Developer: Oddworld Inhabitants
Publisher: Oddworld Inhabitants
Genre: Platformer, Adventure, FPS
Release Date: Available now on Steam!
The Oddboxx is a digital collection of the four previously released Oddworld games, including Abe’s Oddysee (1997), Abe’s Exoddus (1998), Munch’s Oddysee (2001), and Stranger’s Wrath (2005). Since there are four separate games in the collection, I will attempt to discuss the positive and negative aspects of each game separately to make this a bit easier to follow.
Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee
Abe’s Oddysee was the first Oddworld game released on the Playstation back in the mid-90s and was one of the first games I personally played on the system, albeit sparingly during visits to a cousin’s house. It is also one of my all-time favorite games (to the point that I can almost never spell Odyssey correctly anymore), so I had high expectations for this digital release. That being said, let’s see how it holds up to my fond memories.
One of the strong points of the Oddworld series in general are the stories created by Oddworld Inhabitants for these strange characters as which we play. The story of Abe and his fellow Mudokons is a bleak one, but not one without hope. Their meek race has been effectively enslaved by the Glukkons, a species of devilish businessmen reminiscent of the Vogons from Hitchhiker’s Guide combined with a 1920s gangster. Abe and his friends are slaves at Rupture Farms, a Glukkon meat factory that harvests and processes the native creatures of Oddworld like Scrabs and Paramites.
Unfortunately, as the opening cutscene explains, the Glukkon have nearly exhausted their supply of these creatures and must find a new way to keep their profits afloat. As Abe is cleaning the halls late one night, he sneaks a peek of a Glukkon board meeting where Mullock the Glukkon, the head of Rupture Farms, is unveiling his newest plan. In order to maintain the cash flow, the Glukkons will soon begin rounding up their own workforce, and grinding up Abe and the other Mudokons into new and tasty treats.
Abe initially runs, escaping Rupture Farms to save his own skin (and other meaty parts), but after encountering Big Face, a Mudokon shaman, he decides to follow his destiny and save the rest of the Mudokons. He’ll have to break back into Rupture Farms to free his pals, but not before completing the ancient Mudokon rites to gain the powers of Shrykull, a Mudokon god.
Abe’s Oddysee can be simply labeled as a 2d platformer. Specifically, it is what some would call a “realistic” platformer in the vein of the original Prince of Persia. This means that the animations are fluid and the stakes are high. Abe can’t fall from too far without being killed and players will need to time jumps and turns precisely to grab ledges, jump over mines, and avoid enemy fire. The game starts off relatively easy, with plenty of tutorial messages in the form of ticker boards in the factory. Throughout the course of Abe’s Oddysee, the difficulty ramps up steadily, with the final section being a significant challenge. Luckily, the player is afforded with infinite lives to make up for the fact that you will die a lot in the somewhat trial and error based gameplay.
One of the more unique features of Abe’s Oddysee is the GameSpeak mechanic, which allows Abe to interact with other characters by issuing verbal commands such as “Wait” and “Follow me”. These simple commands help Abe to free his fellow Mudokons by guiding them to portals hidden throughout the factory. Freeing the 99 other Mudokons who are still trapped in Rupture Farms will provide the largest challenge for players, not only because of the added difficulty in watching out for several Mudokons at once, but also because many of them are tucked away in hidden areas. Without a guide it is unlikely that any players will be able to rescue the entire workforce within a single playthrough, and the multiple endings may motivate many to return to Oddworld again and again to achieve their true destiny as the hero of the species.
As for the Oddboxx version of Abe’s Oddysee specifically, all of the original gameplay is completely intact. While I had a little bit of difficulty controlling Abe using a keyboard, this is mostly due to my preference for console controls. Veteran PC gamers will likely feel right at home in Oddworld. Console players also have the option of using a controller for Abe’s Oddysee, so don’t worry if keyboard controls aren’t your thing.
Compared to other games of the late 1990s, Abe’s Oddysee has aged extremely well in the graphics department thanks to its 2d style and use of a 2.5d presentation. Character designs are interesting and unique, with enemies and allies alike having their own flair. Backgrounds are static images, similar to the presentation of Final Fantasy VII, allowing them to look much nicer than the 3d graphics of the time. Characters are rendered in 3d, but are locked onto a 2d plane for gameplay and can be in either the foreground or background depending on the area of the game.
The resolution probably won’t impress most gamers who are expecting something modern, but it holds up well for a game from 1997 and graphics shouldn’t hinder your enjoyment of the gameplay at all. The FMV cutscenes are also very well done and help engross the player in the plight of the Mudokons. The CG graphics in the cutscenes is certainly dated but still looks surprisingly good.
