By Jason "loonyboi" Bergman
here’s no question about it…I’m a fan of Oddworld. This should come as no surprise to regular loonygames readers…heck, we did a cover story on it. I can’t help it…anything that emphasizes storytelling and character development over technology already gets a major thumbs up from me. It doesn’t hurt that the story in this case, is exceptional, and the characters some of the most original you’re ever likely to find.
Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus, is a strange (bet you thought I was gonna say "odd" didn’t you?) title, because it was one that was never originally planned. The quick version of the story is this: the Oddworld series was created to be five games, each with a different protagonist, and each forming a piece of a larger story. Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee was released, and the kids loved it. Well, of course, they loved it…it was a great game. ;)
What surprised everyone, was that not only did the kids love it, they loved Abe. So when it came time to work on the next game, there was an overwhelming demand for another game that featured Abe…not a new character. So, the "bonus" games were created, and Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus is the first of these (a second, Oddworld Adventures has been released for the GameBoy). While I would have loved to see a major revamp of the gameplay, Abe’s Exoddus is pretty much a retread of the same ground as the original. Which is cool, I guess, since it’s not supposed to be a real sequel, but more of a "further adventures of…" type thing. I’ll save all my hopes for the true follow-up title, Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee, the Unreal engine, 3D title that’s in the works now.
So let’s look at Abe’s Exoddus as a standalone game. If you missed Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, don’t worry…prior knowledge of the series isn’t required…there are the occasional references to the first title, but there’s nothing you’ll be missing out on (and in fact, the opening does an excellent job of filling the newbie in on the storyline). For the newcomers, Abe’s Exoddus is a sidescroller. Yeah, I know…sidescrollers aren’t the biggest draw these days (heck, even Wild 9 had 3D elements in it) but trust me…this ain’t your daddy’s scroller.
Whereas most scrolling titles have you butt stomping, or running through formulaic levels, with each one following the, "kill bad guy, jump across platform, end level" type layout, Abe’s Exoddus (and likewise its predecessor) is completely different. Admittedly, there are indeed the occasional platforms that need jumping across (and these would qualify as one minor beef I have with the game…these feel out of place) but most of the game has you trying to figure out how to sneak past the bad guys, and save as many Mukodons as possible. (Mukodons being the slave race of which Abe is a member of.) This is done through a number of very well done puzzles…so well done, in fact, that they don’t really qualify as "puzzles" per se.
Here’s an example: you’ve got a room with two wheels. In order to open door A, you need to have a Mukodon stand on one of them and turn the wheel at the same time as you. But, making matters more complicated, is the fact that you’ve got to actually get a Mukodon over here…so you’ve got to sneak one past the nasty Slig that’s holding him prisoner. Or, you’ve got a bunch of mines in the way that have to be carefully disarmed…one at a time. The game is loaded with stuff like this, and let me assure you…they are all much cleverer than the one I just described. :)
Much of the game involves communicating with Mukodons. Instead of the usual, "branching" dialogue style made popular by adventure games, you have a series of simple phrases you can say to them. Nothing too especially complex here…just small phrases like, "hello" or "follow me" and of course, the all important, "stop it!" The AI and "gamespeak" has been modified since last time, and this represents the only major change. The changes are good ones, as the various Mukodons now have more emoitions, and are much more complex generally speaking. If you’re walking around with several, they might get into an internal squabble that you’ll have to get involved in…or they might even get a whiff of laughing gas, which makes them slap-happy. (They start uncontrollably slapping each other…the only way to get ‘em out of it is to well…slap ‘em back.)
These are pretty minor changes in the larger scope of the game, when all’s said and done. The game moves at the same pace as the original, which may turn some people off. Oddworld rewards you for using that brain of yours, and isn’t too "action packed" in the literal sense. If you’re looking for a kill ‘em all side scrolling game, go elsewhere…you won’t like Oddworld. You’ll need to think here, and it’s mighty worth it. The cutscenes that are interspersed throughout the game are phenomenal…some of the best you’ll ever see. I’ll let Josh Vasquez, our resident film critic handle the in-depth review of those (he’s even got a copy of the Academy Awards tape…so expect a cool piece from him soon) but my two cents on the issue is that they are fantastic.
It’s a testament to the quality of the character design that Abe became as popular as he did, and for good reason. The character design, much like the cutscenes they appear in, is superb. While most games rely on tried and true character types, Oddworld has created an original world, filled with believable characters that resemble pretty much nothing you’ve ever seen before. Even the best games use some sort of established character design…but not Oddworld. Take a look at Abe, with his loincloth, big ol’ eyes, and body figure and tell me if that’s a familiar look. Or my personal favorite, the Glukkons, who have no arms, but an omnipresent cigar. Now that’s some clever stuff. But this sort of originality is everywhere in the Oddworld universe…and it makes the game that much more rewarding.
The game is available for both the PC and PlayStation (no N64 version, I’m afraid). I’ve played both versions, and there’s really not much of a difference between the two. My personal preference is for the PC version, since it’s more convenient for me to distract myself with it. But also because I like to use my gamepad for moving Abe around, and the numerical pad for the gamespeak commands. The PSX version doesn’t have this luxury, and you’re forced to use a bunch of button combos to make Abe talk. To the game’s credit, it comes with a handy little "quick reference card" for the commands, but it’s just frustrating at times, and I found myself wishing I had a PSX keyboard. Chances are that you’ll be able to find the PlayStation version slightly cheaper, and if you’re wrestling with the decision, don’t be. It’s not a big deal. But, if you do decide to go with the PC version, be aware that while you can use the keyboard, you’ll probably want to get a gamepad to play it with. I suggest any PlayStation style pad, or one of those funky Microsoft dealies, both of which work just peachy.
There isn’t anything wrong with Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus as a standalone game. The only problem I do have with it, isn’t a problem at all, actually…and that’s just that its predecessor was so good, that there’s no reason to start with Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus. If you’ve never played an Oddworld game before, why pay extra for Abe’s Exoddus, when there’s a much cheaper game out there that’s just as rewarding? Go buy the first one, and do so happily, knowing that when you’re done with the first game, there’s another one waiting for you. I’m disappointed on one level, because the game deserves more…I want a game that goes well above and beyond what the first one established…and this isn’t it. But, like I mentioned above, that game’s coming. This one’s just more of the same for those of us who really dug the first one.
- Jason "loonyboi" Bergman is the editor-in-chief of loonygames. It stands to reason, therefore, that all of this is his fault.
|Credits: Bargain Bin logo illustrated and is © 1999 Dan Zalkus. This edition of Top Shelf is © 1999 Jason Bergman. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is a majorly hostile gesture.|