Like an over-eager puppy, Gav-Gav Odyssey won’t sit down. As we played through its puzzle levels, it kept bringing us new ideas and different types of puzzles. It couldn’t manage five levels in a row without shifting the gameplay into a completely different direction.
As an approach to making a game, it’s as double-edged a sword as you imagine. Some of the gameplay ideas are fantastic, and you could imagine an entire game built on them. But other scraps are, at best, tasteless, while one of them is rotten to the core.
The kitchen-sink approach is evident from the very first moments. The action kicks off in a spaceship, as you play a twenty-second game of Defender. It’s a pocket ‘shmup section, where you blow up asteroids, until a missile hits and you crashland. It’s typical of Gav-Gav Odyssey that you don’t see this kind of gameplay again, which was probably for the best.
In a NES-era cutscene, it’s revealed that the ship was piloted by three dogs, and two of them are whisked away by aliens. As Commander, the only dog off the leash, you make it your mission to rescue the other two: Snowball and Ursa.
The rescue mission initially takes the form of simplistic and bland maze puzzles. Commander navigates round spikes in a top-down labyrinth, collecting keys that open a door. But then the first of Gav-Gav Odyssey’s true puzzles kicks in, as the layouts begin to get covered with chickens. You can yap, making any chicken in your row or column move away from you and onto handy switches which open doors. Equally, the chickens can wander onto spikes. So, you’re carefully nudging the chickens in an effort to keep them alive as they open the way forward for you.
As the first of the three gameplay types in Gav-Gav Odyssey, we’d give this one a solid 3.5/5. It’s a Sokoban – a crate-pushing puzzle – with a slight twist, and while it has a familiar, musty old smell, it’s also well put together, with puzzle designs that had us scratching our heads for a good five minutes or so. The latter levels started using chickens as obstacles to stop other chickens, which gave everything an extra dimension. Times were good.
But Gav-Gav Odyssey soon mixed things up and introduced puzzle number two: the mirror puzzles. We’d have given these a commendable 4/5. Finding Snowball, we suddenly had two dogs to control at the same time. Moving one dog moved the other, but that got immeasurably more complicated by having a maze with spikes everywhere. Moving up was safe for one dog, but it would impale the other.
Puzzles became a game of dry-humping walls with one dog, so that the other dog could move independently and collect keys or find a space away from the spikes. With no spikes around, we could path them both to the next key without making our corgi into a sieve.
We found ourselves hoping that these moments wouldn’t end – that Gav-Gav Odyssey would choose to stick rather than twist, and escalate them with different mechanics, but – lo – it was not to be. We got the warehouse levels instead.
Oh, the warehouse levels. It’s hard to convey the anger and bile that rises up when we play one of these levels. They do their damnedest to erase any goodwill. 1/5.
Play switches to a kind of 2D platformer view. We were excited at first: where was Gav-Gav Odyssey going to take us next? But there’s no ability to jump in these sections. Instead, you have to wait for a box to fall from a moving crane above your head. As it drops, you move to the side, and you can use the newly dropped crate to step up to the next area.
It’s fiddly but fine, if it remained that simple. You have to stand where you want the crate, then side-step. There’s some dodgy collision detection here, and you will die or survive when you thought the inverse would happen. But it’s mostly harmless.
Until it stops being harmless. There are four different crates that drop, and they each have different weights. A lightweight cardboard box will get destroyed if a heavier crate lands on it, and there are four tiers of them in total. The weights of the different crates are obscure and unclear. What does a red crate destroy again? It’s not something that’s easy to read at speed. But that’s not the worst part: the boxes that fall are random. And when you are looking to build staircases that are four or five crates high, you can find that whole columns have been destroyed, leaving you trapped in a crate-pit, because you can only climb one crate at a time.
It’s a random, awkward, unintuitive series of puzzles and they seem to go on for flipping ever. Gav-Gav Odyssey stops being the puckish game that changes up every five levels, and left us stranded in these hellish missions for the majority of our time with the game. We got through them by the skin of our teeth, but the damage was already done.
As it turns out, there’s a convenient little cheat code for Gav-Gav Odyssey that lets you skip levels with a press of the LB button. If you want to avoid dying inside, then it’s worth typing into a search engine.
Two out of three isn’t bad. Gav-Gav Odyssey is a puzzle game that attempts three different minigames over the course of its two hours, and two of them manage to crack a smile. The third, though, is a crime against platforming that makes us do an involuntary shudder whenever we think about them. If you plan to play Gav-Gav Odyssey, do yourself a favour and look up the level-skip cheat code: you will need it.
You can buy Gav-Gav Odyssey from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S