Sunday, 10 August 2014

Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee HD Review

Well, I figured it might be worth trying to do another video game review, so here's another game in the Oddworld series. I know this might be a small range of games I seem to be tackling, but, really, I feel that, if I were to properly do video game reviews, I would really need to do video reviews of them to make my points more accurately and I don't have any way to record games at the minute, so I'm sticking with video game reviews as an occasional thing unless I get a DVD player that can record footage from the TV or a computer that I can hook my PS2 or PS3 up to and is capable of recording my gameplay off of it.

Plus, I really like the Oddworld games.

Anyway, Munch's Oddysee is the third game that Oddworld Inhabitants have released, coming out exclusively on the XBOX when it was originally released in 2001, and was the company's first 3D game (Abe's Oddysee and Abe's Exoddus were 2D, with a few moments that played about with that), as well as introducing the character Munch to the Oddworld games, along with a few newer things. When it originally came out, it gained reviews of between 7 and 8 out of 10 by a lot of games magazines and was pretty much one of the killer apps for the XBOX upon release due to it being one of the first games released on the system.

...Well, let's see if it stands up now!

Let me start with the stuff that I feel the game does well: the puzzles are actually fairly good, for the most part. They do wear themselves out over the course of the game, but you'll usually find the levels are very enjoyable to play through. Some of them are a bit infuriating (if you want to rescue all of the Mudokons in some levels, you better be willing to use save scumming) and some of them had me coming up with solutions that had me wondering whether I was playing the game the way the developers wanted me to (in one level where I had to rescue all of the Mudokons, I simply abused the fact that Abe could respawn infinitely and just charged at the Sligs and beat them up until they were all dead...and it was only AFTER I'd done that when I found myself going "Was I actually meant to do that?"), but, for the most part, the puzzles have one solution that is fairly easy to work out what you need to do to get to it and the challenge is doing it while saving everyone. Which is maybe not the most exciting thing for a lot of people more used to playing stuff like Portal or far more complex puzzle games, but, for a game that is somewhat like a 3D platformer with puzzle elements, it's a fair enough way of doing things.

The second is that the high quality voice acting the rest of the Oddworld games is known for AND the visually impressive art style that the series has is not only still intact, but manages to transfer fairly well into the 3D environment of the game. While I think the graphics here don't really do the art style justice in the same way that they did in 2D (and it's certainly not as well done as Stranger's Wrath would do it), it's still very impressive to look at!

The third is the new additions to the Oddworld series' creatures. While they are not quite as distinctive as the creatures from the 2D games, they all manage to fit in with what you'd expect from the Oddworld games and the more cybernetic creatures that crop up in the later levels do manage to showcase that there's a lot more variety to the inhabitants of Oddworld than we previously thought.

The fourth is the difficulty of the game. When you get the hang of the controls (which can feel a tiny bit weird at first and are still a pain when you've moving through narrow areas), the difficulty is enough of a challenge to make every level feel worthwhile, but rarely gets so difficult that you'll get outright annoyed at the game. Some of the larger levels could have done with a few more respawn locations, as you will sometimes have to make a noticeably long backtrack just to get Munch or Abe back after they die, but, for the most part, the levels are about the right length for what you'd want from this kind of game: just long enough to make you feel like you've accomplished something through getting through it, but not so long that you'll be going "OK, this stopped being fun about ten minutes ago".

I must also give credit for how different the game manages to make Munch and Abe, as much as I don't like playing Munch much from a player's perspective. Each character has their own strengths which make them good for doing certain things, which means that it's very rare when you'll find yourself completing a level (once you have both of them together) without using the other one to do so. This actually has me wondering why two player wasn't implemented into the game, as I think it is a game which could have done it rather well!

Unfortunately, there are several flaws in the game which make it a noticeably weaker game than any other game in the series. Most of them aren't serious issues, but I do feel that this issues are enough to make this my least favourite game that Oddworld Inhabitants have made stuff far.

