GameFan: Munch’s Oddysee [2000]

Date: March, 2000

Source: GameFan, Issue 79, pp. 34-35

A Brief History of (Oddworld) Time

Nestled among the rolling hills and frolicking coeds of San Luis Obispo (SLO for short), Oddworld Inhabitants have quietly crafted two of the most underrated and unappreciated games of the past four years. For those that have had the pleasure of actually playing them, Abe’s Oddysee and Abe’s Exoddus are amongst the PlayStation’s finest. And while some lump them in as mere Out of this World or Flashback clones, if you’ve actually taken the time to delve deeper than mere superficial resemblance, you’ve been rewarded with two of the longest, most complex and utterly enthralling titles of the past half-decade. The fact that GT had some serious distribution problems getting both games to shelves in America didn’t help their cause (in Europe, Abe’s up there with Crash and Lara); still, those that persevered were quick to take note of what lay beneath the seemingly placid surface—specifically, those crazy Germans (more on that in a bit). Apparently, U.S. ‘journalists’ were too busy mastering the intricacies of FFVII to notice much, though.

Oddworld: The Next Generation

Let’s get some niggling details out of the way immediately, shall we? Munch’s Oddysee (as mentioned above) is the latest title in the Oddworld epic, a series of games that started life as Abe’s Oddysee, took a brief detour into Abe’s Exoddus, and is now back on track as one of the first U.S.-developed efforts toward Sony’s upcoming juggernaut. One quick note (lest I forget, later on): according to Oddworld, the PlayStation 2 spec is just powerful enough to convey their vision. That’s just a little something to whet the appetite—moving on…

The story behind Munch is as odd and wonderful as the one that prefaced Abe’s initial two exploits. It seems that Munch is the last of his kind; before he knows it, the insidious Vykers (a race of super-scientists) trap him and haul him away to a laboratory high in the sky. There they subject him to all sorts of not-so-nice tests (probes are bad—anybody else seen Communion?), and summarily brain wash him, and send him out to help the Vykers find other critters on which to experiment. Too bad for Munch he doesn’t speak very well… He has a tongue he can play like a recorder, which is fun, but it doesn’t make for the most efficient means of communication.

So, after being fitted as a Vyker lab rat, Munch is set loose on Oddworld to do his job—whence Abe comes into the picture. See, this time out, not only can you control Munch (who’s an ace with all sorts of mechanical devices), but Abe as well, who still possesses the ever-handy ability to control anybody that might do him some form of bodily harm. Together they team up to, well, save Oddworld from the insidious predations of… whom?

What Do Ya Got Under the Hood?

While the rest of the world is currently falling over itself, praising NAMCO’s latest titles (Tekken Tag Tournament and Ridge Racer V), I think that maybe it will change quickly after PR on Munch gets revved up. While Munch looks absolutely stunning right now, keep in mind that the target spec of the game is no more than 60k polys per frame @ 30 FPS… Do some quick math, and that’s approximately 1.8 million pps—doesn’t sound like much, given the proposed PS2 spec. Then ask yourself this: have you yet to see a game that looks this good running on any other console? And having mulled tht over, take another look at the shots littered about this page and tell yourself this is ‘only’ upwards of two million polys per second (you more jaded folks may want to check that you actually have a pulse). Now pick your jaw up, and join me in the next paragraph…

Shoot for the Stars

The only negative about Munch’s Oddysee might be the simple fact that the game’s design is too ambitious. To give you just a small idea of some of te things to be included in it, take a gander:

In one part of the game, your mission is to get a lazy, shiftless Glukkon promoted from lowly ‘pud’ (really, that’s what they’re called on the low end of the social scale) all the way up to ‘Glockstar.’ Not that there’s really anything unusual about a Glukkon being lazy or shiftless… Anyway, in order to accomplish this odd goal, you’ll have to find a way to get Lulu (the pud) from lowly gas station attendant all the way up the social scale, until he’s one of the bigwigs in the Glukkon hierarchy.

Naturally, this is supposed to benefit Abe and Munch in some way. But how you accomplish this is where things get interesting.

As was the case with the first two Oddworld titles, morality plays a very important part for Munch and Abe at the conclusion of the Oddysee. Sure, it’s easy to be a nasty little rotter, watch Mudokons die (at your own hands, in many cases), wreak havoc on the environment (oh yes, did I mention this game is ambitious?), commit other, random acts of wickedness and generally be less than a stand-up guy. But are you willing to? That’s the trick with Lulu; sure, you can send him rocketing up the chain of command with very little effort—but are you going to feel good about it in the morning? O.k., ‘maybe…

So Much to Say, So Little Time…

Due to the vagaries of last-minute printing crises, I’ve had to pare this preview down a bit from what I’d originally intended. The negative end is that you really have very little idea of how utterly amazing this game is going to be; just know that this lone example, featuring Lulu, barely nicks the surface of what could prove to be the deepest game of all time… More next month.