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Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee

Lots of energy contained in an old body.

Is Abe’s Oddysee (1997) worth your time?

Not in a modern context.

The time required and the frustration experienced to overcome challenges rarely seemed worth the reward.  It’s approach of constantly killing you with punishing puzzles and enemies has since been refined and far more effectively implemented in modern games like Super Meat Boy or Dark Souls.

Is it worth your money?

It depends on how much you value your time.  Currently A.O is priced at $5.99 on GOG.com (€2.99 on Steam) – which isn’t too much.  If you’re a fan of platformers and have literally no other game scratching your punishing platformer itch – and are willing to tolerate frustrations that would not be tolerated today – then you may get something out of it.

Having said that, the remake ‘New and Tasty’ looks to have fixed the majority of problems I’ll mention so that may be worth a look first.

Another left unfinished

I’ve left Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee unfinished and suspect I’ll never return. It’s not a poor game by any means, it managed to exceed my self imposed 3 hour trial period, but it’s frustrations began to outweigh its fun and after a few more hours I knew this wasn’t going to change.

You can, and will, be killed often – which is fine, many games use death as a learning tool,  but modern games generally get you right back into the action – quickly allowing another attempt at the thing that killed you.

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Take Super Meat Boy for example – the time between when you die to when you respawn was roughly 2 seconds.

But A.O is an old game – nearly 20 years old – and it hasn’t benefited from the refinement the genre has experienced in that time.

There are many ways to be killed instantly in A.O, but due to an inconsistent save system- death began to increasingly frustrate until it felt like my time was just being wasted.

Which is a shame because there is a lot of otherwise well designed platforming, and a delightfully imagined world with hilarious inhabitants.

Some Context

You control Abe, a lowly worker in a meat factory that is more akin to a slave than an employee.  Upon realizing that the contents of latest fast food product are his fellow race of Mudokon,  attempts an escape.  On the way Abe tries to rescue the 99 other Mudokon ‘working’ in the factory.

You are shown in the opening scene that this attempt fails, but if you save enough Mudoken  during the attempt (the main game), then there is still a chance of a rescue.

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Abe’s Oddysee takes place in a fantastically charming and well realised world.  Its look and tone is a wonderful blend of goofy cartoon and black humor.  Everything looks ridiculous – especially the characters and creatures – which are drawn like caricatures of how they may have been originally designed.  Features are exaggerated as well as accents and sounds.  A similar approach appears to have been taken with machinery, with most of the factory equipment looking stupidly dangerous.

This design makes violence morbidly hilarious.  Abe appears as a goofy, lovable and clumsy protagonist, but I couldn’t help but laugh when accidentally landing in sawblades and seeing him explode into meaty chunks.  Or, overslide a run, fall head first into an electric beam and get zapped into dust.

There are some subtle darker elements too – with how Abe’s mouth appears to have been stitched closed at some point in the past.

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Abe himself is also hilarious and charming.  His looks silly and speaks with an adorable childish cartoon warble.  He can speak to his other Mudokon, who react in a similar way and will giggle when you press the fart button.

The core

The game has you(Abe) progress through industrial, tribal and natural locations screen by screen.  Almost every screen presents a challenge to bypass or other Mudokons to rescue.  You run, jump, sneak, climb and use your Mudokon powers to bypass patrolling guards, animals, surveillance, deadly equipment, falling debris and so on.

Puzzles can be considerably challenging as solutions are not obvious and platforming requires pixel perfect positioning.  Most puzzles will prompt head scratching, but there is always a way, and discovering the method generates a feeling of smugness and cleverness that a only a well designed puzzle can generate.

That is just half the battle though – the other half is the execution.  Once you know the solution of where to jump, sneak or distract, you then need to pull it off.  This is where the intensity shifts up a gear- especially when sneaking past a sleeping guard or narrowly avoiding a spray of bullets by jumping to another platform.

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The problem

Two minor elements of the game have aged significantly and completely killed the fun for me.  The first is the save system.

A checkpoint occurs every few screens.  It may be 3 screens or it may be 8 screens – it’s never consistent, nor predictable.  The next unexplored screen could be deadly trap, or a welcoming save.

A save option exists in the game menu, but this is functionally useless –  it will not save anything beyond the last checkpoint.  It’s essentially a save for when you stop playing.

Dying ceased being an educator and became a tormentor.  If there were 7 screens of challenges between one checkpoint and another, and I died on screen 6, then I was popped right back to screen 1 again with all enemies and traps reset.

You can occasionally manipulate the saving system.  Taking the above example,  if I completed screens 1-3, I could backtrack to screen 1 again and the checkpoint MAY trigger, meaning that the enemies of 1-3 would stay dead when I respawned.  Again, this was inconsistent and most of the time would not work.

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Slow respawning contributed to the death of fun.  You are returned to the start of the section by a flock of birds, with a loading screen in between.  Though perhaps 5 seconds in length, this still manages to chronically irritate after repeated deaths.  5 seconds may sound brief,  but it is considerably long when dying after 10 seconds or less of play.

You learn via trial and error. Safe looking areas can result in death because of hidden traps or enemies – requiring at least one death to understand.

And it’s painfully easy to die.  Even if you perfected the jumping in screens 1-5, one tiny lapse in concentration will have you sailing back to the beginning.  So you again need to jump, sneak, roll around the same obstacles and kill the same enemies (which becomes near unbearable when waiting for an enemy to slowly patrol to a spot).  If you so much as breathe in an incorrect way you’ll end up being squashed, or gunned down and have to start the whole thing again.

Nope, no more

And that’s all it took.  This one archaic design collapsed the who experience – an experience that had so much going for it.  Whether it was the technical limitations of the time, or the developers wanted to sell it as a ‘Hardcore experience’, or just unwise design, it poisoned the game.

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I can actually hear defenders (albeit in my head) saying that you need ‘dedication’ or ‘ strong enough will’ or to be ‘hardcore and git-gud’’ to beat the game.  If those defenders exist and wish to present themselves to the world, then I will show the world an example of people who have no respect for their own time.

Quick Conclusion

Abe’s Oddysee is a game I wanted to enjoy.  The world and characters drew me in and I wanted to see how Abe’s journey ended.  There are a lot of clever puzzles, humor and intense platforming, but this is all undermined by the fact that any sort of progress requires an unfair amount of frustration to obtain – frustration that would have been considerably reduced with the simple inclusion of a quicksave.

No such luxury exists in this version.  1997’s Abe’s Oddysee is not a worthless game – it’s just not worth time.

Played through Gog Galaxy and Steam

Imagines from Gog and Steam