Munch’s OddyseePosted: November 26, 2011
Ah, Oddworld, it’s good to see you back.
I never owned an Xbox so Munch’s Oddysee and Stranger’s Wrath passed me by after meeting Abe at a buddy’s house back on the original PlayStation in 1997. Even then, it wasn’t until earlier this year when I actually owned a copy of the first game, Abe’s Oddysee, bought through the PlayStation Network, spurred on by the news that Just Add Water Ltd. is breathing life back into the cancelled Hand of Odd in addition to giving Munch and Stranger the HD treatment.
Now I do own Munch’s Oddysee, the subject of this blog entry if you couldn’t tell, thanks to the Xbox 360’s sort of backwards compatibility but I do plan on holding a copy of Munch HD in my digital hands to find out how much of my experience of the original was hampered by the game’s not so compatible sound.
Munch’s Oddysee is the second title in the “Oddworld Quintology”. The first story saw RuptureFarms employee/slave Abe discover his bosses’ plans to spike profits by turning Abe’s species, the Mudokons, into the meat processing factory’s newest food source. Abe escapes, saves ninety-nine of his colleagues, destroys RuptureFarms and two games later, Munch’s tale begins.1
Munch is the last of the amphibious Gabbits, driven to the verge of extinction by the reckless pursuit of profit by the planet’s industrial forces. Hopping onto land in search of others of his kind, Munch stumbles into the Oddworld equivalent of a bear trap and is carted off to Vykkers Labs for animal testing and to harvest his lungs.
However, Oddysee starts us off in control of Abe to learn the game mechanics. With the switch to three dimensions, Abe now has a health bar in place of the one hit kills, and his ability to possess his enemies requires the player to collect up to ten ‘spooce’ from their shrubs to power it. Spooce is also used to bypass doors and locks. Not collected enough? No problem, the stuff is practically everywhere and chanting will regrow the plant. There’s an inexhaustible supply. The franchise’s GameSpeak which allows Abe and Munch to communicate with non-playable characters is largely unchanged. Abe can now rally his Mudokon comrades to attack foes – as can Munch with Vykkers’ guinea pigs, the Fuzzles – with success depending on how qualified they are to deal with the threat. For example, the club wielding Tomahawkers will fare better in a fight than the vanilla Mudokon natives who only have their fists to rely on.
When players are given access to Munch, they’ll find controlling him to be a different experience to Abe. Munch’s time at Vykkers Labs’ research and development department has left him with a sonar device implanted in his head which turns out to be a useful tool for making his escape as well as releasing the Fuzzles from their cages. It’s also a deadly weapon providing the juice – one of the game’s power-ups provided through Oddworld’s vending machines – doesn’t run out. Munch can’t walk or jump too well on land and is best suited to maneuvering around in a wheelchair when they’re provided or staying in the water where he excels (unlike Abe who can’t swim). Eventually the plot brings Munch and Abe together, and it’s by alternating between the characters’ abilities to solve the game’s puzzles that allows the player to progress.
Your Quarma2 plays a more crucial role this time around. Once again, players are encouraged to rescue Mudokons along the way, only now Fuzzles and Sam’s Labor Eggs are added to the mix. The number of lives you save affects your Quarma meter and goes toward your being rewarded with the good or bad ending. The difference from previous iterations being that the bad ending actually means you’re cut off from the game’s last two levels. Ouch.
Now the sound. Playing the Xbox disk on the 360 means you won’t get any. Maybe. I’ve found that I get a hum outdoors, muffled dialogue and the occasional other sound effect. Thankfully, the full motion videos that are the game’s cutscenes remained intact apart from the backstory option designed to play all the FMVs from Abes Oddysee and Exoddus. On the 360, they’re jittery and unwatchable. Sound is fine. Go figure. Strangely, since patches were released this decade for Munch’s Oddysee that didn’t fix those problems, I occasionally got sound after cutscenes until I hit a loading screen.
Visually, the game’s distinctly Oddworld. Munch, the Vykkers, practically every character design is a welcome addition but I do take exception to the Meep. One eyed, one-legged sheep analogues, the Meep don’t look like they belong on Oddworld. Now Mudokons look nothing like their Glukkon slave masters but they do look like they live together. It’s a mixed blessing that the Meep are barely in the game. They exist to be herded. For one short section of the game which I found slightly less gruelling to simply make Abe pick each of the twenty or so Meep up and dump them in the paddock by hand. It’s satisfying that you never see them again afterwards but it’s hard to see the point of them being there in the first place. The bad news is that they aren’t the only part of the game that creates that feeling. The labour eggs are also numerous and saving them is unnecessarily time-consuming.
The Oddworld Encyclopædia claims that “there were many massive gameplay and story elements planned for Munch’s Oddysee that didn’t make the final cut.” and “Oddworld Inhabitants found themselves forced to deliver the game by the Xbox’s launch date, and so a vast quantity of the story had to be cut, while the gameplay had to be simplified because of limited technical capabilities.” I think it shows. Content needing to be cut is the nature of the beast but there’s a lot of unfortunate repetition in Munch that doesn’t invite repeated plays. Worst of all, I don’t like playing as Munch. The Gabbit’s wheelchair is fine for zipping about but he can’t pull levers while sitting. When you’re forced to keep getting out the chair to press a button, several times thanks to the trial and error nature of the game, it doesn’t come across like the puzzle, it looks like the developers forgot to put it in.
A strange decision is that you start and finish in control of Abe. I understand his being used as a familiar face for the introduction of the gameplay but to sideline Munch for the final sequence (if you got to the last two levels of course) is baffling. His name is on the box, it’s supposed to be his story regardless of what had to be scaled back.
Overall, Munch’s Oddysee is playable at best. It doesn’t, and for one reason or another can’t live up to those games that came before it. Glad to have another story in a great franchise but the game itself becomes something of a grind to play despite not being all that difficult. Rescuing Labo(u)r Eggs is simply a slow, unsatisfying chore. Munch is a welcome character even though I didn’t particularly enjoy playing as him. I hope to find that Munch’s Oddysee HD fulfils the potential that the original should have had. The franchise deserves it and Oddworld should never have gone away in the first place.
1 As a bonus game, Abe’s Exoddus followed Oddysee in 1998 and improved on the original greatly but isn’t considered part of the Quintology. (Stranger’s Wrath and Hand of Odd are bonus games too, eff why eye.)
2 These are their spellings, not mine.