Working-Class Hero

nnt107No matter the number of awards won or copies sold, it’s exceedingly rare for any game to stand the test of time. We look back on games like Goldeneye with nostalgic reverence, but the instant we fire up our Nintendo 64 and pop in the cartridge, our rose-colored glasses are snapped in twain. Even HD remakes, with their crisper edges, smoother frame rates and updated control schemes fall short of our ever-evolving standards. Just look at what the past decade did to Resident Evil; its nightmarish mansion was reduced to a haunted house, with hilariously awful actors spouting Z-grade lines about Jill Sandwiches and masters of unlocking.

When I say that Oddworld: New n’ Tasty feels like a game made in 2014, it’s one of the highest compliments I can give to a game of its age. Its original form, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, has been with us for seventeen years and counting, but New n’ Tasty sure doesn’t have any wrinkles or bags under its eyes. Over the 6 hours it took me to reach the end (and the weeks it turned through my mind), not once did “groundbreaking for its time,” the catch-all phrase when a beloved classic just isn’t doing it for you, even enter my train of thought. Whether it was an extraordinarily intensive effort to rebuild the game that nostalgic eyes sketched or a simple coat of paint, I could tell that it was something special without relying on years of accolades or historical breakdowns.

It doesn’t hurt that Abe himself is an instantly likable fellow. He can’t help but giggle at his own farts, cackles with glee when he implores possessed guards to explode, and has a proclivity for smacking his head on the nearest wall. He loves to narrate with rhymes, even if his vocabulary is basic, and his “aw, shucks” voice puts him in the same everyman category where Homer Simpson and Hank Hill reside. This bumbling, passive being is given a grave mission: his fellow enslaved workers are about to be the next product of a soulless food corporation, and it’s up to him to rescue as many as he can (preferably all) from the fate of a processed popsicle treat.

nnt103Obviously, Abe isn’t an ideal candidate for this job. Much like the first few Prince of Persia games, Abe’s lumbering movement has momentum; he can’t exactly stop on a dime, turning takes time, and he needs to get a running start before clearing certain pits. He can take a bit of punishment on the lower difficulty settings, but nine times out of ten, one brush with a bullet or the teeth of a vicious creature is enough to make him drop dead instantly. Aside from your chant and fart buttons, the touchpad in the middle of the DualShock 4 will be your new best friend, dedicated to making quick saves and quick loads. It’s indispensable for the many, many diabolical jumping sequences and puzzles peppered all throughout your journey. Even when I tore my hair out and screamed bloody murder over a particularly devious puzzle, it never compared to the elation I felt after conquering said puzzle.

But don’t think you’re in the clear just because you made it from point A to point B. You’re the hero foretold through an entire race’s culture, the Mudokon destined to free his brothers from captivity. Escaping from Rupture, enduring your trials and returning to tear it apart was certainly challenging, but it’s all too easy to get caught up in surviving and brutalizing the enemy without rescuing the workers. The Mudokon tribe never scolds you for leaving men behind in the moment; you forget to check one of the room’s corners, move on, and a sizable monitor in the background soundlessly counts another few poor souls as dead. It’s easy to mistake their silence for nihilistic acceptance when you’re enduring relentless tests of endurance and mettle, but being a half-assed hero comes with a price when everything is said and done.

Yes, New n’ Tasty is aggressively cruel. It asks you to steer a soft-legged wimp with a deft touch and face off against situations where the odds aren’t in your favor, all the while liberating TRIPLE the Mudokons present in 1997 (one of the rare cases where a remake is purposefully harder than the original). Even then, the world itself and its humorous, dark attitude miraculously justifies the ill treatment repeatedly dished out. Save for the fat cats at the top of the chain, not one resident of Oddworld has it easy, and when some gun-toting goon smacks them in the head, they move on. There’s a bleak strength to their steadfast attitudes, a sense that things are messed up, but that doesn’t mean they should give up or slack off. If even the lowly prisoner scrubbing the floors continues his thankless work after all the abuse, it only makes sense that you do them justice by rescuing every last soul you can, even if it means repeating the same section over and over until you get it right.

nnt106Besides, being trapped in a level doesn’t feel nearly as terrible when the level itself is exquisite. Just Add Water pulled out all the stops; Abe’s cartoonishly dark world looks even better in HD, filled with ancient stone structures and the bleak RuptureFarms. The frame rate doesn’t hold up as well as it should, even on a current-gen console (especially in a game involving the most precision of platforming), but in the grand scheme of things, it was still certainly playable. Slightly less forgivable are the signs plastered everywhere, sapping away elements of discovery in exchange for ensuring that you really, REALLY know exactly what you should be doing. You’d never be able to differentiate between a friendly or unfriendly pit without some of the signs, but when chantable fireflies, a tutorial popup and wooden sign are all barking the same orders, maybe it’s time to stop holding my hand as tightly.

That said, an overzealous safety program and unstable frame rate aren’t enough to keep me from wholeheartedly recommending New n’ Tasty. Abe’s freedom-fighting antics feel right at home between the Limbos and Super Meat Boys of the world, striking a lovely balance of solo journey and competitive, Mudokon-saving completionism. Oddworld is the rare classic that stands up, fights for its continued relevance and actually comes out smelling like roses. Just be prepared to face the consequences if you don’t rescue most of the 299 Mudokns; who said being a savior didn’t come with its own odd responsibilities?

New n’ Tasty is only available on PS4 for $30 at this time of writing, but PS3, Vita, Xbox One, 360, Wii U, PC, Mac and Linux versions have been announced, so it’s more than likely that the game will be on whatever you own in the near future.