Hands-on: Munch's Oddysee

Read impressions of our time in the Xbox's very odd world.


Microsoft stopped by our offices today with a preview build of Munch's Oddysee for the Xbox, and we got a taste of what the game has to offer. We were shown some of the game's levels, including Magog Motors, and we had a chance to play Munch's tutorial level and the first level, in which you can play cooperatively as Munch and Abe. The game seems more polished than the last time we saw it, and it gave us a bit more insight into the game's story.

The plot finds Oddworld poster boy Abe teaming up with Munch, last of the gabbits, to help him reestablish his race by funding an associate's entry into an auction to bid on the last batch of gabbit eggs. In order to gather funds, the pair winds up becoming an Oddworldian version of Robin Hood as they proceed to rob glukon factories for cash. Along the way, they'll help out enslaved mudokons and a new type of oppressed creature called fuzzles.

Fans of the series will be right at home with the gameplay, as MO stays true to the versatility of the previous two Oddworld games. The control is tight and accessible, keeping the game from being too intimidating. You'll control the pair with the left analog stick, jump and perform other context-specific actions with the A button, adjust the camera with the D-pad, and trigger special abilities with the right analog stick. You swap control between Munch and Abe using the black face button, and you use the white face button to center the camera on your character. The right trigger is used to check your character's health and available "spooz," which is psychic energy used to open doors. The left trigger is used to chant as Abe or use Munch's sonar, which is useful for finding fuzzles on a stage or opening warps to send fuzzles to safety. You'll be able to use "gamespeak" with the X, Y, and B buttons--lightly tapping the buttons produces one response, while holding it down produces another. For example, a quick tap of Y addresses one creature, and holding it down addresses an entire group.

We tried our hand at Munch's tutorial level, which gave us our first look at the fuzzles. Best described as a cross between a piranha and a tribble from Star Trek, fuzzles are creatures that follow and aid Munch in much the same way that the mudokons follow and assist Abe. The key difference between them is that a pack of fuzzles is more deadly than a pack of mudokons. Being an aquatic creature, Munch isn't entirely graceful on dry land, but hopping around on one flipper gets him where he needs to go. Fuzzles can usually be found trapped in cages on levels, and once freed, they follow him around and ably do his bidding. Munch will come across power-ups and items to help him when a pack of fuzzles and hopping on one flipper aren't enough. You can come across a turbo-powered wheelchair, which can be used for high-speed movement through a level. Vending machines dispense a variety of drinks, including life replenishing Sobe, which temporarily give Munch the ability to zap an opponent or increases his jumping ability. Available power-up beverages for Abe include caffeinated coffee to increase his speed.

In addition to items and power-ups, the characters will come to possess skills or abilities to help them on their way. Using spooz energy as Abe, players will be able to take control of other characters in the game. You'll be able to increase your available spooz energy by collecting sphere-like items as both characters. Obtaining the necessary amount of spheres can be a symbiotic effort, as Abe's chanting can regenerate them once they've been picked. Not quite as versatile a psychic, Munch will be able to use remote controls found in the game to operate heavy machinery that can be used for a variety of tasks, including opening paths for Abe in cooperative-play levels.

When we were playing through a level with both Munch and Abe, the game showed a great deal of promise, thanks to the gameplay. You'll find that you have to use every skill your characters have in order to progress through the game. When we reached an impassable body of water as Abe, we simply took control of Munch and dove in. After exploring the land on the other side of the water, we came across a switch that allowed us to open a cannon on Abe's side, which we then used it to shoot him across. Once Abe collected a party of mudokons, we used Munch to operate a crane to remove obstacles and defeat enemies in Abe's path. It was even possible to use the crane to pick Abe up and deposit him in a secret area, which showed off one of the game's strengths. You'll find that most levels have several paths through them, but that the optimal path will require you to use Abe and Munch in tandem for success.

While the challenges on the level we played were usually deadly, the game's unlimited number of lives and "egg basket" feature kept things from getting too frustrating. The egg basket is a welcome feature that kicks in when Abe or Munch has died. You'll guide your surviving party member to an egg that respawns your deceased party member. There are similar respawning locations for essential NPCs in case they are killed during a level to ensure you'll always be able to progress.

The game managed to look as good as it played, featuring large areas that didn't have to stop to load as you went from interior and exterior areas. The game's levels will be split up among themed regions and offer a good deal of challenge as players work to raise funds and rescued the oppressed. In our short time with the game, it showed a great deal of promise and left us pleased by what we saw. Munch's Oddysee is currently slated to hit stores at the Xbox launch. Look for more information on this game in the near future.

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