I was born in 1980 but my fascination with playing games really took over in the 1990s. It was a golden era for me; the Mega Drive, the SNES, the Amiga 500 and then the PlayStation before the decade ticked over into a new millennium and the PlayStation 2 changed everything again. The 1990s were a fertile period of invention, innovation and creativity in gaming that has influenced everything since and shaped the industry today.
A big part of that fresh wind of creativity was the release of Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee in 1997. This was a game that built on the systems and structures that I’d loved in games like Flashback – with single screens and puzzle elements – but it also brought a fresh approach that tied a bizarre world, filled with peculiar creatures with a rebellious message that was impossible to ignore.
I was seventeen, born into a working class family, and had developed my sense of political self throughout the Conservative regime – and particularly the premiership of Margaret Thatcher. The allegorical nature of Abe’s struggles with the Glukkons were not lost on me. This was perhaps the first narrative-driven game I played that spoke to me on more than a superficial level. Abe wasn’t just a leaping, creeping protagonist; Abe was an everyman hero in a working class struggle against a regime which had enslaved his people.
To put it in as simple terms as possible: Abe’s Oddysee was important to me and, I believe, important to the historical development of video games.
So recreating that touchstone in gaming history is no small task. It’s something that any developer would need an iron nerve to try. If they get it wrong, they’ll have to answer to the core of extremely dedicated fans of the original. And there are so many opportunities to get it wrong, with so many minor elements that fans notice and pick at on forums and message boards. There’s a lot of responsibility in recreating a legend.
Abe moves faster than he used to. That’s the most recent observation I’ve spotted among the die-hard fans. Abe’s movement across the screen is indeed slightly swifter than the 1997 game but that’s explained not simply by the modern sensibility of appreciating swifter movement in our games but by the fact that Abe is now traversing a 16:9 screen, rather than the 4:3 slides he moved across in the original. The new cameras bring a more modern feel to the game too but those have meant that chasing Scrabs no longer stop when you progress. This isn’t a simple 1:1 recreation of Abe’s Oddysee.
Certain things have had to be changed in order to create this New ‘n’ Tasty version of Abe’s original adventure and the mission for Oddworld Inhabitants and Just Add Water has been not to perfectly recreate that original – if you want that, it’s available on various download stores right now. Their goal has always been to make the Oddworld game that Abe’s Oddysee would have been, were it made now instead of 17 years ago.
New ‘n’ Tasty is unmistakably an Oddworld game. It’s inherently familiar, even to those of us who haven’t played the original in more than 15 years. Ever since I first saw this remake, I’ve felt that it’s the Abe’s Oddysee I recall playing, even though it’s clearly leaps and bounds ahead of that first PlayStation representation of Oddworld. Just as my own memory embellishes the scenery and smoothes the animation, Just Add Water have built the world I remember, rather than the low-resolution world that actually existed on that disc. It’s a remarkable achievement, considering how personal those memories feel to me.
This return trip to Oddworld was the first appointment I booked for E3 this year. Partly, that was down to a friendly relationship with the developers but partly it was because I wanted to play the game more than most others I had the opportunity to see in Los Angeles. It was the first thing I sought out on the show floor and the first thing I played amid the cacophonous noise of every upcoming AAA game you can imagine blaring its soundtrack from oversized speakers. It was one of the best things I played at E3 too.
It’s not just about the nostalgia, although for some of us that’s impossible to detach from the experience. New ‘n’ Tasty plays well in and of itself. It’s a tight, responsive system of controls that feel natural and intuitive as you navigate the various perils and puzzles of Rupture Farms (and beyond!). Controlling well is the least we should expect though, this remake covers all the same ground as the original (and a little bit more…) while playing like a modern platformer and looking absolutely stunning.
Abe’s movement is fluid and his animation all that you could want but that’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of what New ‘n’ Tasty has going on in each level. Set against a stunningly detailed, almost painterly backdrop is a busy environment, full of movement and action. That’s all lit dynamically, with some beautiful effects that introduce glare and bloom that make each new area an opportunity to pause and stare, agape at the stunning vista on your screen. The layer of dust and dirt that sits on the camera lens is the perfect finishing touch for a world that is as real – as lived in – as it is bizarre.
Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty is due to be released on PlayStation 4 on July 22nd (23rd in EU), with other platforms to follow, and it’s showing all the signs of being the game that Oddworld fans want, as well as the game that will introduce Oddworld to a whole new generation of soon-to-be ardent fans.