At some point in your schooling, you probably read Homer’s colossal work The Odyssey or, at least, a portion. I’m referring, of course, to the Greek poet, not Homer Simpson (D’oh!). Recounting Ulysses’ wanderings after the siege of Troy, this tale is filled with all the familiar trappings of Greek mythology – gods, fabled creatures, catastrophes and more.
Like the epic on which it’s based, The Odyssey: Winds of Athena is a legendary tale filled with the meddlesome antics of the Greek gods and their vexing creations. Sign up with Ulysses for the voyage home, and you’ll need to puzzle your way past the worst that the Zeus and his cohorts can invoke.
Liquid Dragon Studios’ The Odyssey puts you in the sandals of the Goddess Athena, tasked with guiding Ulysses’ fleet safely home from the Trojan wars. In the process, you command the currents and winds as you direct the hero’s armada to its final destination, traversing 51 perilous levels spanning 10 chapters.
All that, however, is easier said than done. Your godly powers are required to thwart natural hazards like sand bars, cross currents, whirlpools, and jagged rocks, as well as to fend-off god-spawned minions including Cyclopes, Harpies, Sirens and Scylla.
Your quest begins simple enough. Guide your fleet from one side of the screen to the other, around an intervening island (boats enter at the green arrow and exit at the red). In the process, you learn to create wind and manipulate currents. Wind is generated by holding down the left mouse button and making clockwise motions (reverse to still the breeze); current by holding the left button and dragging the mouse in the desired direction. As you progress through increasingly difficult levels, you learn, via built-in tutorials, about interacting further with Ulysses’ world and the most effective ways of combating its natural and supernatural elements.
In general, your goal is to keep Ulysses’ fleet intact. But, the exact number of ships you must convey safely through varies from level to level. Saving the minimum will advance you, protecting a specified number more will earn an Expert score and bonus, while safeguarding your entire fleet nets you a Perfect rating.
As you progress through The Odyssey, you’ll learn how to protect your ships from the game’s beasties, employ locks to open gates, collect bonuses and manipulate the forces of nature. For instance, Harpies fly off with your boats. This is a bad thing…usually. However, they can be used to your advantage to move ships across the map, just as long as you rescue your vessels in time. Another example, Cyclopes throw boulders, but you can catch rocks mid-air and fling them back, momentarily stunning the fiends. Also, Sirens cause ships to sail toward the rocky cliffs where they bask. Yet, they can be used to guide your fleet if you know which ones to chase and which to leave alone.
This mix of elements keeps you on your toes, with levels altering between arcade action, strategic planning, puzzle solving and a combination. Should any level prove too annoyingly difficult, you’re not stuck. After several unsuccessful attempts, you have the option to skip ahead to the next – a thoughtful touch. Moreover, once you complete a level, you can replay it at any time to increase your score and rating, or just for fun.
As for The Odyssey’s world, hand-painted levels are attractive, audio sets the mood well and the real-time fluid dynamics engine creates realistic water current behavior. It’s really quite a unique product that’s hard to buttonhole, and that’s a heroic feat.
But, as the Greek gods themselves, it’s not perfect. I noted two Achilles’ heels during my sojourns. First, the graphic resolution is sub par given the current crop of casual games, only 640 x 480. It’s not a deal killer – especially as the hand-painted art is unique and attractive — but a higher resolution would improve the experience. Also, the game gets extremely challenging about halfway through the main mode, and especially once you reach last 10 to 15 levels. Play, as such, may become overly challenging too soon for some casual players.
When the gods have ceased their antics and the tempests subside, where does that leave The Odyssey: Winds of Athena? Well, if you like a voyage that sets sail on calm seas but is soon fraught with disasters sure to confine you to the briny deep, this game delivers in godlike proportions. If, on the other hand, you prefer a more leisurely cruise from start to finish, too many stormy seas and rocky cliffs may lie ahead. It all depends on your disposition – if you’re more like Homer the poet or Homer Simpson.