Tuesday, July 17, 2007

PlayStation (PS1/PSX) - Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee - One Hour In

Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee is a 2D platformer I recently picked up for the PlayStation (original, not PS2 or PS3). I had seen a rating of 91% on GameRankings.com for Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus, spied the first one in a used bookstore and picked it up, thinking it was the second. But that's okay, because Abe's Oddysee had gotten a score of 89%, and while it is below my cutoff for considering a game purchase, I like stuff that's weird and different, and it cost under $5.00 USD. That's less than a rental on a new game. Sold!

I'm glad I bought it, because I've found in the hour I've played it that it's weird and fun and a shining example (mostly) of good game design.

It's about a Mudokon slave named Abe who works in a meat factory and one day discovers its dark secret. He must now escape and lead his fellow Mudokons to freedom.

It's a pretty standard 2D platformer, with a few tweaks. In addition to the usual climbing and jumping and operating machinery, there's a Lemmings-like aspect to it where Abe must rescue his fellow slaves by talking to them and leading them out of the meat factory.

The gameplay design is innovative and well-thought-out. All the holdovers from quarter-eating arcade games are gone - there's no score, no count of lives, no life meter, in fact no status display at all. An attack either kills Abe or it doesn't. Abe has infinite lives, and dying merely results in his resurrection at the last checkpoint. The distance between checkpoints (so far) has seemed nicely short, so that I haven't had to repeat so much when killed. While these features have become common in games in recent years, in 1997 they were pretty new.

The only potential snake in this grass is what I've read about later stages in the game; apparently there have been complaints that death often occurs irritatingly far from the last checkpoint. I can see where this would be a problem, but I simply haven't encountered it yet.

What makes this game even more special is the story, presentation, and humor. I won't speak of the story for fear of spoiling it for potential players, but I can talk about the other aspects.

The presentation is terrific, especially for a PlayStation game. The action may be 2D, but everything, from the characters to the platforms and backgrounds, has a 3D look to it. The animations are fluid and 3D in appearance. The art design is consistent throughout and succeeds brilliantly in conveying the weirdness of this very Odd world.

The sound is outstanding, especially the voice work - the nasal Mudokons, the gravelly Glukkons, and so on. All the other sounds are appropriate and clear. The music is also well-integrated into the action and enhances the entire Odd experience.

The humor is also a notable element of the game, especially the pronouncements from the Glukkon overlords on the factory tickers. "Work hard, die young, win valuable prizes," and "Only 1,236 work related accidents this month. Keep up the good work!" are just a couple of the messages I saw. There is more, woven into the cutscenes, dialogues between characters, and in the very animations (I burst out laughing the first time I saw Abe sneak across a platform). And most of it succeeds.

In short, Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee is a fun, excellently produced and directed 2D platformer that will provide hours of fun, well worth picking up used in a game shop's bargain bin, or on Amazon or eBay.

Grade: A

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