Freedom is an endless struggle.
We've all had one of those days when we're feeling really mellow, passive to the point of having a hard time getting past the living room couch. But this pales in comparison to the inert assertiveness possessed by many inhabitants of the aptly named Oddworld. From the original Abe's Oddyssey to its sequel Abe's Exoddus, the denizens of Oddworld are nothing if not...difficult.
The years have passed and we're all well overdue for a visit to the land of odd. In the case of Oddworld Munch's Oddysee, we get to meet a couple of Abe's new pals, the most important of whom is Munch, a macrocephalic, single-footed amphibian something or other, and one unfortunate-looking S.O.B. But while Munch is uglier than homemade sin, the game itself is easily the most vibrant and eye-pleasing title in the entire Oddworld trilogy. Huge, open and fully 3D environments are much more appealing than the previous side-scrolling Oddworld adventures. Too bad the actual gameplay leaves something to be desired, and oh my god, those damn Spooce shrubs (more on Spooce in a bit).
The Oddworld plots read like bedtime stories for environmentalists or wildlife preservers, and once again the apple hasn't fallen far from the tree. This time around the endangered species is Gabbits, Munch's fellow kinfolk. Used as the Oddworld equivalent of caviar, these succulent amphibians have been dined on to the point where only one Gabbit remains - Munch. In turn, he's on a crazed adventure (with the help of Abe and his Muddokon pals) to track down the last can of Gabbit giblet (well, maybe not giblet, but it sure sounds good, eh?)
The story is very typical for an Oddworld game, and while it's certainly cute and funky, it's also a little too similar to past games. But the plot only begins the ubiquity. Read on.
The bulk of the gameplay has you running around in these huge, detailed environments solving puzzles and collecting Spooce shrubs, which are needed to open doors and gateways. Why do you need to open these portals and such? Well, it's to save your less-than-grateful pals, of course.
The game is titled Munch's Oddysee, but it's as much Abe's Oddysee as it is Munch's since you will be switching back and forth between the two pretty evenly. Use Munch when you need to collect Spooce shrubs in the water. Use Abe when jumping and collecting Spooce shrubs on land. Come to think of it, the emphasis on Spooce is really out of hand. The puzzle elements always revolve around using your few abilities to get the Spooce to a door somewhere. I can't even tell you why these mechanical doors respond to old sweaty pieces of foliage that have been sitting in Abe/Munch's unseen pockets for the duration of a level.
And why the heck are all these Spooce shrubs laid out in perfectly uniform lines or circles? They could at least be growing on trees or crammed into the world better. Since you need Spooce at just about every turn in the game, it reduces much of the gameplay to this archaic Mario coin collecting crap (no offense, big guy).
As always, much of the game requires you to save your buddies; Abe saves Muddokon and Munch saves Fuzzles. At least this time around you get to rally and command Muddokons who can actually wield guns, which adds a bit by making them less wussy. Still, you have to find the right Muddokons and most times you're dealing with the lame, docile, channel-surfing Muddokons, not the Rambo ones. Maybe a little Tae Bo would toughen them up.
Thankfully the voice commands make a return, arguably one the coolest features the Oddworld games offer. Four commands are at your disposal: "Follow me," "All of ya!," "Wait here," and "Get 'em!" They may be few, but they are effective. The way your pals respond to your commands is entertaining.
Getting a handle on your Oddworld pals can be an annoying experience. The world is now fully 3D, but its beauty is nearly ruined by the frustrating camera. Players have complete control over the camera with the D-pad; on its own, however, the camera is useless. It stays fixed in one position until you adjust it; it never snaps back to the over the shoulder viewpoint. The result is you often running headlong into a mine, Slig or something equally hazardous to our odd friend's health. It is possible to adjust the camera while you're moving, if you have three hands with twenty fingers apiece. The camera could use a little more time in the think-tank.
But I can't find one bad thing to say about Munch's aesthetic value. She's one pretty little number. The light sourcing, textures and solar effects are surprisingly detailed. In addition, the character models are very well done with believable skin textures. The levels are large and creative and actually do a good job immersing you in the game. As advertised, the characters even have working eyeballs. This is certainly one of the better looking Xbox launch titles.
There are a few clever instances where the new 3D areas are used intelligently. This is best seen when controlling vehicles, robots and other mechanics. Further, the chutes that launch you to other parts of a level are much better represented in a 3D environment. The new look is definitely the brightest and most detailed feather in the Oddworld chapeau.
Another tip of the hat goes to the audio score. The music is cool and adds a lighthearted mood that is very fitting. But as always, the voice actor steals the show. Lorne Lanning, head honcho of developer Oddworld Inhabitants, performs the game's myriad voices, and he's great! As usual, expect to laugh out loud and have a good time in general with the goofy sound..
Oddworld Munch's Oddysee has been in the gaming news for a long time now. The first big surprise was its move from the PS2 to the Xbox. The second big surprise? It's not as good as we hoped. Abe, Munch and all their pals are hilarious, but the gameplay gets repetitive, what with all the Spooce collecting and somewhat uninspired puzzles. Though there's enough character and fun flowing through Mucnh's Oddyssey to warrant a try, it's a bit too much odd and too little interesting.