Archive for September, 2016

Munch’s Oddysee: The End

In the lengthy closing cutscene of the good ending, we finally see what use Abe and Munch got out of their trip to the surface and back: Lulu is now wealthy enough to win the Gabbiar auction. Except this still doesn’t really make sense. Abe has to mind-control Lulu through the entire process — Lulu doesn’t even like Gabbiar, doesn’t want to spend his entire new-found fortune, has no intention of just handing the can over to a couple of known criminals. So if Lulu isn’t a willing collaborator, why does it need to be Lulu? Can’t Abe just wait for the winning bid and then mind-control whoever won? I can imagine possible reasons why this wouldn’t work, but if the creators of this story even considered the possibility, they give no sign of it. No, Lulu is the only possible choice not for practical reasons, but for reasons of dramatic irony: you made his fortune by mind-controlling Glukkons, now you take it away by subjecting him to the same treatment.

I do want to keep going with the next Oddworld game once I’m through with IFComp for the year, but I have to say this one, even in its revamped form, was a step down from the first in most respects. There’s just an awful lot of filler where you repeat things you already know how to do in a series of similar-looking environments. The final level brings out some new wall textures to create a palatial look, and the effect is just to emphasize how much all the previous levels looked the same. There was a point toward the middle of the game where it started introducing ways to upgrade your Mudokon followers, turning them into powerful hand-to-hand or ranged combatants. It seemed like that might build up to something interestingly tactical, but the whole mechanic pretty much gets dropped after a few levels, probably because it made things too easy.

Munch’s Oddysee: Eggs? Eggs. Eggs!

Perhaps I’ve just been inattentive, or failed to read between the lines. It would be easy to do in a game where the story and gameplay are so separate. I can keep the Lulu side of the plot straight because it’s integrated into the levels, but there’s some purely interstitial story as well. Mostly it takes the form of headlines on a newspaper displayed after you complete a mission. The top story is generally the mission’s aftermath — “GLUKKON DONATES PROFITS TO LULU FUND! MAGOG MOTORS OUTA GAS!!!”, for example — but there’s also been an adjacent series in smaller type about the impending auction of the last remaining can of Gabbiar. Gabbiar is the roe of the Gabbit, which is to say, Munch’s species. Munch is generally assumed to be the last of his kind (hence his side of the rescue missions involving Fuzzles instead). So that roe, if still viable, could be the last hope for the continuation of his people.

I hadn’t really paid much attention to this plot thread before, assuming that it would assume prominence when it was ready, but there’s something else that’s got me thinking about it: the emergence of Labor Eggs. I had seen the phrase “Labor Eggs” in the game’s help text before, when it explains that the ending will depend on how many Mudokons, Fuzzles, and Labor Eggs you rescue. But only now, in the last few levels, do I get an explanation of what the phrase “Labor Eggs” means. It just means the eggs of Mudokons, kept by the Glukkons to be hatched into laborers. Which raises questions about where these eggs come from. As I’ve noted before, every Mudokon we’ve seen appears, at least, to be male — although these are aliens, so who knows?

Now, there is at least one specifically female character, also mentioned only in the newspapers: a Glukkon queen, who requires Gabbit lungs for some medical purpose. Which, now that I think about it, shows extreme short-sightedness on the part of the Glukkons. They have a desperate need for Gabbits, but Gabbits have been hunted to near extinction, so what do they do with the last clutch of viable Gabbit eggs? Package them as food. This is really par for the course for Glukkons, though. Their domination of the planet is based on ruthlessness, not good planning.

At any rate, the deal with the Labor Eggs is that they’re in boxes, which you have to pick up with a crane and drop into a hole. In the level where they first appear, there are 22 such boxes, all in the same area. You can’t access the crane until you’ve got rid of some guards, but once you’ve done that, there is nothing at all interfering with the task. This moment is pretty much pure repetitiveness, lacking challenge or interest. And that’s a distillation of the worst aspect of the game as a whole: its tendency to give the player busywork, to fill out scenes with activities that aren’t challenging or interesting. “Labor Eggs” may be a doubly accurate name.

Munch’s Oddysee: The End of the Massive Side-Quest

Finally I’m through with the Lulu Fund shenanigans, which turned out to take up the bulk of the game. To recap: Abe and Munch’s plan involves making a low-level Glukkon named Lulu stinking rich. They do this by sneaking into various other Glukkons’ offices, possessing them, and making them give their life savings to Lulu, after which they die from the shock of suddenly being broke. It’s a nasty scheme for a grotesque world. Lulu, as far as I can tell, is oblivious to why everyone is suddenly being so generous with him, but honestly he doesn’t get a lot of screen time, so who knows what he’s thinking? All I can say for sure is that he’s pleased with developments.

