Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty

The new Humble Monthly brings me Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty, a remake of 1997’s Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee. I played the PC port of Abe’s Oddysee back in the day, and liked it enough to play the immediate sequel, Abe’s Exoddus, as well as to pick up further Oddworld games in Steam sales and then not play them. I understand the ones I haven’t played mix things up a bit, but the basic idea behind the Abe games is that they’re puzzle/action-platformers in an alien setting of juvenile grotesquery. The whole thing starts in a meat-processing plant, where Mudokons, the player character’s species, have just been downgraded from workers to meat animals, prompting the player to both escape and rescue as many of his kin as possible.

In contrast to D/Generation HD, I have to say that New ‘n’ Tasty largely improves on the original. I guess it’s helped by the way that the original was basically straining against its technology anyhow. Abe’s Oddysee had 2D sprites pre-rendered from 3D models. New ‘n’ Tasty can just put the 3D models directly in the game and render them at a higher resolution than those sprites. The original had occasional FMV transitions between locations, the better to give the illusion that everything was happening in a single cohesive space. NnT can actually move the camera around in that space. This is applied even in ordinary spaces: the original divided the world up into discrete screenfuls that the camera would jump between as you exited one and entered another, but NnT has the camera follow you continuously. This might make the bigger puzzles easier by removing the need to stitch together spaces in your head that are presented separately.

Rescuing Mudokons involves leading them to locations where you can open a portal. The game supports a simple set of commands for this: “Hello” to get the attention of whoever you’re facing, “Follow me”, “Stop”. In Abe’s Oddysee, you could only address one Mudokon at a time, and as a result sometimes had to go back and forth between where the Mudokons were gathered and where the portal is. Abe’s Exoddus added an “Everybody” command that allowed you to get an entire roomful of Mudokons to follow you at once. NnT retrofits this into the original scenario, and to get more mileage out of it, it increases the number of rescuable Mudokons threefold. There’s something to be said for this: to the extent that looking for Mudokons to rescue is a sort of treasure hunt, finding a whole bunch of them standing together feels more significant than finding one alone, even though there’s no practical difference for the completist player.

Where the original had instant death from every hazard, NnT introduces a health system that lets you take several hits. This is optional; if you play on Hard mode, the old one-hit kills apply. I think the health system probably makes for a better game, but I’ve been playing on Hard mode anyway, out of sheer stubbornness and a sense that if I beat the game this way once, I should be able to do it again. There are a lot of Mudokons hidden away in secret areas with specially-hard challenges, where you have to dodge spinning meat blades with exceedingly exact timing. I fail dozens of times in these areas before succeeding; some of them I’m not entirely convinced are humanly possible to pass except by luck. So health probably helps there.

Not that you’re really expected to complete all the challenge areas on your first pass through the game! You can pass through all the levels and reach an ending without rescuing a single Mudokon, although if I recall correctly, the ending you get that way basically scolds you and says “I guess you aren’t the Chosen One after all”. But there are Mudokons in the first chapter that you can only rescue by means of techniques taught in the later chapters. A more modern game would let you advance farther into the game, learn what you need to learn, then come back to save the Mudokons you left behind — possibly even letting you continue to try for perfection after getting the initial ending, like continuing to hunt for Riddler Trophies in Arkham Asylum after the final boss. But no, in Abe’s Oddysee, once you leave the first chapter, any Mudokons left behind are immediately killed. And New ‘n’ Tasty doesn’t change that.

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