Oddworld: Ending Thoughts

On reaching the end of Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty, I realized I was mistaken: I had not been rescuing all the hidden Mudokons as I went along. At the end of the first chapter, all the Mudokons you left behind are immediately killed, and register as such on the in-game scoreboards you can find from time to time, which give the number of Mudokons rescued, killed, and remaining. (One of the game’s more charming aspects is the way it puts out-of-game information of this sort onto in-game billboards and marquee lights.) But it turns out this only applies to the first chapter. Abandoning later Mudokons doesn’t affect the scoreboards at all.

Oh, I had found most of them. Enough to get the good ending, certainly — it turns out you only need half. The game is pretty friendly for the completist: you can replay individual chapters, and the Chapter Select menu gives details about per-chapter completion. I wasn’t sure at first if I wanted to take the time to go for 100%, seeing how I had already done so in the original version, but ultimately I decided to go for it. The game isn’t exactly like the original, after all.

There was only one chapter where I wasn’t anywhere near completion, and that’s due to a mental trap worth describing. The game starts in Zulag 1 of the meat plant, and when you return to the plant at the end, you enter through the same Zulag. The entryway is recognizable, but everything’s a bit different: enemies in different places, motion detectors where there were no motion detectors before, and of course the passage to Zulag 2 is accessible this time. Now, the basic deal with motion detectors in this game is that they’re frames that move back and forth over a stretch of hallway, and if you don’t stay perfectly still when they’re passing over you, they sound an alarm and trigger something bad, like undodgeable floating mines. The passageway back to the main part of Zulag 1 has something previously unseen: a motion detector that doesn’t move. Staying still while you wait for it to pass over you isn’t an option. Thus, it registered in my mind as an impassable obstacle, a simple way of cutting off the bulk of the level on the second visit. And that seemed reasonable, design-wise. But in fact a stationary motion detector is passable, as long as you can deal with the consequences of triggering it. All I really had to do to access the optional bulk of the chapter was take the detector at a run and keep on running.

So, having experienced Oddworld again for the first time in nearly two decades, how was the experience? Compelling enough to keep me going, obviously. This may be technological nostalgia, but there’s something satisfying to me about its use of lighting, with lots of scenes involving silhouettes against saturated color. And the gameplay is basically all about repeatedly overcoming helplessness. You start each area by sneaking and/or running away from things, but gain the upper hand through being cleverer than your foes. That’s always gratifying.

I’ve seen reviews and such that say on this basis that Abe’s Oddysee, and by extension its remake, is a nice relief from the gun-blasting violence of other games, but that notion has always struck me as strangely blinkered, coming from a limited notion of what games are or can be. There are lots of nonviolent games out there, and there always have been. Abe’s Oddysee is not one of them. This is a game full of gore, both aimed at and aimed by the player character. This is a game where you explode your enemies by chanting, trick them into walking into land mines or meat grinders, turn into a manifestation of a wrathful nature god and shoot lightning bolts at them, and even occasionally just throw grenades at them. I suspect that what the reviewers found striking was that you spend more time running and hiding than attacking, but at the same time there’s still enough attacking involved to make it seem like a real game to them. That is, it’s strikingly nonviolent for such a violent game.

At any rate, it’s been enjoyable enough that I think I’ll continue on to an Oddworld game that I haven’t played yet.

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