The last of the Glukkons you rob is dressed differently from the rest, with a glittery purple cowboy hat and aviator-style sunglasses. He doesn’t act any different — like all the Glukkons, he just stands in his little office waiting to be possessed, repeating the same seven self-aggrandizing barks in a gravelly Brooklyn accent (“I’m at the top of the world”, “How did I get so perfect?”, “I’m going to need an ass the size of a truck to fit this wallet”, etc.) But the outfit makes it clear that he’s a special Glukkon, a boss Glukkon, even if there’s really nothing to distinguish him otherwise. (There may be a lesson in that.) Afterwards, Lulu, with uncontainable joy, wears the same outfit on the flying barge that brings him to Vykkers Labs, the floating fortress that’s been your goal.

It looks like my guess was right: the whole point of the Lulu scheme was to let Abe and Munch sneak back to Vykkers Labs aboard that barge. And that’s where the story stops making sense to me. First of all, this isn’t the first time we’ve been to Vykkers Labs. It’s where Munch started the game. Abe had this whole mission to rescue Munch, and although that didn’t quite go as planned, due to Munch escaping without his help, he did have a considerably simpler way of reaching the Labs back then. Secondly, if Vykkers Labs is where they needed to be, why did the original plan involve leaving at all? Now, Abe’s Oddysee had a similar overall arc. There, Abe escaped from the meat plant, had a series of adventures in the world outside, and then in the end returned to where he escaped from to free the remaining captives and destroy the place. But there, there was a clear reason: Abe didn’t have the ability to finish his task until he visited the ancient temples and received powers from his people’s gods. (Powers which he seems to have lost after the conclusion of that game, by the way.) What did Abe and Munch gain by leaving the Labs before their task was complete? They’re no more powerful than they were when they escaped.

Project Lulu makes sense as game design: it provides an excuse for an arbitrary series of levels that don’t advance the story individually. But I don’t know that it makes sense as plot.

Munch’s Odyssey: What I’m Noticing This Time

Coming back to this after yet another lengthy pause, I’m struck afresh by a couple of things I hadn’t been thinking about much before.

First, I was finding some of the platforming unduly difficult. I’d quicksave just before trying a jump, then attempt it multiple times without success, falling short even after attempting a run-up. This turned out to be because I had forgotten how to run. Munch’s Oddysee on PC has a strange system for this. You essentially have three gears: Run, Walk, and Sneak. Tapping upward or downward on the D-pad shifts your speed one gear. All this despite controlling the character with an analog joystick, which has speed control built in! I suppose it’s because this whole gear system was added for the sake of keyboard-and-mouse. It doesn’t seem to have been present in the original Xbox version. In fact, when in Walk mode, I find I can still slow down to the point of entering Sneak mode just by pushing the stick less far. I just can’t run without shifting up.

Honestly, I’m glad to have a discrete Sneak mode. In situations that require sneaking, you really don’t want to stop sneaking just because your hand jostled a little. It’s still weird to use the D-pad to toggle it in this way, but I suppose they were running out of buttons. The face buttons are already overloaded, with the A button assigned to both Jump and Use Object (so you can’t jump when you’re near something usable), and the other three doubled up, doing one thing when tapped and another thing when held down. It’s all pretty complicated, and I frequently make mistakes like telling my followers to attack when I really want them to pull a group of levers.

The other completely unrelated thing that’s catching my eye this time around is how butch it all is. Which is a little surprising considering how it’s all framed as weirdos vs bullies, with the weirdos as the good guys. Well, Abe may be an ectomorph who sings his enemies to death rather than throw a punch, but he’s still visibly muscular, in a lean and wiry way. Moreover, the biggest of the bullies — the new extra-large Sligs with the beefy arms and the handheld miniguns and the four-legged robot undercarriage — are primarily there to be possessed and controlled by Abe. Seriously, this was the central aspect of the first two levels I played after coming back. While controlling a large Slig, your main concern is mowing down the lesser Sligs, directly confronting violence not with stealth or cleverness, but with greater and more powerful violence. The game wants you to have it both ways: You’re simultaneously the bullied and the bully, the weirdo with unsettling mind powers and the hulking revenge fantasy.