While playing Abe’s Oddysee, sound will be a very important feature to most players. This isn’t just because of the desire for well-composed music or appropriate sound effects, but because the precise gameplay can often be aided by sound cues. When attempting to disarm a flashing bomb, a player can listen to the beeping in order to time their button press just right, and in many segments where it will be necessary to have an enemy chase you from screen to screen, changes in music can tell you if you are being pursued without the need to wait around to get shot or eaten. The recent achievement of Terry Garrett, a blind gamer who completed the game using only its sound effects, should highlight the usefulness of Oddworld’s sound cues.
The music in Abe’s Oddysee is certainly fitting, with an eerie score to match the tone of the rest of the experience. The score of ambient tracks by Ellen Meijers, whose music you might also have heard in many of the more recent Star Wars games, sets the mood for whatever situation Abe finds himself in, whether it be running from a pack of ravenous slogs or traveling through the ancient Mudokon temple at Monsaic Lines.
The second release by Oddworld Inhabitants, Oddworld Abe’s Exoddus, was a direct follow-up to the first part in the planned Quintology. Abe is back, fresh from his successful transition from slave to savior, but there is still more trouble for the Mudokons. While Mullock and the other Glukkons from Rupture Farms were stopped, there is another branch of the evil Magog Cartel to contend with now. The SoulStorm brewery, another Glukkon venture, is using blind Mudokon slaves to harvest bones from the ancestral Mudokon burial grounds of Necrum to grind into the main ingredient of SoulStorm Brew. Abe is visited by a vision of ancient Mudokon ghosts who plead with him to stop the Glukkons from desecrating their remains. Along with rescuing the 300 living Mudokons from the Necrum mines, Abe will also need to free the trapped spirits of Mudokons long since past in order to make his way through this hallowed ground.
Being a direct sequel to Abe’s Oddysee, Exoddus follows pretty much the same style of gameplay, although with tons of additions to keep even expert Oddysee players on their toes. For example, while in Abe’s Oddysee it was possible to possess Sligs, the security guards of Rupture Farms, you can now use your mystical chant to inhabit the body of many more of the inhabitants of Oddworld, including the Glukkons. This makes more some interesting gameplay mechanics and also allows for some cathartic telekinetic explosions.
On top of the increased potential for out-of-body experiences, Abe now also has to deal with several different types of Mudokons. Back at Rupture Farms, Mudokons often had their mouths sewn shut in order to prevent time-wasting chatter as is evidenced by Abe’s own stitch-lips, but at Necrum mines the Mudokons have a far worse fate. In order to keep them from learning the secret of what they are mining, Mudokon workers have their eyes sewn shut, rendering them completely blind. Because of this, Abe will need to offer very specific orders of when to follow, wait, or get back to work, as blind Mudokons will continue to walk right into harm’s way if you don’t warn them.
There are also manic Mudokons who have been exposed to laughing gas, and they will require a nice firm slap in order to calm them down and Abe will need to apologize to angry Mudokons and give them a nice pat on the shoulder before they’ll obey. The most interesting Mudokons, however, are the sick Mudokons. These unfortunate saps have been fooled by Glukkon marketing and have decided to quench their thirst with a bottle of SoulStorm Brew. Due to their unintentional cannibalism, they no find themselves feeling quite under the weather, and Abe will need to use a special chant he earns farther into the game before he can cure them. The added ability to have several Mudokons follow Abe at once is nice and can cut down on time moving back and forth, but requires extra attention and care by the player.
More interesting additions include a rolling mine cart Abe can pilot in some sections, capable squashing Slig and Mudokon alike if one isn’t careful as well as an invisibility power granted by freed Mudokon spirits, but the core gameplay remains intact from Abe’s last outing. With 300 Mudokons to rescue this time around, the savior of Rupture Farms has his work cut out for him. The only problem I ran into with Exoddus arose when I needed to quickly switch between control of Abe and a possessed enemy. Abe needs to chant for a few seconds to possess and enemy, and in order to return control to the mudokon you do the same. However, when trying to return Abe’s soul to his body and then quickly run from danger Abe would sometimes get stuck chanting again as if he was trying to repossess the enemy. I’m not sure if this was a glitch, but there were a few occasions when it interfered with the more difficult sections.
As far as I can tell, there are very few graphical changes from Abe’s Oddysee. The quality is just as high in terms of resolution and character models and cutscenes still retain all of their FMV glory. There isn’t much to add from what was said about Abe’s Oddysee as Abe’s Exoddus uses the same engine and the same design for the most part. This digital port maintains all of the graphical quality of the original and I didn’t encounter any problems on my system.
