Oddworld: New ’N’ Tasty
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.