Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee
Released: August 31, 1997
Honestly, I just wanted a reason to talk about this game. I think that it is the first video game that I ever played and, unfortunately, it’s not extremely well known from what I’ve gathered. My friends now know about this game because once I start talking about it, I cannot stop. It’s a real problem. But then again it’s not, because this game is my favourite ever video game. This is the one that takes the top spot, hands down. My brother, mum and dad all love this game as well. We have a shared love for it, and that’s really nice and mushy but it’s also very practical when I’m replaying it and I can’t get past a certain level. My dad somehow miraculously remembers how to do it, or something along the lines of it and we figure it out again together. I am not even exaggerating when I say that my dad spent hours and hours on this game. Not only is this due to the game being remarkably fun but it is also one of the toughest games I’ve played. It’s relentless, but this is what video games used to be like. Before the internet had become what it is today, you couldn’t really turn to Google and search how to beat a level. Just the other night, I was struggling to find buried treasure in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (2013) and the coordinates provided in the game were already a search option in Google. People have become lazy, but I’m guilty of it too. Not only this but the games themselves are much easier, with tutorials holding the player’s hand and spoon feeding them the best way to progress through the game. This is why games like Dark Souls (2011) have been met with so much praise as it takes games back to their exceedingly difficult roots, but it’s also been the subject of a lot of debate with people claiming its too difficult. With that being said, despite the arduous work that goes into it, Abe’s Oddysee is a fantastic game, and here’s why.
You boot up the game and you’re greeted by a blue guy with a stitched up mouth and large yellow eyes. Remember, this is Oddworld, almost anything goes. This scrawny looking character is none other than the eponymous Abe, and the hero of this game. Granted, he doesn’t look like much of a hero and even the back of the original Playstation 1 game box states that in “a lush world of diabolical danger where everyone wants to eat you, you’re the skinny guy with no weapons”. Things immediately are looking pretty bleak for Abe and the player but rest assured, it doesn’t get easier. Abe is a member of a humanoid race known as Mudokons, the majority of the population of which have been enslaved by meat processing factory owners called the Glukkons. Creatures such as Paramites and Scrabs are slaughtered at Rupture Farms to make tasty treats, but the meat supplies have become sparse and are close to extinction. The Glukkons, needing a new source of meat to keep their business up and running, plot to turn their Mudokon workers into food. Abe, stuck working late polishing the floors, overhears their meeting and flees while exclaiming to the player “Get me outta here!”. As a child I really didn’t process how macabre the story is and even now I’m able to turn a blind eye to it. This is mainly because the developers, Oddworld Inhabitants, shrouded a lot of the morbid stuff with dark humour. Everything about Abe is hilarious. He’s clumsy, his voice sounds like he has a constant blocked nose, he moves like Jack Sparrow and he’s even sometimes quite sadistic (in a humorous way). Lorne Lanning, the director and one of the key designers of the game, claimed that games were becoming about violence and shooting things and so he wanted Abe’s Oddysee to serve as an antithesis of this. There is still violence, but the game is mainly rooted in its puzzle solving and requiring the player to make quick decisions. In this game instead of shooting my way out of a situation, I had to be smart about it. A lot of this game is trial and error but it’s all part of the experience, and it can be frustrating (the amount of rage quits is just astounding), but the sheer joy when completing a level is overwhelming.
I am pretty sure this game is the reason why I love platformers. I would probably pick a platform game over almost any triple A title that is currently out there simply because I find them so fun. The genius of the puzzles are all dependent on the fact that it is a platform game. Not only this, but the camera does not follow Abe. Instead he walks through several different screens, each of which hold a new treasure or terror. Listening out for the snoring or mechanical step of a Slig that is in the next screen is crucial and forces the player to think and act quickly. It is quite stress inducing, and that’s where most mistakes are made. The amount of times that I have tried to rush through a screen only for it to end in failure is innumerable, but I don’t seem to learn from it. Whenever I hear the dramatic chase music strike up, I go into a blind panic and make Abe run as fast as his legs will take him. Higher platforms serve as a safe place for Abe for the majority of the game as enemies cannot follow you upwards and so the player must use them for a tactical purpose. It is such a fulfilling feeling when you manage to run away from an enemy that is gaining on you, and you make the jump that ultimately saves you. Now, all of this is well and good but I did say that this game was hard. This isn’t because of the AI or the level designs, it is simply due to the fact that you play as a defenseless character. I have noticed that in a lot of modern horror games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent (2010) and Outlast (2013) that the developers opt to go with the ‘run or die’ attitude, rather than arming their players with a weapon. While this works to build tension, you’re still able to be hit a few times by enemies before you die, meaning you have a chance to get away before you eventually die and have to try again. This is not the case in Abe’s Oddysee. Whether he is shot, trampled or mauled, Abe will die as soon as he is hit by an enemy. Not only this but checkpoints in the original game were extremely scarce. If you died you would be thrown all the way back to your last checkpoint, and forced to redo it all until you got to the point where the little yellow Mudokon head appeared at the bottom right corner to indicate a checkpoint. Absolutely ruthless. This is probably my only real complaint about the game, but the people at Oddworld Inhabitants heard their fans cries and put in more checkpoints and even added a quick save feature in the sequel, Abe’s Exoddus (1998).
