Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty!
Brutal Backlog is a semi-regular feature where JDR team plough through some of the unplayed games on their shelves (both digital and physical), disregarding their age or their technical limitations of their era. Only the very best titles will stand up to scrutiny today.
It must be said that these days when one hears about a revamp, reboot and even sequels of beloved franchises there is always a moment of trepidation. It would be easy enough to argue that gone are the days of consideration when it comes to source material; too often developers focus on flash ‘n’ bang rather than translating what made the original such a treat in the first instance.
Abe’s Odyssey (and later Abe’s Exoddus) was arguably one of the most defining games on the Playstation 1. Its story of a world of industry and capitalism exploiting and destroying the natural world for profit; all the while eating or enslaving perceived lower species, was a well-realised backdrop to some, frankly, terrifying violence mixed with superb slapstick humour. It took its 2D flip-screen gameplay design with strong reference to the Sega Genesis’ Flashback and Another World, and armed with the new generation of technology, absolutely ran with it. The ugly factories were suitably imposing as you fled its walls, moving to the enchanting forests of your spiritual ancestors. Everything was gorgeously realized, including the chunks of gore that often adorned your screen. I can still remember the look of horror on my mother’s face the first time I accidently ran Abe head first into a meat grinder.
And so, I cautiously downloaded Oddworld: New ‘N’ Tasty just to see if developer Just Add Water would do justice with the Oddworld Legacy …
Five Minutes In
I needn’t have worried. Not only is Oddworld: New ‘N’ Tasty faithful to its source material, it fully respects its roots. Given that publisher Oddworld Inhabitants are one of the most creative forces within the gaming industry; it feels less like a remake, and more of a reimagining. The voice lines and commands are still there (with a tad more vocal variety to keep it fresh), the gangliness of Abe is still front and centre and, most importantly, so is the puzzle element to the game. I recalled the original enough to know that Oddworld would hide Mudokons everywhere (and Exoddus had a few on the very first screen!), so my searching was instantly rewarded. So this is how it’s going to be is it? Very well, Oddworld, very well. Key differences so far is that instead of single screens, the game now continuously scrolls along, though there is a ‘snapping’ that indicates you are in a new area. Also, there are now 299 Mudokons to save instead of 99. The ante has been upped.
One Hour In
I’ve realised that New ‘N’ Tasty is essentially identical to Abe’s Odyssey, which having played it many times in my youth meant I remembered how the puzzles are solved and where a few of the original Mudokons were hidden. This has made my playthrough so far very swift and deeply nostalgic, but not very challenging. So I handed the controller over to my son to play through the ‘Stockade Escape’ section. Watching him yell frustratedly after umpteen quick deaths of both Abe and his fellow slaves, mashing the quicksave and quickload buttons repeatedly when triumphing over a puzzle (a feature that was in Abe’s Exoddus and not in the original Odyssey) reassured me that New ‘N’ Tasty had lost nothing of Odyssey’s original charm, difficulty and perverse pleasure in running you through a meat grinder/bulletstorm/minefield/horrifying animal attack (delete and combine as appropriate) for sheer and gleeful shock value. Nothing like breathing a sigh of relief after escaping a Scrab before stepping blindly into a hidden mine to make you test some new ‘n’ tasty expletives.
Three Hours In
One particular complaint with a multitude of next generation games translating old 2D games into 3D affairs is that the magic and spark of the original design is often lost in translation. There is a reason so many people wax nostalgic about Super Mario Bros 1/2/3 and not so much about Mario 64; it just wasn’t the same. Just Add Water have been immeasurably clever with their design choices with New ‘N’ Tasty. By maintaining Odyssey’s 2D style and giving it a 3D world and texture, it maintains the original’s flavour but gives off a sense that this is what was always intended when Odyssey was released way back in 1997. I have been stunned by the variety and depth of colour and artistry that this game seems to relish in showing off. This is especially prevalent in the Paramite and Scrab temples (purple and red colour palettes respectively) and the deep blues of the midnight escape earlier in the game. Your eyes are never bored.
Six Hours In
I honestly cannot remember how long it took me to complete Odyssey in 1997, but I know for a fact it took a few days and not six hours. Sharpened (read: I’ve played far too many games) next-gen senses and reactions meant I found the game overall quite easy, with the challenge coming from seeking secret areas (81% found on first playthrough!) rather than escaping Paramites and Scrabs. However, my son definitely had a harder time of it and, if he was playing alone, he definitely would have taken as much time to complete it as I did twenty years ago. The game is an absolute joy to play. Everything is smooth and responsive; from the actual controls to the reactions of your trailing followers. At no point did I ever feel like I was fighting against the game to accomplish what I set out to do. Only my failings as a player resulted in Abe biting the dust. Which, he did rather a lot.
I will be the first to admit that I tend to err on the side of cynicism, but I cannot begin to describe how overjoyed I am that it has been so violently cast aside. New ‘N’ Tasty gives a whole new generation access to an incredible game without the graphical and mechanical hangups of yesteryear. It takes everything brilliant about the original and fine-tunes it into beautiful perfection. From the beautiful (and ugly) ambience of your surroundings, to the mutinous and sad mutterings of the Mudokons and the cacophony of murder on every screen, New ‘N’ Tasty is the perfect addition to your gaming library, regardless of its release date.
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