Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee

Version tested: PC Windows 

Other platforms: PlayStation, Game Boy, OnLive, PSN

1997 was a fantastic time in video game history.  We saw the release of the Nintendo 64, and 3D graphics were fast becoming the standard with releases such as Tomb Raider 2, Crash Bandicoot 2, Final Fantasy VII, and the first Gran Turismo.

One title stood out from the rest though, maintaining a classic 2D side scrolling look combined with beautiful backgrounds and character animation, with a unique take on gameplay which focused primarily on taking a slow pace and solving puzzles.  This classic was Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee.

Something New 'N' Tasty is coming & it's you!

You are the titular character Abe, a clumsy but well-meaning Mudokon slave working at RuptureFarms, which is said to be the largest meat processing factory on Oddworld.  While on the late cleaning shift Abe accidentally discovers details of a new meat product to come out of RuptureFarms – It’s him and his fellow Mudokons.  As Abe you must escape from this hell and rescue as many of his enslaved race as possible.

Abe’s Oddysee is not a fast-paced action game, and it can only loosely be described as a platformer as the main gaming element here is puzzle-solving.  The game pulls no punches from the start dropping you right in the middle of Abe’s escape.  There is no user interface and there is no heads-up display.  Navigation can be difficult through many of the stages leading to incredibly difficult gameplay.  The learning curve of this game could be likened to a brick wall, on a slight slant.

Often you will find yourself in sticky situations like this

The gameplay itself is still unique and good fun.  One necessity to finish the game is to utilise ‘gamespeak’, a mechanic which allows Abe to interact with other characters in the game.  Abe can lead Mudokons to safety, open up bird portals, and chant in order to possess armed enemies known as Sligs.

The game at times is an incredibly frustrating experience, often a lot of trial and error is required to pass certain screens, and often you find yourself learning the events of certain areas to pass it after 10 or 12 attempts.

Chanting enables you to open portals to save your friends

Most confrontations in the game require avoidance and cunning.  You will find yourself running away, hiding in shadows, pulling switches and making leaps of faith.  Some tasks require precision jumping and timing which at times can result in many rage quits.

Abe’s Oddysee does draw you back though, and it has so many redeeming features which will keep you coming back and drive you to finish the game.

There is a brilliant story being told here and instantly likeable characters that you want to guide to safety and share in their journey.  All the characters have a fantastic sense of humour too, enemy interaction is often hilarious and talking to other species in game is sweet and entertaining, such as meeting the ‘Elum’ which Abe teams up with later in the game.

The friendly 'Elum' adds a new level of gameplay

The sweet sense of humour in the game is also hidden in the backgrounds and makes use of loads of visual and audio gags.  A strange contrast to some of the in-game cut scenes which are extremely violent.

AS the game progresses Abe gains new skills which add another dimension to puzzle solving in the game which keeps it fresh and interesting.

Abe’s Oddysee is a cruel and punishing experience, similar to what our hero suffers at RuptureFarms, but there is a sense of achievement to be had when passing the increasingly difficult areas.

This is Abe and he is in trouble

Be warned though, this game has two endings and after all that hard work saving Abe, facing the bad ending is one of the most demotivating moments in gaming.

Abe’s Oddysee is an enjoyable and difficult gaming experience which is endearing and fun but at the same time a frustrating puzzler which will have you tearing your hair out.  This is a game which requires time and patience but will ultimately pay off.

I give Abe’s Oddysee a modest 70 for an excellent story and puzzle experience, but many people may not see it through to the end.

 

Benjamin Coren

 

Update 25/04/2012

Good morning retro gaming fans!

Sorry for the recent slow pace of updates.  We have several different pieces on the go at the moment, the next article will be with you shortly.

There is still loads to come and our games list is huge, if there are any titles you would like to see covered and featured on the blog, please leave the title in the comment box.

Look forward to hearing from you and keep your eyes peeled for the next article!

