17 years ago, the gaming world was presented with one of its most unlikely yet most loveable mascots in Abe the Mudokon. Blue, alien, dopey, and most certainly odd, Abe made his debut in Abe's Oddysee, a game released in 1997 for the original PlayStation. Made by developers Oddworld Inhabitants, figure-headed by series creator's Lorne Lanning and Sherry McKenna, the game introduced players all over the world to the eponymous loveable blue stitch-lipped hero of the title, Abe, and his quest to save his enslaved Mudokon people from becoming tasty snacks.
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Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty, a new release on PS4, soon to be released on Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS Vita and PS3, is a remake of the 1997 original, packed to the rafters with upgrades and improvements. With shinier graphics, new features, and plenty of new stuff to sink your teeth into, this is far from a simple resolution increase like some games we could mention (*cough* The Last of Us *cough*), having been torn to pieces, and rebuilt from the ground up for the latest machines, kind of like a director's cut.
A 2D side-scrolling action adventure game, Abe's Oddysee was renowned for its unique art direction, cinematic CG cutscenes, challenging difficulty, and, of course, its oddball characters. Abe, a Mudokon slave labourer (think cute blue and green aliens with rather fetching ponytails) works as a lowly floor waxer in Rupture Farms, a shady and dangerous meat packing plant run by Mullock the Glukkon (think a purple suit wearing greedy Octopus and you're on the right lines). Upon eavesdropping in on a Glukkon profit meeting, he sees that the Mudokon slaves are next on the menu to be chopped up, and so he goes on the run and begins his adventure.
Abe has to escape the meat plant, and seek out his hidden power by braving two shamanistic rites of passage out in the wilds of Oddworld before returning to Rupture Farms to free his fellow enslaved Mudokons. Simple right? Well, not quite. You see, as far as video game characters go, Abe is a bit underpowered in comparison to your regular gun slinging action hero. He has no guns or any practical means of defending himself; instead, all you have are your quick wits, a handy but limited possession ability and your noisy bowel (seriously) to make it through each screen.
The gameplay in New 'n' Tasty is simple. The aim of the game is to progress through each dangerous and hazard filled area alive. However, Abe is a rather fragile fellow, and the areas you need to get through can be filled with all manner of hazards. Slig guards (think robotic trouser-wearing slugs with machine guns) patrol areas with itchy trigger fingers, and will gun you down mercilessly on sight, snickering loudly as they do. Landmines, trapdoors, electric chambers, meat grinders, flying landmines and many other hazards are often strewn liberally throughout the environment, and dangerous wildlife eager to eat you becomes a constant threat as you progress into the later levels.
Along the way, you can choose to try and save as many fellow Mudokons as possible, simply ignore them, or, for those black-hearted gamers out there, kill them. How many you save/ignore/kill affects your Karma, or 'Quarma' as the game likes to call it, and influences which ending you will get. Of course, saving them isn't as easy as just standing next to them and pressing a button - oh no. If you want to "save" your friends, you have to lead them through the level yourself. And if you thought navigating through all those hazards and enemies sounded difficult solo, trust me, it can be even harder with several Mudokons in tow.
Luckily, they aren't completely stupid. Using the 'Gamespeak' function, you can order your fellow Mudokons around. Pressing the d-pad direction buttons when standing next to fellow Muds let's you give them orders - basically stop or go - and most importantly, comes complete with a dedicated library of fart sounds, which are both hilarious and actually essential to progression in certain areas of the game.
Additionally, whereas you could only give commands to one Mud at a time in the original, you can now address multiple Muds at once - a feature taken from Abe's Exoddus, the 1998 sequel to Abe's Oddysee - which makes things a lot easier. Removing the tedium that plagued the original of having to lead each single Mud to the bird portals you use to free them, before going back and braving all the obstacles you and your previous Mud just successfully navigated, there's no excuses for not saving your friends this time around.
The hazardous platforming obstacle courses of levels that you'll have to navigate through have been carefully updated for New and Tasty, with some tweaks to better fit the new aspect ratio. One of the major changes from Abe's Oddysee to New 'n' Tasty in terms of gameplay is the change from a flip-screen camera (reach the edge of one screen to move to the next), to a scrolling one. In this sense, it's almost like an entirely new game, as all the original environments and puzzles have been built to accommodate this new change. Audio and visual clues are also prominent and helpful, clueing you into what enemies and hazards lie ahead so that you're not constantly worried about bumping into some threat that's off-screen.
