This epic journey has not aged well, oddly enough.
The Oddworld series has been known for its dark comedy and alien worlds since the release of its first title, Abe’s Oddysee. Originally a set of tough-as-nails 2D platformers, the Oddworld games have also been recognized as trendsetters in the industry with each new iteration. Munch’s Oddysee follows suit, changing genres to become the series’ first 3D platformer while following an all-new protagonist. With its unique mechanics and cutscenes that hold up surprisingly well, you have a gem from the days of yesteryear that, unfortunately, doesn’t play as well as it did following its initial 2001 launch.
While series veteran Abe is present and playable in an important role in Munch’s Oddysee, this entry is truly about Munch, the frog-like alien known as a Gabbit who is the last of his kind. Hunted to extinction by the Glukkons to make food products, as well as for organ transplants, the Gabbits are gone, save for Munch. Munch’s capture would have marked the end of it all if it weren’t for the installation of an electrical device that allowed him to help rescue some fellow captives, the Fuzzles. Together they escape capture, meet up with Abe, and go on a quest to save the last remaining Gabbit eggs to ensure Munch’s people will survive. Megacorporations owned by manipulative alien millionaires have become a regular source of antagonistic energy in the Oddworld games, and Munch’s Oddysee is no different. The story is top-notch, with gritty, dark cutscenes that evoke a mixture of Conker’s cartoon cussing with worlds and species you would expect from Futurama or Rick and Morty.
Whether you’re playing as Abe or Munch, your main objective is to rescue your friends while solving puzzles. Puzzles are simple, and usually include gathering up enough Mudokons to open a gate, or utilizing cannons and the like to navigate environments. Big, green mushrooms called Spooce lead you through the areas, where collecting enough of them will allow you to proceed. A karma system called “Quarma” is in place as well, where saving enough Fuzzles or Mudokons can gain you entry to certain areas, while also determining which of the multiple endings you get. There is nothing about the gameplay that is going to stump you, which is vastly different from the 2D platformers from the previous Oddworld entries; however, exploration and combat are additions that build out the depth of this one.
Unfortunately, the exploration feels oh-so early 2000s and the “combat” is so bare-bones it is hard to really classify it that way. Empty levels and dry terrain mean running around the stages is bland. Combat includes a single button attack for Abe and an electrifying stun attack for Munch, with your main way to overcome bad guys being unleashing your brethren on the hordes, or simply running for your life. Drink machines that offer super speed or powerful shock attacks, as well as the ability to control enemies as Abe or run machinery as Munch, allow for some differentiation, but all in all they merely represent traversal and evasion mechanics.
The biggest disappointment revisiting this one comes in its wonky controls. Platforming isn’t smooth or accurate, and button presses can do multiple actions based on where your character is located and how long you press the button. Fighting to pick up Mudokons to throw them over something blocking your path is frustrating since that button also acts as the jump button, meaning you will find yourself needing to be lined up perfectly if you don’t want to repeatedly just jump in place. That same button also dumps gathered Spooce into gates in order to open them, but only if you’re inside the circle around said gate. Again, you’re likely to be jumping in place if you aren’t standing just right. Basically, be prepared to accidentally jump in place a ton.
When Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee released on the original Xbox, it came with high praise and was one of my personal favorite titles from that system. The game was mind-blowing at launch, but almost two decades later, a lot of it is rough around the edges. The cutscenes, world-building, and storytelling hold up to this day, but almost all of the gameplay elements are out of place compared to modern games, with the wonky, tough-to-handle controls taking the cake.