This article is sort of a joint effort between I and reviewer neongrey; we did co-op together and a sort of parallel playthrough to contrast between those who're one step shy of playing these sorts of games competitively and those who aren't actually that into it.
NEON SAYS: As you may have gathered from my review of Chronology, I'm not a skilled platformer. That doesn't mean I can't appreciate when a game like this is done well, and there's a lot to like about AO, both in the abstract and in general as a filthy casual.
PIXELSCUM SAYS: I tried single player (Enter the Abyss) pretty extensively and got to do a bit of co-op with a fellow reviewer, so I'll be mostly covering those aspects first. When I popped in I was presented with the choice to play a local game, an online game, or do a quick match.I assumed (rightly) that online was co-op and started to play the game, going through the anemic and vague tutorial without too much trouble. It started to slowly dawn on me even as I played that barring some minor changes (and issues) the game essentially played like Super Smash Bros. Obstacles would be thrown your way, areas would suddenly close off and enemies would step into the randomly placed arenas just so you can mercilessly beat them into oblivion.
NEON SAYS: The tutorial was kind of an issue for me. It was forgiving enough, but it didn't do a very good job of teaching the skills you need to play the game-- it would show a ghost going through the motions and tell you what button to press. Unfortunately, they don't change to match your keybinds, and as someone who only breaks out the controller when she absolutely has to, it wasn't very welcoming. And the tutorial prompts were mostly a once-and-done deal; there was nothing to really require you learn how to use the skills the game was giving you. That's not necessarily a problem but for a game that does try to emulate Super Smash Bros., it misses out some on the thing that makes me love Super Smash Bros. the most: its accessibility.
PIXELSCUM SAYS: This went on for a bit until I encountered the shopkeeper, which was the first time I'd died. Turns out you get exactly what you paid for if you hit the Fight Shopkeeper button and he packs one hell of a punch. As Katrien's (the first available character) body faded I steeled myself to repeat the descent only to find myself staring as a soldier steps up where my fallen body was and say something about avenging my death. Given control I did exactly that and got to run around as the soldier for a bit until I found a shrine with Katrien on it. It seems she was - understandably - immortal and once you die you could bring yourself back to life by using a soldier. I noticed that soldiers couldn't use the magic items or weapons of the character meaning they were just meant to be a second lease on life, not too bad but not too good.I eventually fought a boss - a dark shadowy thing which kind of swatted feebly at me with his giant sword - and met my true end at the mandibles of a poisonous spider after a war of attrition. As I died I was informed that I had unlocked the Ghost Monk and I decided to take a break and try out some co-op.
NEON SAYS: I think AO's level generation algorithm is really slick. The levels produced are really well-paced, and they don't rush you onward; you get some really stress-free design that way. The building blocks are really attractive and fit together well enough that it's hard to tell at times that the levels are procedurally generated. Mostly you can tell on occasions when you're closed into a fight arena with wacky terrain. I spent something like five minutes trying to jump up a cliff once while PixelScum fought off the monsters we were shut in with, and I couldn't move enough to get a better angle on the jump. That's probably an issue unique to a bad player in co-op, but there you go.
PIXELSCUM SAYS: I can't stress this enough honestly, co-op is not a mode you should buy this game for. Functionally it's no different from the normal single player gameplay except you have to share the tiny screen - they didn't even add in Super Smash Bros. level screen zooming - and you're absolutely forced to have friendly fire. This means that the game is pretty much unplayable as even with the damage reduction you're far more of a threat to each other than the enemies actually are. Couple that with absolutely no additional resource drops of any kind and you find yourself playing a mode that's significantly worse just by a few weird design choices. In fact, there isn't even an option to turn friendly fire off. Originally I'd sort of passed it off as mostly the result of the developers not quite having enough time to finish so they added co-op assuming it'd work fine using the basic Versus online play mechanics, a mistake essentially. Turns out that's not remotely true, Versus doesn't even have online play right now and it won't until they finish it. A quick skim of the steam forums reveals they chose to make friendly fire mandatory because the AI is practically braindead when trying to respond to two attackers which to be fair is a real concern on some level and yes there's nothing wrong with developers making games the way they like them. However if that were properly the case then friendly fire should be enabled in single player as well, since only projectiles seem to hit allied NPCs.
NEON SAYS: Yeah, AO's co-op mode is not a majour selling point to me; I'd play it with someone who already had it, but they'd need to be a better player than me. And frankly: that's a lot of what I like about co-operative modes in general. I can get a lot more enjoyment out of a game if I'm playing with a friend who can give me a hand. I don't mind a hard game, and I don't mind building a game to be hard, but I really came out of this feeling like I was being written off as a filthy casual. I don't expect them to design the game with co-op balance in mind but as it stands it's just not a good experience for me.
PIXELSCUM SAYS: Of course during that quick foray out of the game I discovered the steam forums for it had a guide which taught me a few mechanics that the game neglected to mention having. Period. However having learned these I managed to tear through the game, I would die every so often but it struck me that rather than having mandatory friendly fire in co-op the entire game definitely needed difficulty modes beyond the map difficulties. Something that could scale the game beyond the basic gameplay, make it harder without making it absurd and most importantly something the players could control rather than something automatic.
NEON SAYS: Again, I feel like they're missing some of the things that made Super Smash Bros. such a wildly popular game. When you play with another person, you have about a million different settings under your control, including difficulty and drop rates. I get they're targeting their attention toward skilled players, and to people who liked Super Smash Bros. on the technical level, but these sort of settings are the difference between a game I would play to death and one I'm never going to pick up again.
PIXELSCUM SAYS: However, Abyss Odyssey should be lauded for the aesthetic design. It's absolutely gorgeous even when you're getting murdered by the world itself and every time a journal page drops I snatch it up greedily, desperate for more explanation of what exactly happened.
That being said, the writing, the music, the sound effects, the voice acting, the visuals, most of the combat system, they're absolutely stellar. It suffers a bit from quirks due to it being based heavily on Super Smash Bros. however at the same time we're looking at a game that seems to want to hold itself back at every chance it gets.
Seriously Abyss Odyssey, I just want to love you. LET ME LOVE YOU DAMN IT. WHY WON'T YOU LET ME LOVE YOU? Really though, with a few basic changes Abyss Odyssey could've been perfect. As it is my joy is tinged with solid disappointment, I don't see myself playing a lot of co-op, ever, and that was a huge draw for me.
NEON SAYS: Abyss Odyssey really is a beautiful game visually-- seeing it in motion, you just want to sit and watch for a while. And it's got a lot of really neat technical aspects I can appreciate. I can tell it's doing what it intends to do really well. But what it intends to do is something that doesn't include me.