Though this isn’t one of my very earliest gaming memories, I still have a distinct recollection of playing on my cousin’s PlayStation as a kid and encountering Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee for the first time. I was fascinated by the visual style and the strangeness of the environment, but I can remember being quite confused by what the game was asking me to do. I had grown up with Mario and Sonic style platformers, and here was this strange game asking me to sneak around and talk to people in a methodical manner, rather than rushing through a level and jumping on the heads of my enemies. Abe’s Oddysee went back in its case in favor of something more child friendly and while those interesting visuals stuck with me, I never went back to the game.
When the chance to play Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty on the Nintendo Switch came up, though, I decided that now was as good a time as any to see if I could finally figure out what this game was all about. Turning on my Nintendo hybrid, I was surprised by the fact that New ‘n’ Tasty looked almost exactly how I remembered Abe’s Oddysee looking. Now, those of us who have gone back to a game that they might have played many moons ago will be fully aware of the fact that how a game looks in your head can sometimes be quite far apart from how it actually looks on screen, but New ‘n’ Tasty is a great example of how a remake can be made to meet that mental picture. English developer Just Add Water have done a great job of making New n Tasty feel authentic to the original but also current in the modern day, and this has caused my fascination with Oddworld’s visuals to continue, more than twenty years after I was first exposed to them.
One unfortunate aspect of Just Add Water’s devotion to creating an authentic Oddworld experience, though, is the fact that playing New ‘n’ Tasty does feel a little like you’ve gone back to a time where games didn’t go out of their way to making an experience feel welcoming to the player. There seems to be a bit of a lack of communication to the player of what you’re supposed to be doing or how you’re intended to do it, and while the checkpoint system can be fairly forgiving, there are still points where frustration can build purely because you’re not quite sure what you need to do to progress. On top of this, there are particular sections where your movements and actions need to be precise to the point where a single mistake can cause you to fail and restart a section.
Outside of these annoyances, I found that I was often willing to push through segments that I was struggling with in order to see what came next. Though the story of New ‘n’ Tasty isn’t especially engrossing, I found that the variety in the environments that I was travelling through was often enough to make me want to see the next level. Oddworld has always presented a visually interesting set of locales, and the improvements to the visuals here allows some excellent world and enemy design to shine. While there are probably some illusion-shattering inconsistencies that exits if you look a little too closely, the world of New ‘n’ Tasty feels valid and lived-in, and this goes a long way to making Abe’s journey and his quest to free his fellow Mudokons feel like it has some weight.
When I first played Abe’s Oddysee years ago, and even with my first few moments with New n’ Tasty, I failed to realize the fact that though the game presents the usual trappings of a side-scrolling platformer, this is in fact more of a puzzle game than anything else. You’re required to study enemy movements, environmental obstacles and exploitable features and the best way to both get to your goal and to potentially make your way back again. This is most clearly emphasized in the secret areas of the game, of which there are more than a few. There are certain levels that contain a number of these areas, and other levels that contain none at all, but if you want Abe to be successful in his quest for emancipation, then you’re going to need to keep your eyes open. These areas are some of the more challenging segments of the game, and require quick thought, solid planning and a good grasp of both the controls and the controller.
While playing Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty, it took me a little while to realize what was happening to cause me to feel a little off about the whole experience. I appreciated the world that I was in, I was intrigued by what later stages of the game might show me, and I was experiencing relief when I got past a particularly tricky section. However, it was this relief that made me realize what was going on: I just wasn’t having that much fun. Instead, I was almost constantly worried about making a single wrong move and losing progress or concerned that I was missing opportunities to rescue Mudokons (which can affect the ending of the game). Whenever I cover a game, I try to ask myself if I would still be playing if I didn’t feel an obligation to do so, and it was at this point that I realized that New ‘n’ Tasty wasn’t really giving me much in return for what I was putting in.
This was a difficult conclusion to come to, as it’s clear that the work that Just Add Water has done on the title is impressive both in terms of visuals and how authentically New ‘n’ Tasty adheres to the feel of the original. However, it’s also the case that at its core, New ‘n’ Tasty is built on a game that is now over twenty years old. While there have been some concessions made to appease a modern audience, the drive for authenticity has meant that a number of design decisions have been brought forward that the past decades of game-design progress might have done away with. For those looking for an update to one of their favorite games, New ‘n’ Tasty is a well-crafted update, but for newer players, there’s a decent chance that you might bounce off.
There are two sides to how I view Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty now that I’ve come out the other side of the experience: an objective appreciation for how well this updated experience is crafted and a subjective realization that perhaps this game hasn’t aged all that well. Visually and technically, Just Add Water have done an excellent job of making a 1997 title feel current and modern, but mechanically and in terms of gameplay, New ‘n’ Tasty feels firmly set in the time of the original PlayStation where games weren’t expected to welcome players in with open arms and where you were almost expected to prove your worthiness of seeing the latter stages of a title. Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty would be worth a look if you were fan of the original or are interested in seeing how a remake can breathe new life into a game, but you’ll need to be aware that New ‘n’ Tasty is very much a product of its original time.