Game Over Online ~ Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee

GameOver Game Reviews - Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee (c) Microsoft, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee (c) Microsoft
System Requirements Xbox
Overall Rating 75%
Date Published Thursday, March 28th, 2002 at 09:55 PM

Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

Oddworld started out as a 2D franchise on other platforms but quickly found a niche amongst the Playstation crowd. Its 'defection' to Microsoft was widely publicized and a cursory examination at some of the technical artistry involved serves to explain why a 'defection' was indeed necessary. Like most of its predecessors, Oddworld mixes its highly quirky humor with a heavy dose of tongue-in-cheek satire on our capitalist, big corporation oligopolies. For those who are not inundated into the ethos of Oddworld, there are lengthy and marvelously done cinematic sequences throughout the game. But, the basic premise of the title lies in this: you control Abe and Munch in an 'oddysee' against the glukkons, who are up to no good. In this case, they are packaging Munch's friends into little pieces of canned food.

The introduction of Munch is quite a drastic change from previous Oddworld titles. However, the use of it is quite pragmatic. Munch and Abe, although both strange and out of this world, operate differently with Munch being more of an aquatic creature for water-filled levels. Abe, on the other hand, is better at land-based monkey acrobatics. As such, the obstacles and puzzles thrown at you are somewhat different. This is a growing trend in third-person games and the diversity was succinctly shown in MDK2's triumvirate. Abe and Munch work more closely in tandem. Often one's actions directly frees up the next one to proceed. In this rendition of Oddworld, the primary emphasis, however, is still on puzzles. And the majority of them are clever but they are still deeply rooted into the console world of puzzles. Jumping is still an integral part of many of the obstacles the developers pose to you. As such, it lacks the sophistication of and fluidity of a game like Deus Ex. Due to this simplicity, there also is no compelling reason to replay the game again. Unlike Deus Ex, for example, you aren't able to replay the whole game as Munch or as Abe exclusively since those roles are fixed. The lack of anything beyond its original storyline is fairly restrictive.

Although the puzzles may seem simplistic in that aspect, Oddworld carries over many of its trademark features. For example, artificial intelligence became a much-touted feature of this game. You are able to attract followers to help you out. Mudokons can help Abe operate machinery. Moreover, both Abe and Munch can attract followers to aid the protagonists in combat. Aside from that, Oddworld falls short of its original vision. Some of the mudokons may be smart enough to provide timely aid but at other times, your compatriots may seem too tethered or limited. There is also the problem of pacing in the game. The transition to a 3D world certainly taxes the Xbox's power but the game world is particularly vacuous. It takes a good deal of time to get into the flow of the game and know where to go next. This is exasperated by the fact that now you have to two characters to worry about. This endemic feeling of being lost in the game world is also compounded with camera issues. I might be too harsh on camera systems in general but I've never liked to work a camera myself. On the other hand, camera direction is a fairly subjective state. For example, while I don't like completely mobile cameras like Homeworld or Toy Story II, where the onus rests on the player to for camera direction, I equally don't like fixed states, like Resident Evil where I'm often placed at a disadvantage in light of the developers' preference for a more cinematic angle. The same disparate number of views exists for the camera system of Phantasy Star Online. Some people say it's awful while others like me found it intuitive. Suffice to say, Oddworld's camera system made the environmental obstacles (jumping in particular) harder than it should be.

Otherwise, the cinematic sequences, audio effects and general professionalism are top notch. They certainly do the material justice but there simply is not enough variety. Often times, the landscapes are bleak in the grayish washed out world of factories or barren landscapes of the indigenous lifeforms. It certainly is a lot different from the immaculately rendered cinema pieces. Furthermore, the execution related to the camera and general void you feel in playing the game, serves to mitigate any technical excellence. This happens in spite of the fact that the world is segregated into set pieces. The loading of one level usually entails one distinct puzzle objective which subsequently leads you to the next one.

Much of Oddworld's charm comes from its idiosyncratic sense of humor. This is probably its saving grace. I'm told this game is supposed to appeal to kids but certainly, these kids are not the kids I grew up with. The archetype of Abe and to a lesser extent, Munch, has all been done before. During my day, the reluctant hero of Roger Wilco was the satirical hero of choice. Oddworld's satire is excessively dark when compared to the dubious outings of Space Quest. Because of its plunder of modern clichés, many interesting devices come forth. Power-ups, for example, are dispensed in brightly lit commercialized vending machines. The portrayals of factory life would make even the most fervent capitalists turn to Marx and Engels. Pragmatism is not unaffected by this motif either. Munch is a purely aquatic creature but to aid his slow speed, he is endowed with a wheelchair on land. The critters in Oddworld are anything but pretty. The developers make no apologies for using an excessive amount of stitches and mangled anthropoid bodies. In the end, if you've never liked Oddworld, this title with its somewhat anemic gameplay, will not convince you to take up the franchise.

Though Oddworld is not a multiplayer title, it manages to introduce a few tidbits for Oddworld fans. You get some DVD-esque extras like cinematic clips of Abe's past exploits. However, such amenities are more for those who have already made their mind on their purchase of Oddworld. Oddworld's developers desire to inject motifs into their game in a bid to make the title resemble a cinematic piece. Unfortunately, the game parts of the corpus are less impressive than the motif. Compared to a masterpiece like Grim Fandango, where film noir is merged with modern satire, the results are telling. Like many epic franchises, there are still subsequent titles slated for Oddworld. This is a mere single episode in an overarching storyline. With Microsoft as the primary publisher now, the developers certainly won't have to worry about running out of funds to produce the next piece in this slate. But hopefully they will rectify some of the execution issues and expand on the interesting elements of this game. This isn't a complete failure per se but it certainly was not the Halo-level of title that Microsoft was looking for. And for gamers who aren't Oddworld inhabitants, they'll readily agree.


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