Saturday, August 9, 2014

Game Review - Abyss Odyssey (XBLA, 2014)

The Abyss Odyssey demo evoked the same sense of excitement that I get when playing a new Metroidvania or Rogue-like game, so I paid for the full game without hesitation.  What I got falls far short of the legacy of those genres.  Here's why:

At its core, Abyss Odyssey is a simple rogue-like title.  The entirety of the gameplay revolves around exploration of the titular Abyss, and death resets (most of) your progress and generates a new layout for the game's only dungeon.

It's a classic formula.  It's also not something that hits consoles very often, so it's a nice treat when it does.

Sadly, the rest of the details are disappointing.

The goal is always to reach the bottom of the Abyss to defeat the warlock residing there.  While the structure of the rooms along the way changes with each iteration, the overall layout is always the same - three columns of rooms with only a small handful of connections between them.

For the most part, you won't find much incentive to explore.  Sure, there are chances at finding some shiny new loot, but your inventory is limited to only a few usable items and most of the stuff you'll find isn't very compelling.  It's the kind of system where a single powerful weapon marginalizes the rest of your equipment, so once you find one, there's no reason to pursue anything but the main objective.

And the main objective is really all there is.  Once you figure out how everything works, you can easily clear the Abyss in about an hour, and your only option is to do it all again.  No sidequests, no special difficulty settings, and basically no longevity, as you can't even look to collect powerful items because you lose them when you complete the game.

To make matters worse, the intervening parts aren't all that great, either.

Moving and fighting in the Abyss is similar to a side-scrolling beat 'em up.  You have a couple basic attacks, a few more powerful skills that evolve according to simple RPG experience levels (which are the only things that don't reset upon death), and some straightforward 2D platforming sections.  It's simple, but that's not the biggest problem.

Unfortunately, the control scheme is awkward.  I experienced noticeable input lag at times, where the player character hesitated to perform any actions I made.  You can certainly get used to that kind of thing, but it makes combat with usually aggressive monsters pretty frustrating.

Screen transitions also don't scroll smoothly.  While running through an area, the graphics will get a little jumpy, making some of the trickier platforming sections frustrating, too.  It's probably just another form of that underlying lag, but the result is a game that feels woefully unpolished.

That said, there is a pretty cool mechanic for capturing monster souls for your use.  It's never explained outside the tutorial pages in the options menu (and who does that, right?), but you can take on the form of a vanquished foe to dominate your enemies.  While it's a nifty idea, it's not very deep, and many of the monsters are annoying to control anyway, so it's only a minor bright spot.

Basically, the game is short, frustrating, and it gets stale much too quickly to be worth the price tag.

Of course, there's a little more to it.  A couple of unlockable characters add some diversity to the gameplay as each has a distinct play style.  You can also collect a bunch of journal pages, filling in some of the warlock's backstory.  There's nothing earth-shattering, but it's nice to have the option to delve a bit more deeply into the game's (admittedly still weak) storyline.

It's also worth praising some of the game's aesthetics.  Many of the environments have lovely backgrounds, and it features several hauntingly beautiful tunes.  It's certainly not good enough to make up for the tedious gameplay, but it is a pretty game.

But that's really all you get with Abyss Odyssey - a short, tedious romp through a surprisingly pretty world.  If you're looking for something to mindlessly grind away at, this one isn't the worst choice you could make; otherwise, though, I'd stay away.

My Rating: 3/10 - bad.

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