There is, no doubt, a discussion to be had (of which I have no intention of having now) about the merits of remakes. Wherever you may stand on the subject, I think it’s fairly close to undeniable that the inception (BWAAAAM) of the Xbox One and PS4 has heralded a whole shed load of HD re-release hyper mega ultra editions of things we played six months ago.
One might also suggest that alongside the dirth of great original titles, this seems like a slap in the face, but let’s not have that discussion now either. In the mean time, if we’re going to go retro, then let’s do it properly.
The year is 1997. I have short hair and no beard. I was near the beginning of my degree, too, and as a poor student, I was very proud of my stereo that actually had a CD player. Hong-Kong was finally handed back to China, Princess Diana was mourned theatrically, Wales voted to devolve from UK government, and I had nary the faintest clue of how useful Wikipedia would one day prove. Wikipedia didn’t even exist.
Seriously… I had to use a library.
I was also graced with the friendship of some people who were extravagantly wealthy, at least to my humble eyes. Not only did they have a telly larger than 16″, they also had external AV sound and… a PlayStation. Not like your modern plastic and silicone crap, this was a computing engine built of leather and steam and fine walnut veneer*. Its futuristic laser disc storage was in the form of sexy, black obsidian glass and the labels gilded and illuminated by silent monks in a high monastery in the Andes**. It was a strange, wondrous and exciting thing. Games on the telly rather than at some distant PC. You didn’t have to load windows 3.1 before you could crank the games up. You could play with decent sound, because really, we were students, we couldn’t afford sound cards for a PC, even if we had a PC of our own, which I didn’t.
And amongst all this splendour, there was Oddworld: Abe’s Odyssey.
I never finished the game. Looking back, it seems that I must have sunk countless hours into trying to guide the hapless Abe through a world which definitively wanted him dead. The remake’s refined control scheme and quick save feature make it easier than ever to overcome some of the more tooth-wrenchingly difficult puzzles, but even so, it’s not a simple game. How I ever even got out of Rupture Farms in the original version, I can only imagine – many, many spare hours and a great deal more patience than I have now.
It helped, of course, that back in those halcyon days of the late ’90s, Abe’s Odyssey was a staggeringly beautiful game to behold… even to listen to. Fluid animations, full of humour, mixed with beautiful art which somehow transcended the small number of pixels available to become an engrossing, fully realised world. You cared for Abe and for his cohort of bumbling, genial, avuncular Mudokon brethren.
The remake, whilst perhaps not so special in these shiny days of Uncharted and Ryse, is a testament to how good the game looked originally. Rendered in full HD and with re-worked, sprawling, scrolling levels with deep, three dimensional backgrounds, my brain tells me it looks just as good as it always did. That’s rubbish, of course; it looks hugely better now, but the original, in its time, left such a strong impression of quality and so clear an image of the world it evoked that I cannot see the difference between what now appears on my PS4 and the PSX original in my mind.
More than the visuals, however, the sound effects have proven an unsettlingly powerful nostalgia trip. If you played the original, then I defy you to play the remake without a little flutter of your heart when you hear a ruthless Slig guard swearing at you, without a rush of relief at the sound of Abe’s chant opening a bird-portal, or without, my personal favourite, an indulgent little grin as Abe farts and chuckles afterwards. Noises that I didn’t even realise I remembered are recreated gloriously and transport me back to the days of beer and four-student Abe’s Odyssey sessions late into the night.
I find it tricky to comment on the remake without the rose-tint of nostalgia, but I’ll try. It’s a side-scrolling 2D puzzle platformer. Whilst much of what it manages was new at its birth, these days there’s little there that you haven’t seen done in a dozen other places, but Oddworld is a genuinely strange and charming place to visit. Character and humour drench the scenery, the creature design and the protagonists. However, make no mistake that the learning curve is steep and the difficulty occasionally punishing; if you want to see all of Abe’s journey then you will need a fair few deep breaths and regular meditation breaks. If you have the patience and the platform-chops to get through it, then you’re in for a treat. If you want a simple ride, then I fear you may need to look elsewhere.
For those of us who are old, however; those of us who remember queuing to use a payphone; those of us who didn’t get an email address until a computer science department gave us one – for anyone who played the original release, Oddworld: Abe’s Odyssey is a powerful and pleasing nostalgia trip. It still holds up as a fantastically designed, intricate puzzle game, but comes wearing a sheen of your childhood. The power of the memories it evokes is testament to quite how good the original was and it’s comforting to see that it is still as good and lovable an experience as it once was.
So, spike your hair, put up your un-ironic Arnold Schwarzenegger movie posters, hang your pager on your belt and give yourself a treat.
*:this might be a lie.
**:this is totally true. You can look it up.*
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