As Abe, you can walk, run, jump, sneak and roll. Pretty standard, right? Wrong. Abe can speak (not much, but he can) to interact with other Mudokons and confuse Sligs. Abe is also given the ability to whistle and fart, both of which are important during the Monsaic Lines levels, but it’s also fun just to make Abe fart and laugh to himself. To save his fellow Mudokons from their inevitable slaughter by the hands of the Glukkons, Abe can greet the other workers and tell them to follow him. The player leads each Mudokon individually through the treacherous levels until coming to a bird portal, where he can chant and the Mudokons jump to their freedom. In the original game, the player had to continuously go back and forth to lead Mudokons to the bird portals, but again this was revised in Abe’s Exoddus as it became possible to ask a group of Mudokons to follow Abe. The chanting also served another purpose, which was the ability to possess Sligs. Whenever I replay this game, I realise how hard the first level is to people who have never played it before. The fact that I know that I can possess Sligs makes the first 10 screens or so much more bearable. As a Slig, you can talk and converse with other Sligs, command Slogs (terrifying dog-like creatures) and use their guns. Possessing a Slig usually entails killing all the other enemies in the vicinity to clear a path for Abe, who is immobile and vulnerable while possession is active. I always found the most entertaining part of the possession ability was how creative you can get once you’re done with the Slig, and this is where some dark humour comes in. Abe can simply make the Slig run off the edge of a platform and fall to its death, have it be shot by one of its comrades or eaten by a Slog. However, I think the fan favourite is to explode the Slig. In the same way that the player possesses the Slig, if you hold down the same buttons while possession is active the Slig begins to shake and you can hear it make comical noises in its confusion before it explodes. Pretty gruesome stuff. But to top it off, Abe giggles to himself like the fiendish little Mudokon that he is.
The environments in the game are beautifully designed and they are definitely one of the most memorable parts of the game. From the mechanical factory to the scorching desert of Scrabania, the locations are a wonder to behold. I remember being fascinated with the amount of colours in the game, and to this day it still amazes me at how amazing it all looks. Despite the vicious creatures, I would probably visit Oddworld if I could. Alongside this, the music is just as good. I mentioned the chase music already, and I am actually listening to it as I write this. The low, fast paced strings accompanied with rhythmic drumming gets your heart pumping as you’re running away from a Scrab or a horde of Paramites. Whatever is chasing you will kill you, and the music reminds you of this. Speaking of Scrabs, they are probably my favourite enemy in this game. I don’t know what it was about them, but as a kid I loved their design. I still get such a thrill whenever I’m running away from one of the cannibalistic creatures (Oddworld just keeps getting darker), and the best experience of this is in the Scrabanian Nests level where they just seem to come from everywhere. The weird and wonderful creatures really do make up Oddworld and it wouldn’t be the same place without them. Both immensely terrifying and strangely beautiful, each of the enemies Abe encounters is truly a work of art. I especially loved how different they all were, which you are told about in the game if the player decides to take the time out and read the little hints provided. While it’s a hard game, they don’t leave you completely in the dark. For example, Paramites are friendly while alone, however if they are cornered or with another of their kind they become vicious and will attack. Paramites can be distracted with chunks of meat that they will devour, allowing a small window for Abe to run past them. On the other hand, Scrabs will attack Abe on sight and will not be sidetracked unless another Scrab appears. In which case, the Scrabs battle to the death and gives the player a chance to get away. With puzzle solving being the main objective of the game, knowing how each of the enemies will react to Abe is crucial. If you’re not well prepared then prepare to fail… or at least prepare to die a lot before you learn what to do.
Oddworld is a remarkable place and the lore is deeply set into the gameplay and the environments. You truly feel immersed into the game and the stakes are high when you know that there aren’t many checkpoints around. The remake of the game, Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty (2014), came out in the summer of last year on PS4 and I was very excited for it. Oddworld Inhabitants teamed up with Just Add Water to recreate Abe’s Oddysee from the ground up, but kept the most crucial elements about it. It was fun, and being a veteran of the original game I immediately set the difficulty to hard (meaning I had Abe’s original vulnerability and frailty to weapons and the like). However, as much as I liked the game, it was too easy simply because of the added bonus of having a quick save option. I tried not to use it but the temptation was too great and I soared through the game much more quickly than I anticipated. I may write a more detailed account of my playthrough of New ‘n’ Tasty in the future but for now I will round off what I need to say about the original game.
Abe’s Oddysee has earned its place as my favourite game of all time, not only for the nostalgia but the enjoyment I get out of playing it. Newer video games seem to focus more on the serious aspects of things, which is fine, but sometimes I like to play a game for the fun of it. Abe, the clumsy, skinny, blue guy in his quest to save his race delivers both fun and frustration. It is one of the most challenging games I have played but that is part of what makes it so wonderful. Yes, it is rather morbid at times but at least it’s not like Mortal Kombat X (2015), which I covered in my last post. For me, Abe is the most iconic figure in my video gaming history and I will always have the time to return to Oddworld to get him out of Rupture Farms.