DEVELOPER: Just Add Water
PUBLISHER: Oddworld Inhabitants Inc
PLATFORMS: PS4/PS3/PSVita (Cross-Buy, Cross-Save) XBOXONE/WiiU/PC/MAC/LINUX
RELEASE DATE: July 22nd 2014 (PS4), other platforms TBA at time of review.
Oddworld: New ‘N’ Tasty is a remake, or rather a re-imagining of the 1997 cult classic Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee. The original game (and its direct sequel Abe’s Exoddus) was a 2D side-scrolling platformer that challenged the player with a series of obstacles and puzzles to overcome. Namely obstacles that involved sudden, violent death of the protagonist Abe; an unlikely hero who is a slave trying to escape his oppressors.
The games are set on the fictional planet of Oddworld; a strange but wonderful alien world with beautiful natural environments, rich mythology and contrasting industrialism that’s slowly consuming the peaceful inhabitants.
UK developers Just Add Water have taken up the Oddworld mantle, spending over two years developing this title. They previously showed their talents and passion for the series with their impressive HD remasters of the original Xbox games Munch’s Oddysee and Stranger’s Wrath for PS3 and PSVita (WHICH YOU CAN READ HERE)
My fondest childhood gaming memories are those playing Oddworld on my now antiquated PlayStation. I consider Abe’s Oddysee the title I really cut my gaming teeth on.
I feel privileged to be reviewing New ‘N’ Tasty but make no mistake, I may be a huge fan of the series but I feel I should be the most critical of Just Add Water as my nostalgia is at their mercy.
You play as Abe, a Mudokon amongst many working in Rupture Farms, the biggest meat processing and packing factory on all of Oddworld. He was born into slavery and knows nothing other than his job. One night whilst working he eavesdrops on a management meeting and discovers the truth about his workplace.
Sales are not what they were and the greedy corporate creatures called Glukkons, are worried their business is about to go bust.
The head honcho, boss of the factory, Molluck, has a plan to use the workforce. Literally. He intends to use the Mudokons, or rather their meat, in a brand new product in hope to rejuvenate sales.
Shocked by this revelation, Abe runs for his life and tries to escape the factory whilst saving as many of his Mudokon brethren along the way. He eventually learns about his heritage and the ancient prophesy foretelling his efforts to free his enslaved race. Abe discovers that there’s more to being a Mudokon than just waxing floors.
The story hasn’t changed much from the original game, in fact its pretty much exactly the same give or take a few selected scenes. It remains true to the source whilst adding in original directed cut-scenes, giving the classic plot a fresher, slightly more fleshed out feel.
The tale of Abe, an unlikely, almost laughably ill-prepared hero suddenly thrown into the role of saviour for his whole race and tasked with bringing down a corporate machine is one of those underdog stories I like to see once in a while. It cleanses my gaming palate between all those cliché first-person-shooters that’s over-saturate the market.
The core gameplay remains largely the same as Abe’s Oddysee.
The aim of the game is to navigate through a series of areas filled with multiple platforms and obstacles. You navigate Abe along a 2D plane with the right analogue stick, you can walk at or run depending on how hard you push the stick in the direction you’re travelling.
I found this a little jarring at first as control of Abe felt a bit loose as too little pressure would result in Abe’s run dropping down into a walk at the worst of times or when I wanted to walk off a ledge he’d often hesitate. I’m so used to playing old Oddworld with the D-pad as I could use short, precise taps to move Abe into the perfect position before a jump or out of sight from an enemy. A player fresh to the series wouldn’t really notice these things as they’d have no prior game to compare it with.
Gorgeous visuals show off intricate level design.
During each area you must avoid mines, trap doors, electric fences, pitfalls, Rupture Farms armed guards (known as Sligs) and even their attack dogs (slogs) whilst attempting to rescue fellow Mudokons and move on through the game. Abe’s abilities include talking or “Gamespeak” which you use to communicate with other Mudokons in order to get their attention and ask them to follow you to portals that lead out of the factory.
In the original you had to remember a series of button combinations to pull off verbal commands but thankfully it’s been simplified in New ‘N’ Tasty; the D-pad offers the same speech but with simple button presses and the use of R2 as a kind of “shift” key to change the D-pad into four different commands: 8 in total.
Abe can also “chant”, which allows him to use telepathic powers and possess the bodies of the dimwitted Slig guards, allowing you to sabotage their operation by going rouge.
Abe can be quite possessive…
The other Mudokon slaves aren’t as clever as you and they can often get themselves and/or you killed, you have to think a few steps ahead and watch your timing when attempting to bring one of them towards Abe’s position. Trial and error is key.
In the original Oddworld game a mistake would often set you back to the start of a level, making it very frustrating at times. In the sequel, Abe’s Exoddus an instant checkpoint system called “Quicksave” was implemented allowing players to set a checkpoint at anytime, especially during a difficult section.
I was very pleased to find New ‘N’ Tasty also implements this system. At any time you can press the DualShock 4 touch pad and create a checkpoint. If, or should I say when you die you simply hold the pad and it resets the whole scenery, enemies, obstacles and Abe back to the state when you initially created your Quicksave.
There are also an abundance of regular checkpoints, generously spread throughout the levels. I’m very pleased this feature was built into this game, especially in the later levels or in many of the hidden areas which prove very challenging.
Abe rides his trusty steed, Elum.
