Since 1997 we’ve had a lot happen: the Millenium Bug failed to destroy the world, but hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes and the X-Factor have all tried; dotcom’s boomed and bust, then the global economy did the same; we’ve seen 9 Olympic competitions and 5 World Cups, and we’ve gone through 2 whole generations of gaming consoles, as well as nearly a whole generation of people. I’m guessing that a few of you reading this may never have even played the original PlayStation. You missed a treat there with Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, a truly unique experience at the time it released, and developed by a visionary company that planned numerous sequels to fully realise an intricate and interesting new world that conveyed a serious message, alongside allowing your main character to fart at will. That vision sadly went the route of the dotcom’s as well. All’s not lost though. For the last couple of years the people at Just Add Water have been crafting New ‘n’ Tasty, more than just an HD makeover of the original Abe’s Oddysee, and it’s finally landed on the great-grandson of the platform that brought it fame.
I played many hours of Abe’s Oddysee back in the day, and there was one thing that made it unique for me at the time, it appealed to non-gamers. Whenever there were a few of us together and someone was playing in the background, you could guarantee that the people that weren’t that interested would stop and watch every cutscene, and still follow what was going on with the story. It’s this memory that was triggered when I received the download code for the game; and my girlfriend was as excited to see the game again as I was to play it (and she’s playing through now as I’m typing on software that hadn’t even been conceived of back in 1997). Nostalgia flooded me as the menu appeared and Abe said “Hello”, almost as if he’d never been away. Then the opening cinematic played with every part of it looking to me exactly the same as the original, but with a glorious 1080p sheen applied. What made the game special at the time has been kept intact, and then the bits that could have done with some polish have been well buffed.
The point of New ‘n’ Tasty is to navigate Abe, a janitor in a food production plant on Oddworld, through a gorgeous 2D environment with depth-adding 3D rendered backdrops, whilst avoiding guards, mines, traps and barriers in order to rescue your fellow Mudokons from becoming the next big convenience food, and shut down Rupture Farms for good. The best way to describe it is a stealth-puzzle-racing-rhythm action-platformer with branching endings depending on your performance throughout. It doesn’t comfortably sit in any particular genre, and that’s part of the appeal it maintains: there’s still not really anything like a game from Oddworld Inhabitants. The gameplay is as tight as ever, and the controls are very precise for the platforming aspects, but never at the expense of playability. Trial and error is pretty much the only way to play New ‘n’ Tasty, and for newcomers it might prove a little frustrating until you’ve mastered the way movement and screen traversal works. There’s plenty to discover for old hands though, not least that after 17 years I still hadn’t realised that your beast of burden Elum is ‘Mule’ spelt backwards.
Abe’s move set is simply run, roll, jump and sneak, with a context sensitive button used for interacting with environmental objects and using doorways. Abe can also throw things such as rocks and grenades, to distract and destroy the Sligs that patrol the lands in and around Rupture Farms. These are basics you’ll find anywhere in other games. What you won’t find everywhere is the use of telepathy to take over and control Sligs, and a mechanism for communicating with the Mudokons you encounter. Chanting causes a number of different things to happen, not least the telepathy, and taking command of an enemy is great fun, whilst touches of the digital pad let you greet and command your companions, and combining it with a shoulder button allows you to take part in a Simon Says type conversation to solve puzzle sections. These elements feel fresh because they’re not overused in New ‘n’ Tasty, and the balance between guiding you down a route for solving a problem, but leaving you with all the tools at your disposal, and telling you what that answer is, is just about right.
So, what has the care and attention given to the remake done? It replicates the look and feel of the original perfectly, with the original artwork and graphical models being used as the basis for building the game. Sound and music is likewise the same, though I’m not sure if everything was re-recorded, or if original assets were able to be utilised. What the team at JAW have done though is tweak the controls to fit the “new” DualShock controllers that the original wasn’t made for, meaning that left and right analogue sticks are fully implemented, though none of the other new features are pulled in, and they aren’t needed either. In terms of other additions, the main one is the quicksave option. Quicksave sounds pretty boring, but it’s essential for removing frustration at dying and having to continue from a much earlier checkpoint. There’s a drawback with this concession though, the game flows a little too quickly because you’re not repeating sections over and over, and as a result the end comes too fast. Multiplayer is present, with a pass the pad option like the original that means the controller goes to the next in line when you get Abe killed (and you will), and has it’s own leaderboard for comparing groups of friends. It’s nice that it’s included and that the company hasn’t written off friends/family playing together like so many other games have.
Originally a comment on multinationals and capitalism, particularly the fast food industry and the exploitation of third world countries, there’s been a lot changed since the development of Abe’s Oddysee. However, the recent experiences of the global financial crisis make the tale still relevant, with the feelings towards large companies and ethical practices used (or ignored) throughout manufacturing, production and the way they treat the consumer, being largely in the negative. Our own beloved consoles and tech devices are one of the high profile areas regularly hit with rumours of worker exploitation, both in factories and game development, and there’s a certain irony here in parallels that could be made. There’s also an irony in the fact that it’s a straight copy of a game known for its originality… However, there’s an affinity you feel with Abe and the Mudokons which stems from an ingrained love of the underdog, and a small mans fight against the system is always entertaining. You know who’s going to triumph, don’t you?
Given the already announced DLC in the form of Alf’s Escape, I’m hoping the team are working on more than just that. Abe’s Exoddus is the only entry in the Oddworld series not with a recent makeover, and now that the assets are in place here I hope we’re in for an update of that too, the bottles of Soul Brew lying around the Mudokon village make me think this might be the case. Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty is a great revision of a classic game, I term I don’t use lightly, and has reignited my passion for the Oddworld series. It’s obvious that this game is a labour of love from a dedicated team based in Yorkshire, UK (can’t let that one past, it’s the home county of the founders of Codec Moments!), and is one you should definitely get.
A review copy of Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty on PlayStation 4 was provided by the Just Add Water PR team. The game is available now on PlayStation 4 as a cross-buy title, which will give you the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita versions when they’re released later this year. PC, Mac and Linux versions are also in the works.