Review: Oddworld: New ‘N’ Tasty! – Second Helpings
In any art form, the bonafide “classics” of a genre can be declared a classic for a number of reasons. Whether it’s particular visual elements that were striking and new, characters that were groundbreaking or vital for the times, or just based on a good story that’s remained timeless throughout the years.
These chosen few of any art form are declared as such for their timeless qualities that transcends the time of its initial release.
Even as a relatively young medium compared to film, TV, literature, and music, video games have already established numerous classics of its own, with developer Just Add Water and publisher Oddworld Inhabitants going back to the vault to unearth one of the PlayStation’s original classics, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee.
In a current period of gaming rife with remasters, remakes, and re-releases, one of the PlayStation’s under appreciated gems of the times is finally back, and truly better than ever.
Taking the framework of the original PS1 version of Abe’s Oddysee, New ‘N’ Tasty! goes well above and beyond in completely rebuilding the title from the ground up, with updated visuals that bring the game into the modern age with a spiffy conversion to a 2.5D style and making the classic platformed pop in a way that hasn’t been seen before.
As the introduction to the Oddworld may gamers would come to know and love in the series’ subsequent titles, such as Munch’s Oddysee and Stranger’s Wrath, New ‘N’ Tasty! puts players into the gangly, alien shoes of Abe, a member of the awkward but charming race known as the Mudokon and one of the many slavishly toiling away at the meat processing plant/glorified slaughterhouse, RuptureFarms.
As RuptureFarms and its greedy, shadowy corporate big wig Molluck the Glukkon turn the various creatures and fauna of Oddworld into tasty snacks for mass consumption, Abe winds up at the center of a manhunt after discovering the next source of RuptureFarms’ latest snack: Mudokon Pops.
Even after the original title’s release back in 1997, this remake shines as a testament to the wildly-inventive world of the original game and story that is nearly 20 years, old and features the charming rhymes of Abe.
As titles like Metal Gear Solid and Crash Bandicoot won over PlayStation crowds with their strong gameplay and iconic characters, Abe’s Oddysee spun a tale rich with heavy themes of anti-consumerism, social inequality and racism interspersed in a story filled with genuine humor and oddball charm.
It often toed the line between dark violence and hilarious slapstick, and New ‘N’ Tasty! shows more than ever that Abe’s tale perhaps holds even more relevance and appreciation than in the time of its first release.
As a platformer in 2.5D, compared to the original’s 2D perspective, players will control Abe throughout a number of levels and environments, with emphasis in equal doses on solving puzzles and using brains and stealth to get past enemies and obstacles.
As a lowly Mudokon, Abe is unable to use any physical attacks to harm or ward off enemies, instead having to rely on stealth and a special chant ability that allows him to take control of the constantly-patrolling Sligs — the deadly guards of Oddworld rigged with machine guns and a pretty bad temper.
More importantly, Abe must do this all while attempting to save helpless Mudokons across the land, in which getting them to safety are largely puzzles in and of themselves.
The option to abandon or save as many of the Mudokon workers across the game is entirely up to the player, though the consequences are dramatic in either way by the game’s end; consequences expanded even greater by the fact that New ‘N’ Tasty! now boasts 299 Mudokon to save, as opposed to the 99 in the original game.
The original title, boasted a unique combination of mechanics that relied heavily on puzzle-solving and logic to figure out what to do next and where to go, only limited at the time by technology and ambition.
Thankfully, the remake shows more than just an improved visual polish across the title by also providing more game-changing elements across the board, making the experience a much faster-paced and more seamless adventure.
For example, where puzzles in the first title were limited to singular screens that would transition to a new area every time Abe went off-screen, the updated version blends every area in a level together with a camera that pans between stages and environments.
New ‘N’ Tasty! also takes care to preserve the style of platforming that made Abe’s Oddyssee such a distinctive puzzle platformer, but also manages to improve the experience with a faster pace and a slightly gentler learning curve, smoothing out some of the game’s more notorious aspects of being a bit on the difficult side.
Most of the changes serve the game for the better thanks to much improved loading times and performance, though several nagging elements do keep the title in 1997, with somewhat awkward controls and movement being the most prominent.
New ‘N’ Tasty! offers several changes to the control scheme of the original, with the biggest being the switch to analog control for Abe by controlling his movement speed based on the analog stick’s pressure.
Though that’s nothing new for games in the current day, the switch makes a fairly jarring difference in the case of Abe’s Oddysee, which first released in a period that lacked analog control, instead requiring use of the shoulder buttons to make Abe run or walk.
As many of the puzzles in the re-release require some pretty coordinated timing and precise placement of where Abe jumps and lands, figuring out the analog sensitivity can be a bit of a pain in combination with the general “trial-by-death” gameplay that the game often commands.
As a result, many deaths experienced during the game results from the sometimes overly-sensitive controls. Overall, the switch makes sense for making the somewhat clumsy control scheme a little easier to understand, but sets up a variety of other problems when it comes to accuracy in getting through some of the more dangerous puzzles, and more than a fair dose of accidental deaths.
If you’re of the more classic variety, there are options that can enable the shoulder buttons to run, as well as a few other options to make the game control more like the original title — options that I highly preferred to some of the new control changes.
Aside from the controls, New ‘N’ Tasty! does implement some other mechanical changes that alter many of the original title’s dynamics, though largely they improve it for the better.
Borrowing from the original’s follow-up title, Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus, Abe can now command several groups of Mudokon at once to lead them to safety, rather than having to individually escort them one-by-one.
Most of the mechanical changes improve the experience by far, though the game does still feature a few wonky checkpoint placements and the newly-added rag doll physics that unintentionally add a comical effect to the pretty serious tale at hand.
The game’s HUD-less presentation also adds to the appreciation and detail of New ‘N’ Tasty!‘s lush and detailed worlds, though it does make for some of the more confusing elements of its puzzle-solving, such as trying to determine when crucial door-opening bells have been rung or flintlock fires have been lit to progress to the next stage.
There were certainly numerous instances where I have left a puzzle room without lighting a flintlock fire or claiming a bell song to open a door. Without any kind of visual indicators, this led me to either major backtracking or having to redo an entire room over again for a puzzle solution.
Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee in many ways was a game ahead of its time with a rich story, crisp art direction, and sympathetic, original characters, show a tale that still holds relevance (sadly) now more than ever in the 18 years since its initial release.
Though much time has passed between 1997 and now, Just Add Water and Oddworld Inhabitants’ remake shows a fine level of care and attention paid that’s sorely missing in the world of remasters and re-releases, which has been the subject of much criticism well into the current-generation.
While many re-releases ride solely on the sense of nostalgia, New ‘N’ Tasty! made me rest easy and, more than anything, made me see a genuine classic I had played so many times before in a new light, like I was playing it again for the very first time.
Though some of its more archaic elements and a still somewhat clunky control scheme may be a bit of a jarring difference for those jumping into the game for the first time, it rebuilds the classic title without skipping a beat.
By modernizing it for accessibility and technical progression, as well as bringing its iconic art and the distinctive Oddworld to life in a new way, New ‘N’ Tasty! is the version of Abe’s Oddysee as I saw it back in my mind nearly two decades ago.
It’s an excellent re-imagining of an old classic that will surely please both veterans and curious newcomers alike. Even if Abe was the reluctant hero of Oddworld, New ‘N’ Tasty! is giving him the attention he deserves.