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SummaryThe only game in which even farting is classy
The GoodAbe's Oddysey is one of those rare games that truly create a world of their own. Both stylistically and gameplay-wise, Abe's Oddysey is a strong example of imaginative game design, and is a game I'll categorize without hesitation as a "must play".
Abe's Oddysey follows the legacy of the so-called Prince of Persia-style platform games. Among the most notable examples of this genres are the classic French platformers Another World and Flashback. Those are games that significantly reduce the more traditional arcade-like, reflex-based features of platform gameplay, focusing instead on careful exploration and puzzle-solving. Though Abe's Oddysey contains plenty of very fast sequences, in which good reflexes and timing are absolutely necessary, the real challenge of its gameplay is understanding the problem, and figuring out a correct way to solve it.
While in this approach towards the genre and its general gameplay thematics Abe's Oddysey firmly stands in the tradition of "PoP-like" platformers, the way it executes them and in the concrete solutions to the puzzles it is astonishingly original. In fact, a mere listing of the gameplay features of Abe's Oddysey should be enough to convince even a veteran gamer: this hasn't been done before.
For me, the core experience of Abe's Oddysey is vulnerability. The protagonist of the game is an almost pitifully weak creature who lacks any means of protection. Unlike all other action game protagonists, Abe is completely defenseless. The player must adapt to new situations and new dangers every moment, at every new screen. No problems can be solved by simply fighting. It is not even an option, because Abe is instantly killed whenever he tries to face directly one of the game's ferocious opponents.
But before you think this game is all about sneaking and avoiding combat and running away, you should know that those activities (though also present and required to master) are far from being the only ones. The amount of original gameplay ideas that found their way into Abe's Oddysey is simply stunning. Yes, sneaking is a valid option when you need to disarm a bomb near a sleeping Slig (though isn't Abe's Oddysey actually the first platform game to incorporate sneaking?..), as are precise jumping and mad running that are needed in some situations. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Abe can do so many things in the game that it almost becomes overwhelming.
Abe can throw items he finds in certain areas; grenades for damage, stones for distraction, and even meat to feed some overly aggressive animals. He can summon and ride a large camel-like creature called Elum, who will protect him from certain attacks and run past obstacles. He can hide in shadows, waiting for a Slig killer to pass, only to treacherously lead him to a point where he will be squashed by a heavy falling rock on the next screen. He can chant to possess enemies: after having possessed a Slig, you gain access to his abilities, which are completely different than Abe's; you walk around, maniacally laughing, shooting your fellow Sligs from a machine gun, and then committing spectacular suicides to get back to Abe's body!
Abe's Oddysey is very challenging. Though about halfway through the game you'll have learned most of your tricks, and the puzzles turn into combinations of previously used techniques, the game maintains astounding diversity, where each problem requires a unique solution, and no two levels are alike. This is particularly evident in the first half of the game. Your brain is always busy. Every level, every enemy, every situation requires careful, meticulous planning. Interestingly, sometimes there is more than one solution to deal with a complex situation. Certain objectives are flexible, with the player deciding how to tackle them. Most of the time, though, it is necessary to figure out precisely what to do, and how.
One of the game's most important features is communication. There is no "real" dialogue in the game, but Abe can communicate with other Mudokons using a series of simple words or noises, each assigned to a specific key. The endearing "Hello" - "Hello!" - "Follow me!" - Okay!" sequence is just one of the many things that makes the game instantly recognizable and so unlike others. And there is a key assigned to farting. You'd think it's just a cheap gimmick aimed at people without sense of humor, but it's not: farting can be used to attract enemies' attention, or as part of password sequences you'll have to learn in order to communicate with suspicious Mudokons. What other game lets you do that?..
A large portion of the game is built around saving the Mudokons. Abe can lead them to special "bird portals", which he is able to open by chanting, sending a mudokon through and thus saving his life. Note that I said "can", not "must". The whole "save Mudokons" gameplay element is completely optional! There is a total of 99 Mudokons to save, and the ending changes depending on how many you have actually rescued. This adds a level of morality and depth to the experience you would really not expect to have in an action game. Believe me, sometimes the choice is anything but easy. You can be a good guy and save everyone, but the deliberate silliness and passive nature of the Mudokons, as well as the dangers involved in their rescue, are pretty strong arguments in favor of to changing your mind and simply saving yourself. What do you do - risk getting killed while saving dumb anonymous creatures, or just run for your life? You don't want to dedicate so much time and effort to that... but then again, they are so poor and helpless...
