Rare and prized above all things are the classic game revivals that don’t just look the business, but feel more relevant than their younger, hipper brethren. First released for PS1 in 1997, Oddysee’s satirical tale of a slaughterhouse worker whose species is next on the menu has lost none of its zing - and nor has its scenario design, which plays upon the concept of a biosphere under strain. Most puzzlers see you working with machinery - computers to hack, clockwork to pick apart. Oddworld gives you an ecology, a food chain, with Abe himself firmly at the bottom.
Powered by the Unity Engine, Just Add Water’s New ‘n’ Tasty remake sports fully 3D environments in place of the old static, single-screen backdrops. It’s a sumptuous overhaul, rife with moving parts - be it cages of wildlife trundling into a grinder’s maw, or the sun lancing through gaps in a temple roof.
The developer has altered or expanded a few of the puzzles - most noticeably, the camera now pans during the bits where you ride an Elum (think Yoshi, but uglier) over pitfalls and through flocks of aerial mines - but for the most part it’s the same, gruelling trek across an exotic, deadly landscape, made up of careful hops and even more careful negotiation of a bubbling stew of AI variables.
It begins with the Sligs, factory enforcers who resemble Alien’s facehuggers on robot legs. They’ll shoot the unarmed Abe on sight, but can’t jump and may be led astray by thrown bottle caps. After escaping the appalling Rupture Farms, you’ll tangle with Paramites - creepy intermarriages of spider and coyote, who’ll shadow Abe relentlessly but only attack in packs or when cornered. The opposite is true of Scrabs, territorial quadrupeds with gigantic stabbing beaks, who’ll run you down in an eyeblink but are equally happy to murder each other.
Mixed in amongst these terrors are your fellow Mudokon workers, busily polishing floors and walls till instructed to follow you to an exit portal with taps of the D-pad. Saving them (there are over 200, including those in secret areas) isn’t necessary to complete the game, but you’ll be treated to a gruesome ending if you leave the lion’s share in the lurch.
Oddysee isn’t one of those puzzlers that struggles to make the most of some novel ideas. The further you push through the 5-10 hour story, the more approaches the game places at your disposal, and the more you’re obliged to squeeze from the ideas in play. Sligs can be possessed by chanting, allowing you to not only explode them from within, Scanners-style, but activate out-of-reach devices, converse with other Sligs or boss Mudokons around (for example: ordering the luckless sods to hit the deck before firing on their guards).
Alas, this depth must be set against fiddly controls, and a heavy dependence on trial and error - fortunately, you can now quicksave pretty much anywhere with a tap of the View button. It’s more a question of the type of game Oddysee is than a flaw, but frustration is frustration however you slice it.
Still, we hope you’ll persevere. Almost two decades on, Oddworld remains a cut above the throng - a greasy, gristly delight that has much to say about the world we live in but, importantly, finds a way to say it through entertaining mechanics. The strength of Just Add Water’s renovations suggests that the Oddysee team could do wonderful things with a brand new Oddworld game. Perhaps if enough of you buy this one, they’ll get the chance.