Looking back at Abe’s Oddysee and Abe’s Exoddus
It’s bad enough discovering that the place where you work is funding the destruction of your species, but finding out that you’re the guy who needs to risk life and limb to stop it is like the proverbial icing on the cake. Such is the depressingly fraught existence of Abe – Rupture Farms employee of the year and hitherto contented drone of Molluck the Glukkon. But -as Abe will later discover – there’s a hero in all of us, and pretty soon the Sligs, Paramites, Scrabs and Meeches of Oddworld will quiver at the mere mention of his name. If any of this sounds strange to you, then that’s because you’ve never become acquainted with the twisted vision of Lorne Lanning and Oddworld Inhabitants, and might have missed out on two of the most unique and brilliant platformers ever created.
Despite loving video games as a little kid, I didn’t always have much money with which to procure them. That’s why I made sure I took my time in picking a good one on the rare occasion that my pocket money reached double figures. I remember peering at Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee in my local game shop just shy of ten years old, my right eyebrow raising in a manner that even Dwayne Johnson would be proud of. I had played many platforming games in the past, but the bizarre blue fellow on the game’s front cover didn’t seem like he fit in with the likes of Sonic, Mario or Mega Man at all. There was something altogether more dark and sinister about him and his cockeyed smile. Looking at the back cover, I was greeted with screenshots of vicious creatures and explosions of blood. Needless to say, I marched straight up to the counter and slapped my coppers down.
I’m certainly glad that I took that gamble all those years ago, because Abe’s Oddysee has become one of my all-time favourite video games. It succeeded primarily, like all great fictions, because it completely absorbed me into its world. This wasn’t just a cut and paste job that involved replicating places from real life environments. This was a completely self-contained imaginary world that seemed just as real as the one inhabited by my nine year old self. Rupture Farms was a dark, vast, oppressive place with numerous security systems designed to literally make mince-meat out of Abe and the Mudokons he was trying to save, whilst the ancient grandeur of open air places like Scrabania and Paramonia did little to alleviate the brutal violence of its resident flora and fauna. Literally everything in Oddworld seemed like it was designed to maim and murder in some obscure way, and yet the game’s twisted sense of humour always saved it from becoming maudlin or distasteful.
This sense of humour can be seen everywhere in the incredibly detailed design. I still chuckle when I think about the messages displayed on the public announcement systems of Rupture Farms and the marketing posters it had for delicious treats like Meech Munchies, Scrab Cakes and the “New N’ Tasty” Mudokon Pops. Most of the visual gags centred around the beautiful animation of Abe himself though, who would often scratch his backside or grinningly shrug his shoulders before being torn limb from limb by a rampaging Paramite. This was compounded by the brilliantly funny audio design, which allowed players to interact with the characters in Abe’s environment using speech commands. Farting when greeting a fellow Mudokon or tricking the dim witted Sligs into running head first into a meat grinder will never get old, and have become beloved trademarks of the Oddworld franchise.
The biggest reason that I feel both Abe’s Oddysee and its immediate successor Abe’s Exoddus succeeded though was because of the tight gameplay mechanics 2D platforming afforded them. In both games, the player was tasked with seemingly impossible scenarios. For a long time, I would sit there in front of my TV wondering how a gauntlet of certain death could possibly be overcome with the meagre run/jump and speech abilities that Abe possessed. There would often be a pit of Scrabs, followed by a guard tower of flying helicopter Sligs, and I would attempt to simply run headlong into the middle of all of them, hoping that my button timing would be rewarded. Invariably, Abe would either be torn apart or despatched swiftly by the Sligs. Eventually, however, I would discover that I needed to first “possess” a guard and use it to shoot the Scrabs before forcing it to commit airborne suicide, leaving Abe free to simply stroll on to the next challenge.
Managing to do this was rewarding enough, but managing to also rescue every single one of the Mudokons unscathed was another challenge entirely, and one of the first truly hard-as-nails achievements that I mastered in gaming. Doing tasks like collecting all of the dog tags in Metal Gear Solid 2 just never felt as personal, and far less consequential when you consider that both Abe’s Oddysee and Abe’s Exoddus had good and bad endings depending on how many of Abe’s little green friends found their freedom. Just thinking about it now invokes as much emotion in me with its simple storytelling mechanic that far more grandiose games like Mass Effect 3, Heavy Rain and The Walking Dead have done since.
In an age where a wealth of 2D platforming games exist through the indie gaming scene and the continuation of beloved franchises like Rayman: Origins and New Super Mario Bros U, convincing people to try titles that they missed in the PS1 era can be a hard sell. Regardless, I would urge each and every person reading this who has not done so already to go and pick up Abe’s Oddysee and the equally brilliant Abe’s Exoddus. I would wager that they contain charm, character and tough gameplay design that is at least equal to, if not surpassing what modern day releases can offer.
Even better, if older games just aren’t your thing, Just Add Water are actually making a HD re-release of Abe’s Oddysee that should hit PSN, Xbox Live and PC this August. So, there’s really no excuse! Get out there and start saving those Mudokons.