Ben c x

Psychonauts

Version played: PC

The critically acclaimed writer and games designer Tim Schafer boasts an impressive resume of games including Full Throttle, Grim Fandango, and the Monkey Island series, but one special title stood out and still stands today as a fantastic example of unique and fun gameplay combined with engaging and funny storytelling.

Released on most platforms in Europe in 2006 Psychonauts gained a huge cult following and was praised by critics but suffered with poor sales.  It has since been re-released and made available at GOG.com and Steam to an embracing reception.

In Psychonauts you take on the role of Raz, a young psychic who has broken convention and run away from the circus to become a ‘Psycadet’ or a ‘Psychonaut-in-training’.

Raz and his 'friend'

Events take place in Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp, which is really a cover for a top-secret government training facility.  As Raz you use your psychic powers to enter the minds of others and help them overcome the fears of their past.

The camp in which the story unfurls is fully explorable by our hero and acts as a hub to the main ‘action’ levels encountered throughout the games.  As the story develops in the camp, events later move into its surrounding areas, including a huge lake which is home to a giant lungfish and the disused insane asylum at the other side of the lake.

In order to enter the games ‘levels’ our hero uses a small door which he throws onto the heads of others to enter their minds.  Each of these levels is a beautifully designed and quirky masterpiece which reflects that characters fears, memories and personality.  For example the opening level is in the mind of a camp trainer and greatly resembles a war zone, a later stage is set in the mind of an insane security guard and the stage is full of hidden cameras and shady characters which are representative of his paranoia.

The Lungfish, pure horror

Each stage has its own unique flare and gameplay style, where some stages play like a 3D platformer; others require strategy and planning or exploration and problem solving in order to progress.

Enemies include the residents of these twisted worlds and annoyances called censors who exist to remove Raz from the character’s mind.  Each level ends with a huge boss battle which always requires a level of puzzle solving and experimentation in order to defeat the final lug.

Boss fights require creativity to win

A fantastic part of this game is the character development, throughout the game Raz can increase his Psi Ranking, and with each level of development Raz gains a new power, these include pyrokinesis, levitation, & psiblast to name a few, as Raz’s  ranking goes up the player can also develop these abilities making them more powerful.

Psi ranking can be increased by finishing action stages, exploring the world or by seeking out collectables in action stages.  In the character’s minds Raz encounters figments of their imaginations which can be collected to help improve his ranking.  Discovering luggage tags and reuniting them with their matching ‘emotional baggage’ will also help Raz gain ranks.

Psychonauts which is often hailed as one of the greatest games ever made truly is a unique and fun gaming experience.  If you have yet to play it, I strongly recommend getting hold of it immediately from either GOG.com or on Steam.  You will love its demented character’s and twisted world as well as its wholly enjoyable gameplay.  The story is genuinely hilarious and is incredibly engaging.  I found myself laughing out loud at some of the dialog and puns and some of the visual gags throughout the game are fantastic.

Making cows float with Napoleon is not the strangest aspect of this game

Psychonauts is an addictive experience and I was playing nothing else whilst I was focused on it.  Today very little of it has dated, the graphics are as colourful and cartoony as ever, the gameplay is still fresh and original and I look forward to the next mystery release from these developers.

Psychonauts you have earned yourself a mental 95.

Benjamin Coren

Pokémon Snap

Version Tested: Nintendo Wii Virtual Console – Originally on: N64

We’re all familiar with the Pokémon formula, top down RPG games where we get to go on an adventure capturing and battling a variety of little monsters that fit in our pockets.

Pokémon Snap was released in 1999 on the Nintendo 64 to a warm critical reception and offered a completely different gameplay style to what we were used to in Pokémon.

Players take on the role of a photographer hired by Professor Oak to put together a report on an Island about the Pokémon who reside there.  The player explores various regions including the beach, a volcano, a river, a cave, and a valley in an amphibious buggy named the Zero-One.

