Re-hashing an age-old classic can be dodgy territory – the HD versions of Silent Hill and Hitman standing out as shining examples as to why some things are best left in the past – but with Oddworld New ‘n’ Tasty, JustAddWater gets it right with its scintillating and cinematic platforming remake of Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee. By enhancing the visuals substantially to make the most out of PS Vita’s 960 x 544 display, and keeping intact the core gameplay design that made the original so popular in the late 90s, Oddworld New ‘n’ Tasty is exactly how a reboot should be handled.
It helps, of course, that the source material was pretty darn good to begin with. Taking place in meat-processing plant, Rupture Farms, Abe and his Mudokon race have worked as slaves for many years, and their future has took a turn for the worse when they learn that they’re next on the menu. That means it’s time to escape, and sharpish! Abe is a character that you immediately empathise with, with his malnourished, skinny frame and big, sad eyes emphasising his current plight. Abe’s quirky mannerisms (he likes to burp and fart to communicate with fellow Mudokons) throughout the game only serves to make you fall in love with him even more, while the back-story and cutscenes do well to strike an emotional chord as Abe battles against diversity with his survival instincts alone.
Yet it’s even more impressive this time around thanks to a makeover that makes it worth a revisit for original fans, as well as a real treat for new players – this is much more than a generic upgrade for the current generation. The visuals, upgraded to 1080p, with the 2D backdrop of the 90’s version overhauled in favour of crisp 3D visuals, gives added depth, colour and vibrancy to the environments, while new sweeping camera movements gives Oddworld a cinematic tone that really adds to the story, and enhances the gameplay.
Yet, New ‘n’ Tasty will still feel instantly familiar to fans of the series, with the side-scrolling gameplay itself refined, but puzzles left untouched. In the role of Abe, the aim is to escape Rupture Farms by bypassing security and solving navigational puzzles in order to progress through the various stages. Abe does this largely with his wits, sneaking around past sleeping Sligs, throwing rocks to create distractions, and pulling levers to open up trapdoors or activate mechanisms to send his former rulers to their grisly deaths.
New ‘n’ Tasty elevates gameplay above many similar titles in the genre with its cast of alien characters. While the hunched-up, stocky frames of the squid-like Sligs methodically patrol the corridors armed with machine guns, the menacing figures of Slogs (the alien equivalent of enraged Pit Bulls) get ready to pounce on Abe and tear him to shreds. Crab-like centauroids called Scrabs fight each other and anyone who stands in their path, while the freaskish six-fingered Paramites hunt in packs waiting patiently for their prey.
Each enemy-type in New ‘n’ Tasty plays by its own rules and has pre-determined characteristics that Abe has to learn in order to work out how to get past them without being torn to shreds, and from the very start it’s an immersive challenge where players are encouraged to think before rushing forward, studying enemy behaviour and surveying the surroundings to determine the best route past every threat.
Level design is superb, with areas such as the Stockyards, Scrabania and the Free-Fire zone introducing creative gameplay opportunities and fresh challenges. One of those challenges is attempting to rescue fellow Mudokons while ensuring you don’t kill them in the process. Players can communicate with other Mudokons using Gamespeak to mimic them to unlock the next area, and it’s highly amusing letting off a series of burps, farts and whistles before being given the go-ahead to pass.
Abe can command Mudokons to ‘follow’ or ‘wait’ too, which introduces a further layer of strategy as you attempt to bring your buddies to safety while avoiding the game’s numerous traps. Such is the way that JustAddWater builds up the empathy between player and this downtrodden alien race, that rescuing Mudokons really does matter to you. When one dies, a part of your soul dies with it. It’s this relationship that you build up with Abe and his plight against his evil wardens that makes New ‘n’ Tasty a game that stays with you long after you’ve played it.
With a host of creative ways to get through each level, New ‘n’ Tasty boasts many tactical layers that really get you thinking. Abe can chant to possess Sligs and control them, perhaps choosing to turn their own machine-guns on each other, or perhaps you’ll toss a rock with precision to set off an explosion, or use the unlimited supply of bottle caps to create distractions. Though sneaking through the shadows, and timing your runs past enemies to perfection, are extremely satisfying techniques when mastered, there’s enough gameplay variety throughout the 15 levels to ensure that there’s rarely any moments of boredom.
Nevertheless, New ‘n’ Tasty isn’t quite perfect. Abe’s movements can feel a little restricted and cumbersome. It’s extremely easy to miss a jump, for example, or run into a wall when you were trying to leap for the ledge above; Abe isn’t the most graceful of movers. Then, there are some sections that are extremely unforgiving, resulting in multiple deaths and punishing you for the smallest mistake. With that in mind, it’s extremely likely that some players may resort to watching a walkthrough of the game just to get past certain areas and alleviate the frustration.
In summary, New ‘n’ Tasty is a gem of a platformer. The back-story draws you into its expertly-crafted game world, while the new visuals pop out of the screen and bring the environments bursting to life. Gameplay challenges and entertains in equal measure, and throughout the journey it’s hard not to fall in love with Abe all over again. New ‘n’ Tasty may be a game that is now 17-years-old, but it’s proof that with a bit of tender love and care, there are some classics that can still stand their ground on modern consoles. This is one that goes above and beyond what was expected.