A lot can happen in ten years. When Munch’s Oddysee arrived as a launch title for the original Xbox in 2001 it was one of the most graphically advanced games ever made. I remember being in awe of the games water effects and the quality of the animation of the models, the semi open world levels and marvellous CGI cut scenes. Along with Halo it helped to show to the world that Microsoft was potentially here to stay.
I was also younger and less cynical, years of drinking had yet to claim large portions of my brain, my impressionable mind had yet to be corrupted by five years of studying philosophy and I couldn’t quite grow a proper beard yet.
A decade later and everything’s changed. Microsoft is not only still making consoles, but has become a major player. Halo has become one of the most revered and best selling game series of all while the Oddworld games have faded into relative obscurity and cult status.
Luckily in 2010 British Indie developer Just Add Water announced that they had been hired by Oddworld Inhabitants to continue work on games based on the property. They have started by shining up and rereleasing the company’s fantastic games from the previous generation; Stranger’s Wrath and Munch’s Oddysee.
Both were initially headed for both the PS3 and 360, however, due to some dunderheaded policies which would make the Glukkons of Oddworld proud, both Stranger’s Wrath and Munch’s Oddysee will not be released on XBLA at present. This is despite the hard work of Just Add Water to try and broker some kind of deal to get the HD versions of two of the original Xbox’s finest exclusives back on its current successor. Sound ridiculous? That’s because it is. All Microsoft has managed to achieve, is piss off fans of the series and gift their competition two free exclusives. Great work guys.
Anyway, to be honest I was a little nervous to play it again; some things are best remembered than revisited, like the Police Academy movies. Tastes change, technology and society progress and what was once cutting edge or original can eventually come to feel stale and antiquated.
So you’ll be happy to hear that this cruel fate has not befallen Munch’s Oddysee. In many ways replaying the HD version was like being reunited with an old friend. Sure they might have a different haircut and posher clothes but after a couple of drinks, your vague scepticism about how you’re different people will no doubt fade away and it’ll be like the last few years never happened as you start to remember why you hung out with the old bastard in the first place.
This is in no small measure thanks to the fantastic job Just Add Water has done in bringing this classic game to the Playstation 3. Every aspect of the game’s visual and audio design has been tinkered with in some way to bring it up to modern standards. The game’s textures have been replaced with more detailed higher resolution ones, The game’s character models have been reworked and retextured as well, the lighting is dramatically improved, and the whole game is now presented in 16:9 widescreen.
These help the game’s fantastic art direction to continue to shine even over a decade later and help to make the whole experience feel almost seamless. The only minor complaint I have is that there is occasionally minor crackles when Munch knocks into something,
The biggest problem I found however came in the level in which Munch and Abe have to infiltrate the Splinterz Factory, the game’s textures went into a fit. Every step turned what should have been rocks and sparse grass into various other game textures including clouds, concrete but more often or not just blocks of white or black, this would flicker in and out with every minor knock of the camera or step of the characters. It was annoying but not the end of the world.
However, despite these minor problems the game is still just as entertaining as it was in 2001/2. The gameplay is still as quirky and unique; the characters are just as endearing and humorous, the world just as rich and well realised. Never before or after it has there been a game quite like Munch’s Oddysee.
If you’ve never played an Oddworld game before or have only played Stranger’s Wrath it might be worth noting that Munch’s Oddysee is really the third game in the series that focuses on the exploits of a ex slave called Abe and picks up pretty much directly after the previous two games, Abe’s Oddysee and Exodus, which were originally released on the PS1. There’s no need to let you put that off though as there’s a brilliant montage of the cut scenes from Abe’s Oddysee and Exodus to get you all caught up with the narrative up to that point or alternatively you could play Abe’s Oddysee and Exodus first as both are available as PSOne Classics on PSN as well. (Both are exceptional 2d platformers and have also aged incredibly well)
In Munch’s Oddysee you play as both Munch and Abe, the two must work together to rescue Mudokons and Fuzzles from various industrial complexes and empty the pockets of their greedy Glukkon CEOs and executives into a charity known as The Lulu Fund. By doing this the two hope to raise enough money to elevate the charity’s founder, Lulu to a position that will enable him to bid in an auction at Vykker’s Labs for the last can of ‘Gabbiar’ (Gabbit Eggs). Munch, needs these in order to stop his species from dying out as it has been fished almost into extinction.
Meanwhile Abe has found out that there is a store of Mudukon labour eggs stored at the which he needs to liberate to save his unborn brothers and sisters inside from a life of slavery.
The main bulk of the gameplay revolves around using Abe and Munch’s combined talents to unlock new areas as well as freeing Mudokon Scrubs and Fuzzles that have been locked in cages along the way.
Put simply, one character makes up for the short coming of the other. At its most basic level Munch can swim and Abe can’t. Conversely Abe is great on land and Munch is pretty useless until he gets a wheelchair in the games later levels. Each also has a specific power they can call upon, Munch can directly attack enemies using his zap ability gained from vending machines and Abe can posses other characters forcing them to turn on their fellow guards use levers and generally cause havoc.
As well as this vending machines found throughout the game can be used to bestow various temporary buffs to speed and jump height as well as allow them to become invisible in order to sneak past danger.
Although both our heroes are pretty vulnerable to attack they can call upon the help from the Scrubs and Fuzzles they have rescued in order to overpower guards and unlock new areas. At various points in the game Abe can also call on the help of wild Mudokons that can be upgraded to carry tomahawks and, in later levels, bows.
Although the basic premise of every level is essentially the same; rescue the Scrubs, rob the Glukkon and find the exit. The game never feels repetitive or linear due to some incredibly varied level design and relatively open ended gameplay. You know what you have to do and the game gives you the tools required to do the job and leaves you alone to figure out how best to attack the task at hand.
Although this isn’t as open as something like Dishonored, the gameplay does feel incredibly organic and sneaking past a difficult group of guards or even better turning the tables on them never fails to feel rewarding.
Although you never spend any great length of time with the groups of Scrubs and Fuzzles you find yourself caring for them all the same. The happy cheeps from the Fuzzles when you rescue them, excited whoops and hollers from the freed Scrubs and half arsed objections when Abe tells them to “get to work” bring these background characters to life, making them all the more endearing and in many ways making their rescue feel all the more vital and important.
I think that’s why despite the games technical flaws I couldn’t help but fall in love with it. The characters are so well drawn and relatable despite looking completely alien that I didn’t want to leave. When a game can make you want to go for a perfect run because you are so invested in the fiction is something that should be lauded, celebrated and needs to be played and shared.
So should you get Munch’s Oddysee HD? If you have fond memories of playing it the first time round you’ll find it’s still the same great game it was eleven years ago and the years have, if anything. made the game all the more unique and special. In a climate where most game focus on what can be destroyed, how many faceless NPCs can be mowed down without any hesitation it’s great to play a game that rewards you for the exact opposite.