The gameplay takes place on rails and the player is moved automatically through the regions, the world is viewed from a first person perspective, and players control the camera and the various items at the disposal to manipulate the Pokémon and the environment to get the best possible photos.

We came to party

The game urges the player to experiment in each level by throwing apples, pester balls, or playing the Poké flute to change the Pokémon’s behaviour.  Often this leads to a lot of trial and error, testing out different ways of getting the Pokémon to move or evolve, or interact with others.

This level of experimentation is worth it to get the best possible photo of each Pokémon. Each photo is graded on the pose, size, and technique, bonus points are added for unique poses or for having more than one of each Pokémon in frame.  Strangely this is highly addictive and I often found myself going round courses again and again for another ‘hit’.  This game is more addictive than meth.

On some trips around a course you will find yourself launching pester balls into the face of every Pokémon with the hope of some sort of prize, half the time you just knock them out which raises a few questions about the ethical treatment of the Pokémon.  In one level, as far as I can tell you actually kill Koffings with pester balls.  Is this some sort of animal abuse?  My answer is no, as they are fictional creatures.

Level progression often requires you to solve some kind of devious puzzle which on first glance is not entirely obvious, for example knocking a Squirtle into a Mankey at a very precise angle so the Mankey hits a button.

It's like Fight Club, but with Pokémon

Later on the game becomes more humane equipping the player with a flute. Playing music offers different poses and triggers new events, you are also awarded with a dash engine letting you speed up through any level segment to capture any missing Pokémon in your collection.

Once all the courses are unlocked you need to return to each one to take photos of Pokémon signs which are cleverly concealed into the scenery of each course, capturing all of these unlocks the secret final stage which acts almost like a boss battle.

No spoilers here but this final stage features only one ultra-rare Pokémon which is remarkably difficult to snap, but a bit of experimenting should help you snap the prized photo.

Pokémon Snap has some good endgame content but is fairly limited, due to the small number of courses (there are only 7 to choose from) and also the small numbers of Pokémon, only 63 of the original 151 are included.

Pokémon love apples...so much

After all the Pokémon are snapped and all the courses are clear Oak issues challenge scores to beat on each stage.  To beat theses scores you need the best quality photos of all the Pokémon from each stage, making it remarkably difficult to beat this score on all the stages.

The final prize is a nice credits reel showing off all of your best photos.  Though graphically Pokémon Snap has not aged well the gameplay is still as fun and fresh as it was back in 1999. It has fantastic replay value and you will always find yourself going back to it.

The Virtual Console version does suffer from slightly clunky controls, but it includes a nifty little feature allowing you to share photos with your friends, which makes up for this.  The game is short and sweet and so I give it snap-tastic 75.

Benjamin Coren

The 7th Guest

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In 1993 there was a revolution in home computing and PC gaming.  CD-ROM was fast becoming a must-have piece of hardware for the PC and the killer app that drove people to upgrade was the horror adventure The 7th Guest.

The game was described as “the first interactive Drama” with beautiful high quality 3D graphics, the inclusion of live action video clips and its horrifying adult content. The game was a record breaker selling over 2 million copies. Bill Gates called The 7th Guest “the new standard in interactive entertainment.”

At only 6 years of age when this was released I was fully aware of the game but no opportunity came my way to play it, although I recall my dad returning from a tech convention of some description and mentioning he had played the game.  Jealousy overwhelmed me.

As an adult I was excited to get hold of this game recently and could not wait to explore the haunted mansion and find out who the 7th guest really is.

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Heads coming out of pots was terrifying in 1993

After the lightning speed installation I found myself in the chunkily rendered main menu (which is styled like a Ouija board).  At this stage I was petrified about clicking new game, what was in store for me?  Would I get possessed by playing this?  How scary will it be?  These thoughts all popped up in my head as the opening video began.

After sitting through the lengthy video which sets the scene we are introduced to the main antagonist, who is also my favourite character in this whole story purely for his back story.

