A few months ago, gamers were given the opportunity to revisit the Oddworld Universe for the first time since 2005 with Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty. Unlike Oddoworld Inhabitants’ later efforts Munch’s Oddysee and Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath, New ‘n’ Tasty harkened back to the gameplay of Abe’s Oddysee and Abe’s Exodus by giving gamers a new 2D (2.5D to get technical, but close enough) side-scroller that emphasizes puzzle-solving and platforming, rather than combat. I think there was a reason for this. Oddworld Inhabitants knew that it has been an entire gaming generation since they had last released a game, their most recent effort being the aforementioned and completely excellent Stranger’s Wrath. Oddworld Inhabitants made their bones with the side-scroller and New ‘n’ Tasty was their attempt at a fresh start at the beginning of this gaming generation in order to make their presence known among current gamers, to remind gamers that they were still around. I think it was also an attempt to introduce themselves to younger gamers, gamers who probably have no idea who or what Oddworld Inhabitants is. As mentioned before, Oddworld Inhabitants’ last game came out over 9 years ago. A huge chunk of the current gaming market were still in diapers while we were last hunting bounties as the mysterious Stranger. Oddworld Inhabitants’ knew this and they wanted these gamers in particular to know who they were at their core, and to do that they felt like they needed to get back to their roots, to what made them what they are.
Oddworld’s return is a most welcome one to me. I’ve written before about how important storytelling is in a game, and about how sorry the gaming industry (or at least part of it) has become content to forget storytelling altogether in games today. Having Oddworld back among the land of the living, so to speak, is a breath of fresh air in a generic and unoriginal gaming landscape filled with browns and grays. Oddworld Inhabitants is truly unique in their world building and their storytelling. But New ‘n’ Tasty is important for more reasons that just alerting young gamers to the existence of the Oddworld universe.
Gaming plots nowadays can reach some areas that really push the envelope as far as what we as an audience are truly willing or able to stomach. No game’s story has caused a stir in recent memory as big as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (the last Call of Duty game to actually bother with a story) did when it gave the player the opportunity to gun down as many innocent civilians as they wanted. Spec Ops took the trope of justified soldier righteously slaughtering untold masses and threw it out the window. New ‘n’ Tasty however pushes the envelope in a different sort of way, however. This is why you should care about Oddworld’s return. Rather than shocking the player into disbelief the way those games did, New ‘n’ Tasty is anti-capitalist and completely rails against monopolistic companies. Sure the Mudokons are both cute and ugly and the gameplay is seemingly innocuous, but at its core, New ‘n’ Tasty, like Abe’s original Oddysey, is a story about the little guy winning one over the big and overpowered corporations (granted he rescued 50 or more Mudokons that is). I think this game represents a shift in the gaming industry. With indie developers getting more chances to get their work out to the public everyday through means like HumbleBundle, Steam, and others, storytelling is making a comeback. Oddworld Inhabitants themselves are Abe fighting against the same lame games that are being rehashed and resold to the public for too much money. They’re using New ‘n’ Tasty to serve as a message to larger companies that while there is room for reusing good ideas (New ‘n’ Tasty is essentially a remake, after all) but offering the same mélange of lame shooters and bland action/adventure games with new coats of paint is unacceptable.
When Oddworld stepped away from the 2D world for the three-dimensional Munch’s Oddysee, the game received lukewarm reviews. Did that stop them? Absolutely not. Oddworld stepped out of their comfort zone and learned from the experience. They followed Munch’s Oddysee with Stranger’s Wrath which holds a score of 88/100 on metacritic.com and was nominated for and received numerous awards upon its release. Oddworld Inhabitants was once a big deal in the gaming world and while they may not be nearly as well recognized as they once were, their track record still gives them significant clout in the gaming community. They’re akin to the wizened old-timer who doesn’t talk much, but when he does everyone shuts up and listens. Oddworld Inhabitants are using their position as a well respected company within the gaming world to send a message to larger game publishers: give creativity and innovation a chance. New ‘n’ Tasty was the perfect game to release to get this message across. Here’s hoping that the gaming community buys into what Oddworld is selling (literally and figuratively). When games are given the type of care and characterization that Oddworld offers their games, the results can be staggering. Think about it. Do you want another game where you shoot brown people until you’ve saved America, or do you want a game where you shoot stun grenades that are really skunks and electric beetles at monsters from a crossbow and the citizens on the street are chickens who loudly complain about their pants being too tight? That’s an easy choice to me, and that’s why Oddworld matters.