Most notably, the stocky, gas mask wearing Sligs now have a radar-like scan ability on their visors, which keeps them challenging and effective with this new screen change. Whereas in the original you could generally escape them by just running off-screen, in New 'n' Tasty they'll give chase, before scanning the environment when they lose you. It's a cool mechanic, as it keeps them deadly and prevents you from running (and farting) rings around them without deviating too much from the original game.
On a contrasting note, New 'n' Tasty does deviate from the original in game in that there are now three difficulty modes to choose from. New 'n' Tasty doesn't stick slavishly to the original's challenging difficulty, which inspired Marmite style love it/hate it responses from gamers when it first released, and opens things up for those completely new to the franchise. The game's three difficulty modes, something hardcore fans of the original might initially scoff at, are actually a really inspired design choice. On easy or medium difficulty, Abe has a health meter represented by a flock of birds (which can be viewed by pressing the Triangle button), and can take a couple of bullets from a Slig before going down, as opposed to the one-shot kill of hard mode. It's not a huge advantage; Abe still can't take much punishment, and certain things will still kill in one hit, such as those annoying flying landmines, but this small concession to include a health meter makes many of the enemy encounters more palatable for an unfamiliar and new audience.
New 'n' Tasty also implements an inspired solution to Abe's Oddysee's spread out checkpoint system. The original game felt overly punishing at certain points, often sending you back quite a way in a level upon each unlucky death. Thankfully then, New 'n' Tasty allows players to make their own 'quiksaves' as they play, eliminating much of the tedium from a game in which difficulty and repeated deaths reign supreme. Simply tap the DualShock 4's touchpad once to make a quiksave, and then when things inevitably go wrong and you don't quite time that jump right, or that pesky Slig manages to get an Abe headshot, never fear! Just hold the touchpad to instantly load your last quicksave and you can seamlessly carry on as if that hideously comical death never happened.
This doesn't make the game significantly easier; it just makes it significantly more enjoyable to play. Yes, this is an Oddworld game, so the classic gleefully sadomasochistic "Prepare to die" catchphrase is very appropriate here. Throughout your adventure with our favourite blue chum, Abe will get shot, electrocuted, minced by grinders, eaten by wildlife and experience various other such pleasant ways to go; being able to cut out the tedium of having to wait for a lengthy checkpoint load lends the game a more fast paced and arcade-y feel.
Speaking of hideously comical deaths, the fun and humour in New 'n' Tasty feels much more prominent this time round than in the original game - hell, even the manual is a hilarious read. The new ragdoll physics in play now mean that when things do go wrong (and trust me, they often will), the results are gloriously daft. Seeing your poor blue chump get shot mid-jump by a Slig, only to flop down onto a pile of landmines is both humiliating and amusing in equal measure. You will die a fair bit whilst playing New 'n' Tasty, but you'll also be cracking up with each fantastically ridiculous demise that plays out before you.
Graphically, it's a real treat to see the game running in a buttery 60 frames per second. The character animations and ragdoll physics combined with the super smooth frame rate makes the gameplay look so much more fluid. Abe in particular looks and moves with such charm, and the hideous Scrabs now barrel after you with a frightening, lurching gallop, which will make even the most hardcore of returning Oddworld fans tremble in their... ah Mudokons don't have shoes... loincloths then. Their loincloths.
The Oddworld games are known for the grotesquely beautiful art direction, and New 'n' Tasty really delivers on that front. It's one of the first things that you'll notice when you fire up the game. It looks at once both familiar and nostalgic to old Oddworld oddballs, whilst providing a vibrancy and brightness that the original lacked. Even the menu screen looks fantastic, which displays Abe in all his HD glory.
New 'n' Tasty's environments have been painstakingly recreated in a full 3D engine, as opposed to the pre-rendered backdrops of Abe's Odyssey, and the world looks far more interesting and detailed as a result. The game looks beautiful and wonderfully cinematic, particularly so in the naturalistic levels; the rustling trees in the dense woodlands of Paramonia and the scorching desert sun burning down on the arid deserts of Scrabania are real graphical and picturesque highlights. The new cinematics Just Add Water have put in really show off the team's technical and creative flair without ever really deviating from the feel of the original too much.
