Od­dworld: New ’N’ Tasty

EDGE - - GAMES -

PC, PS3, PS4, Vita, Wii U, Xbox One

Of all the old games pin­ing for a fresh lick of paint, Od­dworld: Abe’s Od­dysee is among the most de­serv­ing. It was am­bi­tious for its time on its re­lease in 1997, with a sim­ple-but-ver­sa­tile chat sys­tem that al­lowed play­ers to com­mu­ni­cate with in-game char­ac­ters, and that still feels fresh to­day. And its ex­plo­ration of class and in­dus­tri­al­ism, and cer­tainly its un-preach­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal­ism, are more rel­e­vant now than they’ve ever been. So in many respects, Abe’s Od­dysee is a bet­ter fit for to­day’s more experimental mar­ket than it was for the orig­i­nal PlayS­ta­tion, even if Just Add Wa­ter’s un­de­ni­ably thor­ough over­haul of the orig­i­nal is still too su­per­fi­cial to com­pete with Od­dysee’s de­scen­dants.

Even so, it’s im­pos­si­ble not to be a lit­tle se­duced by the new look. Ev­ery as­set has been recre­ated in 3D, is beau­ti­fully tex­tured, and is lit dy­nam­i­cally, mak­ing for an ex­tremely plush-look­ing game. De­tailed back­grounds stretch off into the dis­tance, lend­ing Abe’s world con­sid­er­ably greater depth, and the var­i­ous ar­eas you travel through are now more dis­tinct for having been ex­tri­cated from the muddy sprites of the orig­i­nal game. And with the ban­ish­ment of sprites comes the in­tro­duc­tion of rag­doll physics, which make the in­nu­mer­able deaths of your en­e­mies and fel­low Mu­dokon slaves even more dis­turb­ing to wit­ness (or, more usu­ally, per­pe­trate).

But it would be un­fair to dis­miss New ’N’ Tasty as a sim­ple aes­thetic up­grade. Just Add Wa­ter has mod­ernised the game in other respects, too, and the most strik­ing change – though it­self a byprod­uct of the im­proved vi­su­als – is a new swoop­ing cam­era, which re­places the orig­i­nal’s flick­book screen tran­si­tions. The re­sult is more dy­namic fram­ing as the cam­era play­fully pans around Abe and moves in and out of the screen, which not only strength­ens the al­ready po­tent sense of place, but blends once-com­part­men­talised puz­zles and plat­form­ing sec­tions into some­thing more co­her­ent.

This ap­par­ently sim­ple change has re­sulted in the need to tweak en­emy behaviour and re­design some of the puz­zles. Sligs, the gun-tot­ing hench­men hired by the un­scrupu­lous Glukkons to guard Rup­ture Farms and other in­dus­trial ar­eas, now re­act dif­fer­ently to your pres­ence and can see far­ther, a red beam em­a­nat­ing from their vi­sor to let you know when they’re fully alert. And alerted Sligs will now go back to sleep af­ter a quick search. This, given the in­creased pace of the game and like­li­hood of run­ning into slum­ber­ing guards be­fore you hear their snores, pro­vides a wel­come sec­ond chance to be stealthy. The orig­i­nal’s shad­owy hid­ing places, mean­while, have be­come vents of in­dus­trial steam in New ’N’ Tasty, but re­tain their frus­trat­ing in­abil­ity to hide any Mu­dokons in your charge – and if you want to see the good end­ing, you’ll need to keep as many of them alive as pos­si­ble.

Pub­lisher Od­dworld In­hab­i­tants De­vel­oper Just Add Wa­ter For­mat PC, PS3, PS4 (tested), Vita, Wii U, Xbox One Re­lease Out now (PS4), oth­ers TBC Con­trol nig­gles are un­likely to mat­ter to those who long to re­turn to a brighter, bolder take on Abe’s world

Thank goodness, then, for the new quick­save op­tion, which helps to mit­i­gate the rather harsh mid-’90s check­point­ing. Just click the touch­pad to save, and hold it for a sec­ond to pick up where you were be­fore death. It’s a wel­come ad­di­tion but it’s also a blunt so­lu­tion to a more sys­temic prob­lem: for all the vis­ual en­hance­ments, this still feels like a 17-year-old game.

One of the more frus­trat­ing ways New ’N’ Tasty shows its age is in its fussi­ness. In­ter­ac­tions with the en­vi­ron­ment, such as pulling a lever, climb­ing up to a ledge or leap­ing a gap, re­quire al­most pixel-per­fect po­si­tion­ing. There are only so many times Abe can shrug and say, “Can’t fig­ure it out…” while stand­ing right next to a switch be­fore his charm be­gins to wear thin. It be­comes a much big­ger prob­lem when run­ning from a fast-mov­ing en­emy, and many of the game’s puz­zles are built around pro­vok­ing Sligs or Scrabs and then quickly get­ting out of the way of their bul­lets and sharp beaks re­spec­tively.

Th­ese prob­lems are com­pounded by the slightly odd de­ci­sion to map the orig­i­nal’s dig­i­tal con­trols onto the DualShock 4’s ana­logue sticks, the cen­tral dead zone work­ing against the re­fine­ment of Sony’s con­troller by mak­ing in­puts seem vague and laggy. You can’t re­vert to the D-pad, ei­ther, be­cause it’s now ex­clu­sively re­served for Abe’s GameS­peak. And then there’s a more mod­ern con­cern in the form of a jud­der­ing fram­er­ate, which you’ll en­counter when­ever the cam­era pulls back to take in more than one screen’s worth of those sump­tu­ous vi­su­als – usu­ally trig­gered, iron­i­cally, be­cause you need to move more quickly than nor­mal. Abe’s Od­dysee wasn’t a very good plat­former the first time around. It was, how­ever, an in­tox­i­cat­ing story-driven ad­ven­ture with some great puz­zles and a heap of clunky plat­form el­e­ments. And given New ’N’ Tasty’s sta­tus as fan ser­vice (Od­dworld In­hab­i­tants can­vassed fans to as­cer­tain which project they wanted to see next), th­ese con­trol nig­gles are un­likely to mat­ter to the peo­ple who sim­ply long for an op­por­tu­nity to re­turn to a brighter, bolder take on Abe’s world.

For play­ers who didn’t fall in love with Abe the first time around, it’s a harder sell. De­spite its for­ward­look­ing fea­tures, Od­dysee feels a lit­tle de­crepit when com­pared to the glut of retro-in­spired plat­form puz­zlers avail­able right now, de­spite New ’N’ Tasty’s facelift putting it among the pret­ti­est of them. It’s by no means a bad game, sim­ply an out­dated one, and the fact that it’s only just be­hind the curve serves as a re­minder of what Od­dworld’s cre­ators are ca­pa­ble of when fo­cused on new ideas. Hope­fully, New ’N’ Tasty will sell in sig­nif­i­cant enough num­bers to fund the in­evitable Ex­od­dus re­make. And if that can shift enough copies, we might get to see what Od­dworld In­hab­i­tants and Just Add Wa­ter can do with a blank can­vas.

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