When Lorne Lanning popped up on stage at Sony’s 2013 E3 press conference, I was shocked. Here he was, completely apropos of nothing, playing a slick looking reimagining of a classic puzzle-platformer that he helped create.
Well it’s 2014, and that game is now available.
Developed by Just Add Water and built on Unity, Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty is an example of a reimagining done right, by taking a critical eye to what didn’t work.
Instead of wholesale replacement of mechanics, existing ones are ironed out or appended to.
Combine this with a fresh coat of paint on an already quirky art style, and you feel like you’re viewing a lovingly crafted diorama of one of gaming’s most fondly remembered franchises (albeit with a few pieces haphazardly glued on).
At its core, not much has changed since 1997’s Abe’s Oddysee.
You play Abe, an enslaved ‘Mudokon’ working for his corporate overlords on Rupture Farms – a factory that turns all manner of wildlife into tasty treats.
After discovering that the main ingredient in the latest snack is your race, you find yourself on the run, platforming your way out of the facility whilst trying to rescue as many of your friends as possible.
All of Abe’s signature skills remain; chanting to open portals to free slaves (or to enslave the enemy), GameSpeak (the ability to communicate with other creatures and getting them to follow you), throwing rocks and grenades, and his standard running and jumping.
But what sets New ‘n’ Tasty apart from its original is how these abilities have been tweaked to create a game that lines up better with modern expectations.
Abe’s movement is no longer languid. Instead of feeling like wading through treacle, he can start, stop, and turn on a dime, as well as pick up significant momentum while running.
That’s not to say that it controls like an arcade platformer (you’ll still have to gingerly hop between mines and meat grinders), but reading animation priority is less of a concern here.
Speech has always been a popular part of the series (I’m sure everyone became well acquainted with Abe’s bodily functions by the end of Oddysee).
The ability to corral all visible slaves on screen with a single command has been added. This cuts down on the dull task of walking to each slave and petitioning them to follow you, as was the case in the original.
The throwing mechanic has also seen an update. Instead of throwing in a set arc, players can aim their shots with the right-stick.
This increase in granularity adds a level of leniency to the puzzle solving – you no longer having to stand in a pixel-perfect location to land a rock or grenade at a precise spot. Abe also comes equipped with an unlimited supply of bottle-caps that he can use to distract guards.
One of the smartest additions to the game is a quick save/quick load feature (something that I wish more console games did).
By simply pressing the touch-pad down you can save, and holding it down allows you to load.
The game already has an abundance of checkpoints, but sitting through a 6 second respawn animation (in a game where you’ll be dying a lot) gets a little tiresome, so I found myself jamming on the quick load button a lot.
Graphically, New ‘n’ Tasty is one of the most impressive downloadable titles I’ve seen on the PS4.
Gone are the sprites on pre-rendered backgrounds, with polygonal characters and environments taking their place.
With a saturated colour palette, high-contrast, and effective silhouetting, the game manages to feel like a moving picture book.
The action is no longer localised to single screens either, with a camera following Abe, sweeping back-and-forth over the myriad of environments you’ll encounter: grungy warehouses, arid deserts, and lush grasslands.
However, New ‘n’ Tasty isn’t completely without flaws.
The frame-rate is silky smooth, but becomes jittery and unstable as more particle effects appear on-screen (something which becomes a regular occurrence later). Some switches and other tangibles will bug out, forcing you to restart a puzzle section entirely.
Later on in the game, I could recreate a bug that would crash me to the PS4 home screen, or just lock up my system entirely.
Minor technical problems aside, Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty is a game that recognises the limitations and shortcomings of the original.
It addresses these, somehow making 17-year-old mechanics malleable, and shapes them into a mould that painlessly accepts contemporary production standards.
Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty is currently retailing on PSN for $33.95 (NZ) and is a 4.5GB download.
Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty
From: Just Add Water/Oddworld Inhabitants
Platforms: PS4, PS3, PSVita, Wii U, Xbox One, PC, Linux