The first one is the story. Now, I'll be fair, the story is fairly good (for a video game: we're not exactly expecting a game to match the complexity of The Lord Of The Rings here!) in the cutscenes, but it's really, REALLY repetitive for the actual gaming parts. After you rescue Munch and take him back to the Almighty Raisin (yes, that's really his name), the whole game pretty much descends into simply getting Abe and Munch into a facility, rescuing the Mudokons and Fuzzles scattered around the place, possessing Glukkon's to make them donate to Lulu's Fund, that's pretty much it. The game keeps feeling like it's building towards something, but it doesn't really pay off when you do get to the end of the game, which is a huge shame. I know I shouldn't say something like "I expected a better ending for this game", as the ending we do get is not necessarily bad by any measure, but what ending we do get just doesn't feel like it's worth the build up...and, bear in mind, I got the good ending (not the perfect one, but that's not hugely different from the good one, from what I've heard) and I'm still saying this! If I had got the bad ending, I would be able to understand getting a less than satisfying ending, as it would genuinely be all my fault that I got an ending I'm not satisfied with due to me being an asshole to the people who I should be rescuing, but, when I put in the effort to try to get a good ending, I would kind of like to get an ending that I feel was worth putting the effort in to get!

The second (as vaguely mentioned earlier) are the controls. I wouldn't say they are awful, as they are generally fine and feel fairly receptive, but walking in really narrow spaces and jumping require some getting used to for you to judge accurately. When walking in really narrow spaces, you'll nearly always find yourself having to move REALLY slowly and only running when you have to jump over a gap in the really narrow space because, if you run in a really narrow space, you'll nearly always end up falling off due to just how awkward the movement is in those moments. Most of them are over places which are easy to get back to and don't kill you if you fall off, at least, but, if you haven't got completely used to the controls, expect to fall off these places more than you want to. This isn't helped by the fact that, if you are standing on the edge of something like a cliff, Abe will literally stand on the edge at an 45 degree angle, which will screw you over if you're not used to the controls. For the jumping, the issue is that it's hard to control your jump once you're actually in the air: if you were moving at a noticeable speed when you jumped, you'll keep moving at that speed and in that direction, but, if you weren't moving, you'll find that trying to make Abe or Munch move in any direction results in minor adjustments at most. While you could argue that the company were going for realism, it makes jumping up to some platforms rather difficult. Easily the most aggravating is in one level where you have to jump up to the top of a circular tower that is mostly over water via tiny platforms that are very easy to miss and, if you try to do it at speed, you'll nearly always end up falling into the water. And you have to do this TWICE in the same level (via two different towers). Even if it weren't for the fact that this level has a suspiciously small number of respawn points and, if you're unlucky, will need to collect Abe from the respawn point at the start of the level when you're more than halfway through it, this would easily rank as the most annoying level in the game by a rather good measure.

The third is that, by having Abe and Munch able to respawn infinitely so long as one of them stays alive, a lot of challenge is lost from the earlier games, especially because defeated enemies do not respawn if only one character dies. While I can get what they were going for and I know that they couldn't cut out Abe's ability to respawn due to having established it in Abe's Oddysee and Abe's Exoddus, I feel that this means a lot of potentially really challenging moments are noticeably less difficult that they might have been had there been an in-game explanation for why you can't get a character back in the middle of a level (or even having the death of one character result in you having to restart the whole level again), as it's very easy to use the infinite respawns to brute force your way through challenging moments. It also takes away a lot of the tension from the game, as it means that having Abe or Munch die is an inconvenience at worst: you'll rarely find yourself unable to get back to a checkpoint and, if you play the game smartly, you'll nearly always leave the character who you aren't currently playing as near a respawn point anyway, so a lot of the tension that should make you want to avoid letting characters die disappears very quickly when you realise this.

The fourth issue is that I feel that the Mudokons, when you use them to attack, could have done with some more variety. I know this is going to sound like a really odd complaint, but I feel that the ability to upgrade Mudokons to become close combat experts and then ranged weapon experts is actually not a good idea, as there's an obvious preference to just making Mudokons able to shoot because nothing can then touch them unless it can shoot back! I kind of feel that there should have been a negative side to upgrading a Mudokon and make you only able to chose one upgrade or the other, but make you able to do it for free if you find an upgrade point so that you have to think about whether you want to make the upgrade or not: maybe make the close combat experts have less health compared to normal Mudokons and make the long range shooters cause little actual damage? That's just an idea and is probably not what Oddworld would have wanted to add to their game due to it adding tactical elements to the game that probably don't need to be there, but having an obvious choice of what to upgrade Mudokons to become feels kind of unnecessary. Luckily, it's not something that crops up a huge amount, but I still feel that having this variety and tough questions to think about would have made the game a lot more interesting.