Which brings me to what I think is really the greatest feature of the game: its ability to convey emotions. This is a game that can be very touching without having a single line of dialogue (well, unless you count "Hehe!" - "*low whistle*" - "*fart*" as dialogue, that is). Abe and his fellow Mudokons are presented in such a way that the player can't help but feel compassion to them. Watching Abe getting killed so many times just because the poor guy is unable to defend himself creates a kind of a special connection between the player and the hero, which, frankly, I haven't encountered in any other game.
The game emanates warmth and kindness; it is sweet without necessarily being cute. Abe's Oddysey is decidedly not one of those "cutesy" games that try to imitate Japanese console platformers. It is more similar to Heart of Darkness, in which deceptively "cute" movies were followed by scary and gruesome scenes. In fact, Abe's Oddysey has a dark and sometimes macabre tone. Sure, it is also humorous; but the humor here is very "black". Abe's constant deaths, while not particularly gory, are depicted with appropriate cruelty; the enemies are soulless brutes, and the whole setting is grim and merciless, with different races exploiting each other, the uber-capitalist Glukkons devouring other races (!), and no one to stand up against all that but our little Mudokon hero, which is also not exactly a saint; luring Paramites into beehives is hardly very altruistic. And yet the game is incredibly sweet. Who can ever forget the sight of a concentrated, serious Abe putting his strangely shaped hands together, focusing on the prayer, mumbling "yo, yo, yo, yo, yo"?..
With Abe's Oddysey, Oddworld Inhabitants created more than just a fantastic platform game - they've crafted a new world, which is as strikingly original as is its gameplay. There are elements of fantasy, such as the temples and the chanting, and vague elements of sci-fi (sensors etc.), but actually the setting can not be defined easily, and is certainly very unique (though it does remind me a little bit of the unforgettable setting of Little Big Adventure series). The story is also serious and sometimes shocking, involving issues like slavery, genocide, cannibalism (in a way), and a message to be brave, raise your head, no matter how weak you are, no matter how impossible the task may seem. Abe turns into a hero gradually; in the beginning, he thinks of saving his hide and not much more. It is also interesting that he, like the other Mudokons, was also involved in processing meat of other races into food; he panics only because his own race is about to share their fate. Later he shows penance for this kind of thinking by bravely going through the trials of Paramonia and Scrabania. But the opening reminded me of Pastor Niemöller's famous words: "First they came..."...
The BadAbe's Oddysey has one serious flaw: the inability to save wherever you want to. It's not as bad as in some other platformers (especially older ones), but I still strongly oppose this kind of policy. Just because the first Mario did it doesn't mean it should become a tradition. Abe's Oddysey is a game that requires very careful planning and utmost precision. It is frustrating to return to the start of the level just because you've thrown the meat at the Paramite at the wrong angle five seconds before you could run past him unnoticed and finish the whole thing. The gameplay in Abe's Oddysey is anyway very complex for a platform game; the limited save feature only adds unnecessary challenge to an already challenging game.
It might sound like a strange complaint, but I felt Abe's Oddysey was too long. It has huge levels that consist of many sub-levels, including giant areas such as the temples in Paramonia and Scrabania; not counting all those optional areas, some of which are anything but straight-forward. Unfortunately, the second part of the game, while still inventive and solidly built, sometimes feels needlessly repetitive and dragging after the thrills and excitement of the first half. By the time I got to Scrabania I felt there was really no need in having yet another huge temple with several "trials" you had to complete. The creators of Abe's Oddysey really put a lot of work into their game, in every way possible, but personally, I would have enjoyed it more if it were shorter.
The kind of gameplay Abe's Oddysey has requires concentration, patience, and dedication, and it can get tiresome to witness how slowly you are advancing and how much is still up ahead. The problem is perhaps the fact that the gameplay, no matter how imaginative and interesting, is always complex and challenging. Every area requires significant work, be it thinking or trial-and-error. And there is a lot of trial-and-error here. While absolutely inevitable in a good platform game, this kind of gameplay extends itself to great lengths in Abe's Oddysey. Certain levels (for example Paramonian Nests) require a complete study and understanding of every obstacle before you can seriously attempt to tackle it in one run. And unfortunately you have to tackle every level in one run, because you can only save between levels. Which brings us back to the first, and most significant, complaint...