Release Date: September 24, 2003
It seems Microsoft isn’t against releasing games for competing company’s consoles as plenty of their big-name properties have been ported over to Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance. It does seem, however, that they are against releasing games that are actually fun to play for the handheld. Which, in the end, means that the big M and company see a tidy profit from quickly-developed GBA games while also ensuring that nobody actually buys the console just to play them. Coincidence or cutthroat tactics? You decide. Anyway, this latest THQ game, Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee, is essentially a remake of the Xbox launch game of the same name. But minus the glorious 3D visuals, over-the-top humor, and satisfying length. Oh, and it isn’t fun, either.
The story in Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee is centered squarely on the game’s two main personalities: Abe, a Mudokon former slave; and the titular Munch, an aquatic Gabbit alien and the only one of his kind. The plot is certainly on the confusing side, especially if you’ve never played any of the previous Oddworld games. But suffice to say Abe is the most famous of all Mudokon and considered a savior among his people. With the help of Munch, Abe will attempt to thwart the evil plans of the Glukkons, whose purpose it is to enslave Abe’s race. The Xbox game was able to pull this story off with aplomb thanks to plenty of spoken dialogue and realized environments. The GBA game, however, with its poorly rendered static cut-scenes and horribly written text dialogue, doesn’t stand a chance in Glukkon territory of efficiently purporting the tale.
Instead of taking the safer route, which would have been to make this game a traditional sidescrolling puzzler in the same ilk as the PS1 games, the developers opted for a very bad emulation of the polygon-heavy Xbox title. Big mistake. The Xbox game was generations beyond that of the previous Oddworld entries in every conceivable aspect, so as you might guess, Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee fails miserably. Each of the game’s 12 levels are large puzzles that need to be solved in order to progress. Taking a queue from the Xbox game, players have the ability to switch between Abe and Munch as the situation dictates. Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses so acclimating yourself with their uniqueness is vital to success. Eventually, you’ll be pulling levers, activating transporters, and moving platforms like a lever pulling, transporter activating, platform moving machine! Yeah.
Using each character’s specific powers to overcome obstacles sounds like a great gameplay dynamic, and it is, on the Xbox version. Here, though, the finicky requirements for taking advantage of special abilities and ambiguously rendered environments are anything but conducive to anything even approaching the word great. Abe can run, carry objects, recruit other Mudokons to fight enemies, activate switches, and take control of enemy Glukkons with his chanting ability. Munch, too, can enlist the help of his respective race, but can also control moving platforms, take remote control of robots, and swim. Often the key to solving any given puzzle in the game is not immediately apparent, trial and error are definitely your two best friends in the game. And with friends like that, who needs enemies, knowhamsayin? You’ll need to activate multiple switches simultaneously, throw friendly creatures to areas that you cannot reach, and basically just experiment until something clicks.
The levels themselves do nothing to offset the seemingly random nature of the game’s objectives. From a design standpoint they are dull and oftentimes featureless and from a technical standpoint they are generic and uninspired. The 2D semi-isometric perspective, from which you are forced to play the game, makes judging the depth of your surroundings an exercise in guesswork. The areas where Munch is needed are a bit better than the flat, plain-like environments that Abe is restricted to. You’ll often need to traverse multiple types of environments when controlling Munch, such as underground corridors, soaking sewers, and platform-centric obstacles.
Visually, Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee is far removed from the impressive presentation of its predecessor. In a word, the graphics are insipid. The various types of terrain and surfaces that make up the environments and objects tend to blend together into a melding pot of dull, featureless, boring stew. Yum. The characters are rendered in a half-assed manner wherein giving them more than two colors seems simply impossible. The animation, at least, isn’t half bad, though the stilted nature in which Munch and Abe move around is far from impressive. Very few of the trademark comical effect that were so apparent in the Xbox game’s graphical presentation can be found here, and that’s a real shame since with that taken away there is very little else to occupy your eyes.
The audio presentation fares a bit better, but not by much. The handful of quips that you’ll hear from time to time in the game do a good job of making you perk up your ears on occasion. However, the sound engine the developers used for ambient sounds and such is horrible, music and sound effects will inexplicably cut out if you happen to be standing in a location that the game doesn’t like and it isn’t uncommon to hear no aural accompaniment for on-screen actions under certain circumstances.
Overall, I have no other choice but to believe Microsoft purposely made this game suck. How else can you explain the downright shoddy gameplay, visual, and audio presentation? Not to mention the fact that the PS1 style of sidescrolling Oddworld games would have been perfectly realized here but yet the developers went with an entirely incompatible architecture. Avoid Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee on the GBA, it sucks, and so do you if you contribute to these sorts of half-hearted, half-baked, quick-buck pieces of programming crap-ola.