Once again, the sound was of the same quality as the previous game. The music has the same ambient effect to help switch one’s emotions between unease and alarm depending on the situation and the sound effects and cues work just as well to let you know what’s going on in the game. One improvement in the sound department is that there are a lot more voices this time around. In Oddysee all of the Mudokons that Abe would work to free had the same voice, and it would be quite obvious when trying to free several at once that the same sound file was playing. In this game however, there are several Mudokon voices used for the plethora of slaves you’ll encounter, and this carries over into the cutscenes as well.
In one of the early cutscenes, Abe and a band of Mudokons are travelling through a desert to Necrum in order to free their companions. As Mudokons are relatively mild creatures, their complaints and hesitations are reminiscent of the Hobbits of Lord of the Rings. While they want to help Abe to repay him for risking his life, they can only be convinced to go so far. During this scene, each Mudokon has its own voice and personality, and this helps show off Oddworld Inhabitants skill at crafting not only a story, but a whole world with characters and places that one would like to explore.
Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee
Munch’s Oddysee was the first of Oddworld’s releases on the Xbox, and it marks the transition of the series into three dimensions. This game also introduced the second of Oddworld’s protagonists, Munch the Gabbit. Gabbits are a species of small frog-like creatures who have reached the brink of extinction due to the commercial value of their lungs and “gabbiar” eggs. Munch is now the last of the Gabbits, and he is quickly captured by Vykker scientists. While Munch is an incredibly rare and valuable specimen, the Vykkers decide to install sonar in Munch’s head and recruit him to gather captured critter specimens. Why would they do this when they could have easily sold him for parts at ten times the value? I’m not a Vykker so I couldn’t tell you.
Fortunately for Munch, his sonar implant shorts out and he is soon able to free himself and a band of vicious Fuzzles by zapping their cages Eric Cartman style. The mudokon hero Abe also returns in this game, being sent to help Munch by the Almighty Raisin, a giant seed-like sage reminiscent of Yoda. Once the two heroes meet and reconnoiter at the Almighty Raisin, they decide to return to Vykker Labs to free their respective races. Abe must liberate several crates of “Labor Eggs”, an industrial supply of mudokon eggs used to breed slaves, while Munch will need to recover the last can of Gabbiar before it is auctioned off to the highest Glukkon bidder.
While Munch’s Oddysee maintains several gameplay elements from the first two Oddworld titles, such as the gamespeak function, the use of allies to aid you, and all of the platforming, although it is now in 3d rather than two. Munch’s Oddysee was a launch title for the original Xbox in 2001, and unfortunately this is very apparent. Between being a launch title for a brand new console and being Oddworld Inhabitants’ first foray into the third dimension, there are a few aspects of Munch’s Oddysee that come off as a bit awkward. This isn’t to say that it doesn’t have any redeeming qualities, but it’s not quite at the level of the first two Oddworld titles.
The game is basically split up between controlling Abe and controlling Munch. As Abe, the game plays much like a 3d version of Abe’s Oddysee, with Abe gathering his fellow mudokons to progress, outrunning slogs, and jumping between platforms. Unlike Abe’s Oddysee, Abe can now command his fellow mudokons to fight, and with some of his friends by his side can even take out a pack of vicious slogs. Everything controls pretty well, especially with a controller connected to the PC for players who are more used to consoles.
I found the keyboard controls a little awkward, and I’ve already said that I’m more used to console gaming, but I also think that controlling a character in 3d with only a keyboard would probably feel equally awkward to most players. I would highly recommend using an Xbox 360 controller or other third party accessories. I ran into an issue when I tried to customize my key configurations to adjust the camera controls. When I set the camera movements to my number pad and switch gamespeak to various letter keys, I found that both the number pad and the string of letters I assigned would function for both speaking and looking around. This caused obvious problems when I wanted to change my camera and ended up issuing an inappropriate command and vice versa.
The other half of the game is spent playing as Munch, the eponymous gabbit hero. Controlling Munch is a bit less exciting than running around with Abe and his friends because of Munch’s inhibiting anatomy. Because Munch is suited to swimming in water, traveling on land can be a bit slow and tedious. Luckily, Munch can use his short circuiting sonar to zap enemies, as well as recruit a loyal army of rescued fuzzles to gnaw at all who will oppose him. While it can be fun to send a nice big mass of fur and teeth to eat a Vykker intern, the combat is certainly not the main attraction of this game. It kind of makes me wish they had taken a similar approach to the older Oddworld titles where running and hiding were encouraged over flat out fighting.
The game is still fun, despite the minor issues and the underwhelming protagonist. It has some really satisfying moments and if you’re able to use a controller to play it you should have a lot of fun aiding this very odd couple in their adventure.