The villain is a toy creator and entrepreneur named Stauf.   He murders a woman pretty much straight away, this unprovoked attack makes him sleepy so he has a dream about creepy children’s dolls, he makes the dolls and gives them to children, this business formula works out for Stauf and he becomes very successful.  With the amount of money he makes he builds a huge mansion outside of the town, judging from the size of the place he must have been the equivalent of Hasbro in 1935.  Anyway, at the height of his success some of the children with Stauf’s dolls become ill with an incurable virus, Stauf finishes his mansion and disappears.  Sometime later six people receive invitations to stay at the mansion and solve puzzles to receive their greatest desires.

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This is Stauf, the murderous toy maker

The game is played in the future from a first person perspective; you must solve all the puzzles and witness the events from the past to discover the secret of the house and the 7th guest.

The puzzles themselves are deviously difficult, they include dividing a cake up evenly, arranging random letters into sentences, to exploring an impossible maze.  Though difficult compared to puzzle games of today, the gameplay is very rewarding and the story is engaging and I found myself persevering to find out what happens next.  Almost every puzzle rewards you with a live action segment which is ALWAYS entertaining to watch.  After a lot of struggling with puzzles I did discover a book in the library which assists you in solving the puzzles although if it is overused there is a penalty on the final puzzle.

Exploring the mansion is great fun, and there is a genuinely creepy atmosphere which, despite the dated graphics still chills today.  Overall I found it an enjoyable experience and a brilliant gem from the days of CD-ROM gaming.  With the rise of gaming distribution sites such as GOG.com I won’t reveal any plot spoilers as the game is very easy to get hold of and run on high-end systems today.

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Playing chess against a ghost was harder than I imagined

For those wanting more, a sequel is also available entitled The 11th Hour which is set further into the future and has enhanced graphics and puzzles.

The 7th Guest is available at GOG.com for $9.99 (around £7) and is a recommended purchase, not just for the history lesson in early CD-ROM gaming but for a fun point & click adventure which still chills today. It can sometimes be difficult to see past the dated graphics though and the puzzles will test your patience with much trial and error, for these reasons I give The 7th Guest an honourable 70.

…for the record I did not get possessed playing this game.

Benjamin Coren

Return to Vice City

It’s been many years since I booted up my Playstation 2 and had a wander about Vice City.
The chances are if your reading this, you have played this, and if not you will probably know what it is.  If not, stop reading, go out, buy a copy, play it, then come back.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City puts you in the middle of a 1980’s clone of Miami, in the role of small time crook Tommy Vercetti.  You then explore this vast re-imagining of Miami, taking jobs  from crooked businessmen and pimps, as well as buying up all the property around town, and running your own businesses.
The brilliant thing about Grand Theft Auto: Vice City is how wonderfully it has aged.  The somewhat dated graphics actually compliment the retro feel that the game initially aimed for, making it as playable as it was the day it came out back in 2002.  For me the greatest enjoyment comes from playing through the exciting story and buying up the hot property around town, living in my own personal Scarface fantasy.
A feature Vice City was constantly praised for was its soundtrack, which seems to perfectly capture the mid 80’s.  Driving up and down Vice Beach listening to Crockett’s Theme (of Miami Vice fame) and classic Hall & Oates just seems to work, and I don’t think it will ever stop working.  At least until we see the rumored Vice City title to appear on the GTA IV engine, that is going to be SICK.
So today i think you should all dust off your old copies of Vice City find your memory card, and have a nice violent drive around town.
Personal recommendations for your visit:

  • Buy a gun
  • Steal a car
  • Pick up an e-prostitute
  • Kill her and take the money
  • Go on a hit & run rampage
  • Put yourself up at a good vantage point
  • Fight off the Police, SWAT teams, and the Army until you die
  • Then put it away, knowing you have done something right

I’m not surprised this game raised so much controversy on its release!
I have recently acquired an Xbox 360 so lets see what I can play in the coming week.
Vice City, you have earned a honourabe 85.

Benjamin Coren

(Originally published on Bashed Buttons)