- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2014

An old, floor-waxing pal of mine returns in a rebuilt universe to shine on Sony’s latest entertainment console in the side-scrolling adventure Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty (Oddworld Inhabitants and Just Add Water, rated Teen, reviewed with PlayStation 4, $29.99).

Before we take a deeper bite out of this juicy remake, I’ll offer a bit of history here. Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee existed back in 1997 on the original Sony PlayStation and was just one of the stars of the emerging entertainment console. Its release won awards at the time and offered some of the best-looking graphics ever developed for the puzzle-platforming gaming genre.

Using the original as a blueprint, developers have now added high-definition visuals. They tweaked the environmental obstacle effects and camera perspectives to give the two-dimensional action a freshly stunning and smooth three-dimensional flavor.

They also made the decidedly difficult game easier to save with extra checkpoints and tossed in a few altered mechanics to sweeten its return.

The result is the same irresistible mix of very challenging escape conundrums delivering about 10 hours of action and all set in one of the most beautiful, yet oppressive sci-fi landscapes.

A player first takes control of janitorial slave Abe at the meat-processing plant Rupture Farms.

The lanky, bipedal being with a vocal range ET would admire (who could be a distant cousin of Jar Jar Binks, sans the obnoxious personality) accidentally stumbles upon a corporate meeting hosted by owner Molluck the Glukkon.

He learns that his species, the Mudokons, are next on the product list as a main ingredient for the greedy bosses’ snack-food empire.

Abe’s “Soylent Green” epiphany translates into not only the urgency to escape but also to save his fellow workers as he explores a sterile workplace, stockyards, ancient ruins and forested as well as desert surroundings on Mudos.

Now it’s up to the player to get our reluctant hero to safety and escort as many of his brethren as possible to freedom by chanting to open up portals.

Abe’s movement arsenal mainly includes jumping, tip-toeing, climbing, riding (on a cute bipedal lizard called an Elum), crawling, rolling, pulling, teleporting, bottlecap and rock tossing, hiding in mist and disarming or using bombs.

He’ll need to avoid a variety of aggressive creatures such as horned scrabs, gun-toting sligs, pesky bees, fanged paramites and razor-toothed slogs during his journey

Abe can also eventually control the weaker-minded enemies, mostly the sligs, causing them to kill their comrades and then overload their brains until they explode.

One of the more endearing parts of the action allows Abe to communicate with his species. Through a handful of vocalizations (more than in the original game), he can whistle, extend a simple hello and ask them to follow him or stay put.

Of course, his digestion system is very upset at the thought of his demise and a player can, once again, elicit a giggle from not only Abe’s brethren but the audience as he, pardon the French, “let’s one rip,” on command. At points the combination of whistles and ripping created quite a bizarre musical symphony as the Mudokons engaged.

A misnamed co-op level also exists that allows players on separate controllers to take over the action every time Abe perishes. Once brought back to life, each handler gets a turn to try and extricate him from one of the many dicey assortments of conundrums.

Although a welcomed nostalgia trip for old-timers like me, Just Add Water has lovingly really rebranded Abe for the next generation of gamers. Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty is a compelling slapstick fantasy of the macabre even more enjoyable than its original iteration.

I’ll also reinforce that the game is just as mind-numbingly difficult as in 1997. When a mistake in strategy is made, and it will happen often, a player will learn quickly the frailty of the Mudokon body when pitted against meat grinders, attack dogs, spiked boulders and mines.