The Oddworld series has never looked so alive and vibrant, even whilst you're still inside the grimy blood-splattered interiors of Rupture Farms, the colours and lighting effects vibrantly pop out at you. In Rupture Farms, great big smelting vats and furnaces throw up fantastic orange embers and the glow from the swirling orange liquid metal creates some fantastic lighting effects, giving some of the early factory scenes a hellish Dante's inferno look to them. Out in the Stockyards, the twilight evening sun that's setting as you first set foot outside Rupture Farms is a really impressive moment, with lovely dynamic lighting from the low setting sun casting long shadows across the kennels and cages, and lens flare occasionally glinting into the camera.
The attention to detail is impeccable too. You can see Sligs on faraway platforms diligently patrolling (and probably grumbling loudly to themselves out there in the distance), and the aforementioned Scrab and Paramite meat conveyor belts can be seen clunking away in the background of the early Rupture Farms levels. Outside the meat plant, the guard towers, glinting in the twilight now move like automated gun turrets and scan the environment in the foreground and background, with floodlights that sweep through the pens and catwalks that Abe's navigating through.
Of course, while you're traversing these levels and marvelling at the environments, you'll be getting to grips with the control system which has strong pros and, unfortunately, annoying cons at times.
The controls have been configured with today's players in mind first and foremost, which is a sensible move. People who played the originals seventeen years ago (Oh god, don't say that. Was it really that long? - Ed) may not be playing any more (unlike me), and some of the new players picking the game up now weren't even born when Abe's Oddysee first released, so it's good to see that the control scheme has been updated and brought into line with what players typically expect today.
The jump controls have been revised from the original somewhat; in Abe's Oddysee when you pressed jump, it would make Abe hop in the direction he's facing, whereas jump in New 'n' Tasty makes Abe jump vertically straight up in the air - something a new player today would ordinarily expect from games today. This took a while to get used to, as a big fan of the original games, it was hard to unlearn the baked-in controls I'd become used to; it takes a bit of practice to get the timing down for the hop (pressing X slightly before the desired direction seems to do the trick), but it's not a massive hurdle for returning fans.
In fact, Abe almost controls too responsively in some aspects, as daft a criticism as that sounds, most notably in his walking/running speed. Gone are the separate walk and run functions from the original; this time your speed of movement is controlled by the left stick alone, which for the most part, feels like a natural and smooth evolution from the controls of Oddysee. Pressing the left stick fully to the left or right gets Abe running at full tilt, whilst applying gentle pressure causes him to plod along with his characteristic walk.
Due to the faster pace of gameplay in New 'n' Tasty, this combination of the walk and run controls being assigned to the left stick feels great for the most part, and the high-intensity chase sequences from pursuing Sligs, Slogs, Scrabs and Paramites feel much more intense and natural as a result of this continuum of motion.
The movement controls feel fine however, until you need to make a pixel-perfect precision movement between obstacles under pressure, in which case things start to feel a little too responsive, again, as daft a criticism as that sounds. The original's movement controls were mapped to the d-pad, and there were times where I really missed having that single button press accuracy in New 'n' Tasty. Navigating under the more meticulous meat drill puzzles in some of the devious Rupture Farms' secret areas, it could sometimes feel inaccurate and frustrating when I'd overshoot/undershoot the correct stick pressure again and send Abe careening into the gnashing blades once more. As a result, I missed being able to toggle running on and off like you could in Abe's Oddysee, although after several hours of play I had managed to acclimatise to the new feel of the controls.
This may not be a problem to those younger players who are new to the Oddworld franchise (in which case, please feel free to completely ignore the last couple of paragraphs of grumbling), but to a returning fan of the original Abe games, all I say is just be prepared to fight both your own ingrained 17-year old muscle memory as well as the responsiveness of the left stick for a good while until you get a feel for the appropriate walk/run balance.
Overall, Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty is a bit of a paradox. It feels like a fresh brand new experience whilst also delivering a heady rush of nostalgia for fans of the original game. It's faithful to the original's legacy, whilst also playfully taking creative liberties here and there. The smooth framerate and responsive controls make the game a real pleasure to play, and without the flipscreen changes of the original, there's a faster and more enjoyable rhythm to the gameplay thanks to the on the go quiksave system. If you've already guided Abe out of Rupture Farms (and beyond) all those years ago, then New 'n' Tasty will far surpass your expectations. If you're new to the series, then get ready for a wacky adventure into the world of Odd.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 3