Side-scrollers have long been considered one of the unfortunate carry-overs from the early days of computer gaming. Not only have we seen this style of gameplay since time began, we continue to see it with nauseating regularity. The reason? By and large, itís one of the easiest types of games to program, and publishers have abused this fact with hordes of lousy titles that have poisoned the whole genre. But if the efforts of the developer Oddworld Inhabitants are any indication, this old warhorse of a genre still has some life left in it. Their charming and innovative Oddworld: Abeís Oddysee reminds us that any genre can be revived if you put enough care and creativity into it.
In Oddworld: Abeís Oddysee, you play Abe, a Mudokon (a funny looking humanoid type creature) working at the Rupture Farms meat processing plant. Abe is relatively happy with his lot until he discovers a plan to reverse shrinking profits by turning the Mudokon workers into processed meat munchies. Needless to say, once this discovery is made, Abeís job satisfaction takes a dramatic tumble, and he goes on the lam to try to save his race from becoming snack food.
GT Interactive has been making every claim in the book regarding Oddworld, and has gone so far as to say it combines every genre of gaming into one incredible experience. In truth, it doesnít go nearly that far. Oddworld is a side-scroller in the truest sense. Just as in nearly every side-scroller since the beginning of time, youíll run, jump, dangle from ledges, and sneak through shadows as you gradually make your way from left to right. However, the care and attention paid to this simple formula is what makes Abeís Oddysee such a treat. Abe also has something called Gamespeak, a series of eight different words, whistles, and bodily noise used to give orders to other Mudokons to move so that you can rescue them. There are also some "Simon Says"-type puzzles where you must repeat the whistles in sequence.
Although Abeís Oddyseeís game design isnít terribly original, it makes up for that with quality production values. The level designs are very good; throughout them all, you can expect to find a smart mix of puzzles that will allow Abe to sneak past enemy guards (theyíre armed, youíre not). The plot is paper-thin, but compared to most games in this genre, itís a welcome addition that is tied into each level quite well. As more pieces of the puzzle are revealed, this simple story contributes to a genuine sense of progress each time you move forward.
Additionally, the graphics help give Abeís Oddysee an incredible charm that hasnít been seen in a side-scroller in some time. Abeís Oddysee boasts colored lighting effects, 3D modeled characters, and smooth transitions between the levels and cut scenes. Even better, the artistic design of the characters and sets is delightful. The fluid animations and charming characters had me completely hooked during an early scene that required me to sneak through the shadows behind a guard. The motions of the characters combined with the perfectly-matched music made me think of Bugs Bunny sneaking up on Elmer Fudd. I was entranced and knew that, review or no review, I had to finish this game.
As enjoyable as it is, Abeís Oddysee is not without its problems. Like many titles originally designed for consoles, Abeís Oddysee has a console-style save game system. The game is automatically saved at designated points, and if you die (which you will, frequently) youíre sent back to that last point. To be fair, the game does give you unlimited lives and the save points arenít that far apart, but unless youíre a gamepad guru, you can expect to play many of the nastier portions over and over.
Despite GT Interactiveís assertions to the contrary, Oddworld: Abeís Oddysee isnít a revolutionary game. Itís still a side-scroller, with all that that implies. If you wouldnít be caught dead playing a game of Sonic, Oddworld offers little appeal. However, as side-scrollers go, Oddworld: Abeís Oddysee is one of the best. Even better, Oddworld Inhabitants has promised that this is only the first of a "quintology," so fans of action titles can look forward to more adventures of Abe and his Oddworld crew for a long time to come.