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Oddworld - New 'N' Tasty - Review
Oddworld Inhabitants certainly understand the importance of timing. The original Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee (which I did a retrospective of, here), was one of the more innovative platformers to come out of the PlayStation. This was, in part at least, because it was a 2D platformer that was to some degree, released in a generation of consoles defined by 3D gaming.
Funnily enough the original Abe's Oddysee has aged remarkably well, more so than many of its 3D platforming counterparts. This leaves Oddworld New 'N' Tasty; a complete remake of the game, in a somewhat strange position. How do you improve on a PlayStation game that, in all honesty, is still perfectly playable?
There's been much talk about the game's graphical overhaul, which now sees the game running entirely in-engine as opposed to the grainy, pre-rendered bitmaps that the original used. Admittedly, there's a thrill at seeing Oddworld come to life in high-definition. The flickering neon signs advertising Meech Munchies and Scrab Cakes are still a wonderful sight in a game that, in many respects, is defined by its world-building. Seeing Scrabs and Paramites pass by on conveyor belts, hissing at their captors, are brilliant examples of incidental details. Abe might be the lead character but the whole of Oddworld isn't far behind.
Likewise this was, and still is, a game with plenty of bite beneath its veneer of satire. The story of Abe is one bristling with injustice, both at the destruction of the environment and the treatment of workers. Its socialist/anti-capitalist themes are a welcome change for a medium that's usually inundated with right-wing claptrap thanks to Call of Duty and its ilk. The fact that it's able to explore its politics without coming across as though it's jumped on a soapbox and is lecturing the player makes it all the more impressive. If anything, the game's themes are even more relevant now than they were back in '97, just watch New 'N' Tasty's trailer - save the 99 percent anyone?
New 'N' Tasty isn't just a visual improvement either, given that the 1997 game separated areas into isolated screens some of New 'N' Tasty's puzzles have had to be altered to still work properly. It's not always a massive change, but fans will notice that some areas have had to be rebuilt more than others in order to encompass the now seamless gameplay. Developers Just Add Water have, for the most part, done a commendable job keeping the majority of the game's older scenarios intact, whilst providing a few alterations to better fit the new engine, as well as spice things up for Oddworld veterans.
Similarly, Abe controls a little differently now too, with running being his default movement speed and his voice options have also undergone a few changes. The ability to now get a whole group of Mudokons to follow you, which was something that was added in the sequel, Abe's Exodus, is a welcome addition, and reduces some of the tedium that a few areas previously had, where you had to guide the Abe's green friends one by one back to a bird portal.
A few of the other changes are a little suspect however. The most glaring one being the introduction of difficulty modes that introduces a health system. In theory this could be a great idea, helping newer players acclimatise to Oddworld's brutal food chain. Sadly though, it's poorly implemented, rarely affording the player much leeway and ruining the cruel simplicity of the original, where one shot from a Slig would mean instant death. Hard mode eliminates most of these problems, but there's still the question why this was included at all, especially considering the game already has generous checkpoints and the ability to quick-save at a moment's notice.
Perhaps the game's most glaring problem however is the awkward control scheme which makes it a pain in the neck to correctly angle your jumps. Abe now runs by default but the world he's in is built on the old assumption that his average speed will be walking. Whereas the original used one button for Abe to hop, New 'N' Tasty requires you to nudge the analog stick and hit X at the same time, sometimes causing Abe to jump immediately, or sometimes take a step forward and then jump. It's an odd way to have a character jump and feels too imprecise for a game that requires you to be rather dexterous. It might sound like a trite complaint but it will lead to multiple deaths as you step on landmines or awake a Slig unintentionally. This is unfortunately the cost of overlaying new controls onto old level design.
The Mudokon count has been upped from 99 to 299 this time around. It might seem like a huge leap, suggesting that the remake has included a significant amount of new content, but it hasn't particularly. Many areas that used to have three or four Mudokons to save will now have seven or eight instead. Some stages have been filled out a little more however, with the Elum getting a bit more time in the limelight. These segments were always a highlight in the original, where Abe had to travel across wild parts of Oddworld on a weird turkey-looking mount that loved honey. Even in the remake these moments are still Oddworld at its best, revelling in the series' weirdness whilst also giving the game a real breadth and scope - reminding the player that at its heart this is still a game about the thrill of going on an adventure.
Whilst the technical overhaul of the game is impressive it has lead to a general change in the overall mood of the game. Abe's Oddysee felt dark and oppressive, tinged with dark humour but still felt oddly unsettling. The much brighter colours of this remake change that tone entirely - emphasizing the comedy at the expense of some of the original's atmosphere. It's like a band going back and re-recording some older material; the production might be better, the sound clearer, but there's not the same level of dirt under the fingernails; despite on the surface being an improvement, something deeper down has been lost.
Oddworld: New 'N' Tasty is an earnest remake; crafted with love and allowing many younger game fans the chance to explore the weird and wonderful land of Oddworld, even if it has come at a few costs. Perhaps New 'N' Tasty gets the best of both worlds; it reboots the original but in a way that doesn't make that game seem obsolete. You'll have to decide which you prefer though.
Oddworld: New 'N' Tasty was released July 23rd for the PS4.
PS3, Vita, Xbox One, 360, Wii U, iOS, Linux, Mac and PC versions are planned for release later in the year.
© 2014 LudoLogic