And speaking of challenging, the game, unlike its original, has several difficulty levels with the hardest offering the classic Oddworld experience by giving Abe only one hit point of health, basically instant-death by anything.
Easier difficulties give you a health bar similar to Munch’s Oddysee, allowing multiple hits before death.
This provides a nice starting point for people new to the series but I preferred to start straight away on hard as I’m used to the unforgiving nature of Oddworld’s perils.
I’d recommend playing on hard too if you want the genuine experience.
Gameplay has been brought into the 21st century and feels more user-friendly than the original. Multiple difficulties, a very handy checkpoint system and simplified dialogue controls are all very welcome changes. However this doesn’t make the game a pushover, it’s still as tricky and unforgiving as I remember in places.
My only gripe whilst playing was the Quicksave system, which you have to hold the pad down to return to your last manual checkpoint. I would have preferred it if the game automatically took you back to your last save, rather than dumping you back at the default checkpoint each time you died.
I was genuinely surprised at how much New ‘N’ Tasty resembles the original game, and I mean that in the best way possible. Although built from scratch, it looks like Just Add Water waved a magic wand over the old game and it popped out into a 3rd dimension with a fabulous shine, capturing perfectly what made the original so… well, original.
It shares the same “feel” of classic Oddworld; the dull, dark hopelessness of Rupture Farms to the fresh, bright, open forest of Paramonia.
Even though Abe traverses a two-dimensional path, the world around him is 3D. The gorgeous backgrounds are alive; inside the factory there are moving machines, packing crates, even livestock being diced up whilst elsewhere stand juxtaposing ancient ruins, shrines to the wild sacred animals being slaughtered for profit.
The old game had pre-rendered backgrounds with some small animations added in but here in New ‘N’ Tasty you feel like you’re really moving through a living, working world.
Combined with fantastic lighting effects and lens flares of light peeking through gaps in far off structures, I’ve never seen Oddworld look so beautiful.
Taking in the sights of Oddworld.
The inhabitants of Oddworld are just as alive as their world. The Mudokons and Sligs will often talk to themselves, resulting in some fantastic humorous dialogue and insight into their lives and jobs.
New ‘N’ Tasty’s sound is superb, the music and effects which were present in the original are still here however have been reworked. There’s also the addition of new music which doesn’t sound out-of-place, rather retains the same style. If you played the original you can tell most of, if not all the dialogue has been re-recorded, it’s crystal clear and more understandable than it was in the pre-rendered cut-scenes of Abe’s Oddysee.
Visiting the local landmarks.
I struggle to describe just how good New ‘N’ Tasty looks on my TV, running at 1080p on PS4. You can see every detail of the environments and characters, the textures in the metal to the rough surfaces of the rock in the foreground as well as distant structures far off in the distance.The smallest detail that I recall is present in New ‘N’ Tasty but that’s not to say it’s just a carbon copy.
New levels and obstacles have been added in amongst the old ones, keeping it fresh as well as nostalgic. It looks fantastic and runs smooth although sometimes a few in-game loading times between levels can be lengthier than I’d like, more than once I thought the game had frozen but in fact was just loading the next area.
Your first run will likely take around 6-8 hours as a lot of the puzzles and obstacles will require multiple attempts, trial and error or even just time to sit and think about your next move. New ‘N’ Tasty, with practise and foreknowledge of the puzzles can be completed in under 3 hours, in fact there’s actually a trophy for doing so. As mentioned earlier there’s several difficulty settings to play on, hidden areas and the overall goal to rescue every single Mudokon slave in Rupture Farms.
You won’t achieve this goal in your first play through as you’ll need to explore and investigate Abe’s surroundings for hidden entrances to bonus areas that aren’t obvious to the player. Some are incredibly well-hidden, some even down pitfalls you’d initially assume are fatal.
Timing is everything
Just Add Water have added in online leaderboards to compare best completion times on PSN, which can be broken down into overall game time, individual levels and Mudokons saved per level. This’ll please speed-run enthusiasts however like the original, the game is quite linear, other than finding these areas and conquering difficulty levels for trophies your experience won’t differ much with multiple play-throughs.
The sense of nostalgia was almost overwhelming for me. Just Add Water have managed to capture the exact look and feel of classic Oddworld but also craft a new experience for both long-time fans and first time players alike. Many games have imitated the core mechanics over the years but this plays like the genuine experience.
Although I don’t know whether this game would appeal to all types of gamers as it can be very frustrating at times, especially due to the amount of trial and error and overall patience that is required to proceed. However I must point out that the implementation of the “Quicksave” system makes this game much, much less frustrating than the original.
With the sudden rise of the “indie” style of gaming, especially on home consoles, a lot more games are taking the shape of classic puzzles and sidescrollers and I think New ‘N’ Tasty has arrived just at the right time where these older games are piquing interests or rekindling old loves.
Oddworld: New ‘N’ Tasty is a great remake that both pays homage to the original and surpasses it. It’s as if someone took a classic car that’s been gathering dust for years, re-sprayed it, gave it a completely new engine and interior, polished it to a mirror shine and put some lovely fuzzy dice on the rear view mirror for a finishing touch.
With only minor technical niggles, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute I played, every area I conquered was a small victory and every Mudokon I rescued gave me a satisfying buzz.
I just can’t wait to see what Just Add Water do next!