The fifth issue I have to bring up is that the A.I. can be kind of dumb at points. For the most part, it's fine, but it's really easy to abuse it into making dumb decisions (enemies will try to follow you in a straight line if they can see you, so it's VERY possible to trick enemies into walking into waste recyclers by angling yourself so they will run into the entrance of it, as they won't try to run around it) and it also appears to have enemies who, when hit with an explosive, will return back to where they were previously standing if they don't see you, meaning that it's really easy to cheat when you have explosives by just sneaking towards them with an explosive and then making sure you duck behind something so they don't see you. Since most enemies won't actively look for you if you disappear from their sight AND won't react to seeing either Abe's possession orb come near them or a companion getting picked up by a crane, this means that I have to question just how intelligent the A.I. really is, as it will have everyone return to where they were previously rather than continue searching for the obviously dangerous enemy who they've seen. For a game in a series legendary for the high difficulty of instalments, this is something that I would have expected them to do.

I also have to admit that I'm not fond of how Munch controls as a character. He can't attack without a temporary power up (although, to be fair, he is basically a fish with a huge head and tiny hands), he can barely jump without a temporary power up (although, again, basically a fish with a huge head and tiny hands) and his movement speed is really too slow to make him effective on land without a wheelchair. I'll be fair, he's not useless, but it's fair to say that he is a character who really is kind of weak on his own. Maybe that was the point of the character, but there's a difference between "weak enough to need support" and "mostly useless" and Munch leans a BIT too close to the latter for my liking. Let me give you two examples of characters so you can spot the difference between the characters to help you spot why I feel he leans a bit too closer to the latter than the former: a mage who specialises in healing and has poor combat skills in a RPG is a character who you would expect to be useless in combat, but they're still a useful character in their own right due to their healing magic and no doubt have their own strong defensive magic which means that they won't win a fight on their own, but they would be very good at surviving fights and their healing magic would make them and their team hard to kill if they can get away from the encounter alive. That is a character who I would say is weak enough to need support: they won't do well on their own, but, as part of a team, they are invaluable. By contrast, a character who literally cannot attack and has no advantages to make up for that without some sort of magically ability bestowed upon them by another character is a character who is a HUGE drag on the team they are part of, as the only way they'll be useful at all is as a human shield. Munch isn't QUITE as bad as the second example due to the fact that he is the only player character who can swim and he is the only character who can communicate with Fuzzles, but he's still not a character who is especially useful on his own and I feel he drags the game down a bit. Maybe Oddworld Inhabitants were going to correct this in later games in the series of games, but, as he stands in this game, I just find playing as Munch to be a chore. If Oddworld Inhabitants and Just Add Water correct this in later games (or even take on board all that I've said and use that to improve their future games to make them into the classics that I hope all of them will be...although I have a strong suspicion neither of them will even find this, let alone read it, so I'm not holding my breath on that one!), then that's great!

So, overall, what do I think of this game? Well, there's some really good stuff about it, but I feel there's maybe a few too many issues that drag the whole experience down for me to really recommend this game. If you like the Oddworld games (like I do), then you'll find this an essential experience to play because, well, it's Oddworld, but, if you're not familiar with the Oddworld series (for some reason), then you might want to go for either the first two games with Abe in them (Abe's Oddysee and Abe's Exoddus) if you like playing nostalgic old games from the glorious 2D gaming days of the PS1 (and the Game Boy Colour), Stranger's Wrath if you want a more modern gaming experience (if you want to read my review of the game, you can find it here) or New 'n' Tasty if you want to see what the first game would look like if made today (hint: it looks BEAUTIFUL, from what I've seen of it) and have a PS4. I wouldn't say Munch's Oddysee is for die hard Oddworld fans only, as it is still an enjoyable game and, when you get it as part of the Oddboxx, you'll almost certainly not be complaining about the price of it, but I wouldn't recommend starting with this game if you're not familiar with Oddworld already.

Also, a small thing for you guys to note: I'm still giving this a fairly decent rating, despite saying that it's my least favourite game by Oddworld Inhabitants. If that doesn't say a lot about how good these guys are, I don't know what does!

Final Rating: 6 Out Of 10

An enjoyable game that, unfortunately, doesn't live up to the standards of excellence that the other games by the company have. If you've not already got this, then you're not missing a huge amount if you don't pick it up, but it's definitely not a bad game, just not up to the standards set by Oddworld Inhabitants with their other three (or four, depending on how you count New 'n' Tasty) games. I would personally recommend getting it as part of the Oddboxx, as you'll at least have the rest of Oddworld Inhabitants' games to fall back upon if you don't like this, but it's still a decent enough game that it might be worth picking up on its own if you're really curious about it!

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