to death. In Abyss Odyssey, you’re afforded no such luxury. To make matters worse, when a fight with enemies starts, impenetrable black borders appear on either side of the screen to define the limits of where the fight can take place. These “arenas” aren’t always that big and trying to consign one player to just one side of it and another player to the other doesn’t always work out well.
When the game first came out, the “friendly fire” mode was always on and could not be disabled. Since then the game has been patched to allow players to turn it on or off, but with a catch. While “friendly fire” is disabled, any victories achieved over the warlock will not contribute to the larger community goal (you also can’t post to leaderboards). It is not entirely clear from the description, but presumably you will still have access to whatever content has been unlocked by the community within your game. Two players free of “friendly fire” could likely juggle a group of enemies to death quite easily, so I understand why it’s included, but I’m also glad the option is there to disable it. The lack of contribution to the overall goal is a somewhat fair concession to ensure proper balancing.
ACE Team has done something really unique with Abyss Odyssey. The combination of an action platformer and RPG/rogue elements into a brawler is a really great idea, and the fighting mechanics that are in play are easy to pick up yet very much require a certain degree of skill to master. The community goal that all players contribute helps to lend a greater sense of purpose to the whole affair and fosters a community that wants to help one another. With the recent patch that allows the “friendly fire” mode to be disabled, there should be little standing in your way of teaming up with a buddy and showing those nightmares that there are scarier things in the world than them.
The Co-Optimus review of Abyss Odyssey is based on the PC version of the game.