Like I mentioned earlier, it’s obvious that Munch’s Oddysee was a launch title on the Xbox, as it isn’t technically up to par with later games like Stranger’s Wrath. Fortunately, a game’s presentation comes down to more than technical prowess, and Munch still has some visual tricks up its sleeves. The design team at Oddworld Inhabitants maintained their forward momentum from the first two games, and players will be treated to a plethora of interesting and unique character designs. Between the one-legged Munch, the walkman-toting interns, and the rags-to-riches Glukkon, Lulu, the creativity poured into this really shines through in its characters.
The environments can be a little plain at times, with very little to distinguish one part of a level from another. Each level however has a distinct feel to it that remains consistent throughout. The environments are relatively simple, but they are also clean and functional. There were never any occasions when I felt confused as to where I was supposed to go or what was traversable.
The voice acting in Munch’s Oddysee remains just as solid as it has ever been, with Lorne Lanning reprising his role as Abe and giving life to this game’s starring character as well. Each character, from the increasingly characterized mudokons, to the Almighty Raisin to the mad scientist Vykkers, has its own personality that players will come to relate to. The music is similarly fitting to the game. Some parts of the score are lighthearted and fit the humor and eccentricity of Oddworld, while other tracks accentuate the dark, sometimes grim fates our heroes are fighting to avoid. Like the other Oddworld titles, the sound direction in Munch’s Oddysee is a high point for the experience.
Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath
Of all the games I’ve played on the original Xbox (quite a few), Stranger’s Wrath is easily among my favorites. The premise of Stranger’s Wrath is a somewhat familiar one, although with its fair share of Oddworld-esque twists. The Stranger is a mysterious bounty hunter who is looking to save up enough moolah to afford a life-saving operation. Very few details about this Stranger or his operation are given to the player until the second half of the game, but it provides enough motivation to want to capture your bounties alive whenever possible.
One of the interesting gameplay mechanics of Stranger’s Wrath is the use of “live ammo” in Stranger’s guns, which in this case means capturing small critters for various effects. Fuzzles, basically a tiny ball of fur and teeth, can be set as traps for outlaws who wander too close to their razor sharp mandibles. Bolamites, a spider-like creature, can wrap enemies up in a silken web to enable Stranger to capture them. Thudslugs, one of my personal favorites, are exactly as the name implies: very heavily armored pillbug-type animals that can be used similar to a slug bullet for heavy damage. There are 9 live ammo types in total and each one offers new gameplay opportunities and more of Oddworld’s characteristic charm.
Unfortunately, the digital release of Stranger’s Wrath faced more than a few problems upon its release, with bugs and crashes frustrating many players. When I downloaded Stranger’s Wrath through my Steam client and tried to start it up, I found myself staring at a loading screen which eventually froze. After doing some research, I found that the game is incapable of running with my particular graphics card for the time being. Oddworld and Just Add Water are looking into these compatibility issues, which mostly affect users with Intel and ATI video cards, but for now it is strongly recommended that you check the compatibility with your computer’s specs before attempting to play Stranger’s Wrath.
If you are able to run Stranger’s Wrath, you will be able to enjoy one of the most interesting and unique titles of the last few years. With a protagonist and setting that is reminiscent of any number of Clint Eastwood movies and a story that centers around justice and revenge, all tied up with plenty of varied and interesting gameplay. Most importantly, the game is just plain old fun. Remember when games used to be fun? Both the first half of the game, which tasks you with rounding up outlaws and bringing them in to collect their bounties, and the second half, which faces a drastic change in gameplay thanks to an incredible plot twist, are just sublime from start to finish. Stranger’s Wrath is one of those rare gems that really shines from all angles, if you can get it work that is.
Thanks to the inclusion of all four Oddworld games (minus the Gameboy ports) in one seductively priced package, I’ve indulged myself in more PC gaming this week than I have since I kicked my WoW addiction in 2008. Each of the entries in the Oddworld series offers an engrossing story and charming characters oozing out of every Odd orifice (yes, the story simply oozes, trust me it’s more pleasant than it sounds). The gameplay is similarly excellent and you can tell that OWI put a lot of heart into each one of these games. The bookending titles, Abe’s Oddysee and Stranger’s Wrath are definitely the high points of the package, and they are both games that players can return to time and time again. While there have been reports of bugs in the two later games, I didn’t encounter any real problems with Munch’s Oddysee. Like I said earlier however, check your system specifications carefully against the compatibility for each game because your mileage may vary.
For four amazing games at one low price, but with a few technical caveats, the Oddboxx gets:
For some extra fun, check out the original Japanese commercial for their far eastern take on Abe’s Oddysee, titled Abe A Go Go in the Land of the Rising Sun.