Game Two of the Oddworld Quintology
Well That's Odd...
Welcome to Oddworld. If this is your first visit, find yourself a copy of Abe's Oddysee and get a handle on what all the fuss is about. If you're already acquainted with the illustrious Abe, get ready to meet our latest unlikely hero -- Munch the Gabbit.
The Oddworld Inhabitants development group released Munch's Oddysee in November, 2001 for the XBOX console (and it was therefore published by Microsoft). Although this is actually the third game from the Inhabitants, it is designated game two of the Quintology because Abe's Exoddus was effectively an addendum to Abe's Oddysee.
A Tale of Two Oddities
The story picks up an unspecified interval after the end of Abe's Exoddus. Abe has dealt a serious blow to the Glukkon industrial juggernaught, first shutting down Rupture Farms, and then destroying the SoulStorm brewery. He now enjoys something of a heroic status, and has been helping his newly liberated fellow Mudokons rebuild their society.
Meanwhile, we are introduced to Munch, last of the Gabbits. Gabbits are an amphibian species, with a large head, a tiny torso and one huge webbed foot which doubles as a tail. While they can use their foot to hop about on land, it is a slow and clumsy means of locomotion. In their natural element, the water, they are both quick and graceful. However, the Gabbits have been hunted to the verge of extinction by the Glukkons and their various cronies. Munch is the sole survivor, and the game begins with Munch's capture by the diabolical Vykkers.
Without giving too much away, the rest of the story revolves around Munch and Abe teaming up to achieve their respective goals. Munch needs to get his hands on the last existing can of Gabbiar (Gabbit eggs), and Abe is out to steal back the Mudokon eggs that Vykkers Labs have been stockpiling to sell as slave labour.
You've Got To Be Odding Me!
Much like the other games in the series to date, Munch's Oddysee combines strong strategy elements with some fast-paced arcade action. You wrack your brain trying to decide how to solve a problem, but when you try to execute your brilliant plan, make one mistake and you're geography! The mix is well-conceived. You are encouraged to do some thinking, as well as pump some adrenaline.
This game differs from the others by being the first to make use of two main characters, and by taking the world from platform view to a third-person, fully 3D environment.
The Abe/Munch duo leads to an intriguing kind of problem solving game -- you must learn to use the two characters as best suits their skills and limitations. Think Sam 'n' Max (you have played Sam 'n' Max, right? Right?). Control is by means of a "tag team" style of play. At any given time, you are controlling either Abe or Munch. Switching from one to the other is a mere button-push. Although the basic motion controls for both characters are similar, their special abilities are completely different. For example, Munch can take control of certain computer systems, thanks to the infrared port installed in his head while the Vykkers were experimenting on him. Abe retains his now-familiar (and very entertaining) ability to possess the enemy soldiers and do any number of awful things to them. After cleverly using them to surmount some obstacle, of course.
At first, I was skeptical that a game concept based around tightly limited parameters could easily survive the transition to 3D, but the Inhabitants have certainly risen to the challenge. The graphics are very attractive and detailed, but have not lost that slightly cartoonish quality that made the Abe games so charming. Movement controls respond with respect to the camera (versus with respect to the character's orientation), which is a little tricky to get used to, especially since the camera resolutely clips, and sometimes seems to have a mind of its own. However, all in all I feel the move to 3D was a success, and paved the way for far more interesting combat situations.
Critters With Odditude
There are two types of NPC available in the game for you to use and abuse. Mudokons will respond to Abe's commands (albeit reluctantly!), be they enslaved factory workers you are attempting to rescue, or warrior natives you are leading in the struggle against oppression. Munch can direct the Fuzzles, a race of tiny cutesy fluff balls which, when ordered to attack, turn out to have quite the vicious temperament, and a set of teeth to match.
In previous Oddworld instalments, the Mudokons were simply the clueless wretches you were called upon to save from certain death. But in Munch's Oddysee, they have an opportunity to exact some revenge. Your standard native Mudokon isn't much use in a fight, but in certain circumstances you will be able to upgrade them to Tomahawkers, fierce combat Mudokons equipped with gigantic clubs. As the game progresses, you can even upgrade Tomahawkers into Mudarchers, who wield the SpooceBow -- a weapon which is, to all intents and purposes, a highly accurate machine gun.
The Fuzzles are effective killers in large groups, but are very vulnerable. Since, if you are trying to achieve a perfect score, you will need to save all the Fuzzles, use them in combat sparingly.
May The Odd Be With You
I think Munch's Oddysee has done a fantastic job of continuing in the tradition of the series -- high quality gameplay coupled with the unique brand of humour that sets Oddworld apart in a games market full of poorly designed movie spin-offs. Its only drawback is its finite nature; being a purely single-player game, once you have completed it with a perfect score, there's nothing left to do.
That said, I had a great time playing this game, and I heartily recommend it to you*.
* Play the other two games first - not only is Abe's Oddysee one of the best computer games I've ever played, but the plot is sequential.