A neat platformer that is riddled with plenty of annoyances.
+ Let's start with the problems this game has. On one of the first screens where you are still learning the controls, there is a lever with a sign that instructs you to pull it. Thinking nothing of it, I pull the lever and suddenly my fellow Mudokon falls to his death. In a game where your goal is to rescue all 99 Mudokons, this tactic is very mischievous to instruct the player how to pull the first lever while at the same time preventing them from reaching their goal. It's counter-intuitive but unfortunately it sets the tone for the rest of the game. It always felt like the developers never really wanted me to save all the Mudokons and finish the game. The controls are also very clunky and you really have to struggle to control Abe properly. Whenever you run and then stop, Abe will continue to slide across the screen as if he were on ice. I hate this kind of gliding in platformers because it really screws with the precise jumps you have to make later in the game. Also, if you run off of one screen you will inevitably die from a hazard that is immediately on the next screen. I like my platformers where you are expected to hold the run button down, not where you will be blindly killed if you run off the screen. There is also a tactic of immediately going into a roll from a run that the developers fail to notify you of, which I discovered nearly 3/4 of the way through the game. It would have been real useful to know of it earlier but the lack of clarity made it so I had to look online to discover it. Another very presumptuous viewpoint of the developers is that you are expected to play this game more than once. They give this away through poor game design. They don't fully instruct you about all of Abe's powers and capabilities until say zone 2, but in zone 1 those powers are required to save some Mudokons. I'm fine with having secrets early in the game, but when your main goal is to save all 99 Mudokons and you are playing for the first time you shouldn't be penalized because the developers chose to hide some useful information from you. Another poor design strategy was to give one object two functions. For example, about halfway through the game there is one screen where you pull a lever and it hurls a rock down on an enemy. When you move to the adjacent screen there is another lever which drops another rock. The problem is that this lever also enables a pipe chute for you to jump in a few screens back. I personally think it's a mistake to mislead the player like this. If you go through the game pulling levers that perform one action, you can't just throw in a lever that suddenly performs two actions (one being a few screens away) without any indication to the player. Another big disappointment for me was finally traversing all these levels to earn the power to transform into the demigod Shrykull but only using his power maybe three times for the rest of the game. It felt so wasted to go through an entire journey and brave the dangers of Paramonia and Scrabania, complete all the temples' challenges, get branded with a scar on both hands, and then only use this power a handful of times in the rest of the game. If I made the journey and got imbued with this cool power, at least give me the option to play around with it more. Finally, the underlying problem that glues all the other problems together is the checkpoint feature. They use checkpoints so sparingly that it forces you to repeat sections over and over and over again. In a game that throws random hazards and deaths your way, this is so painful to endure especially when you play through 10 screens and then die at the last part, you will have to replay everything over again. I liken it to this: take your first step, then die. Take your first step then your second step, then die. Take your first step then your second step then your third step, then die. (etc.) And this doesn't include those intermediate times when you will die multiple times on the same screen. But this goes back to the game fighting you every step of the way. And again, I like challenging games (I've even done 106% on Super Meat Boy) but when you are forced to sit through a long death animation and a long spawning animation just because the game didn't recognize your jump or just because the game was hiding some enemy from you...it really makes you question whether its worth your time to finish the game.
On the other hand, there are some cool stuff that this game has to offer. The communication system is really neat to use. First you have to say hello to a Mudokon, then you can command them to follow you to safety or to wait. Later in the game you need to use different whistles (and a fart noise) to unlock different passwords. For the time the game was made, I'm pretty sure this was a very new approach to plaforming. The other neat part is the way that you are able to mind control some enemies. Doing so will let you destroy some hazards that would have been in your way, as well as getting rid of the enemy that you are mind controlling. Later in the game they begin to limit where you can mind control, but I always found it fun to use the out-of-Abe's-body experience to wreck havok on my enemies.
+ I liked the story and I liked the world of Oddworld. It's a very silly, goofy environment where fart jokes make Abe and the player laugh. The game starts with you, Abe, as a janitor discovering that Rupture Farms is going to be using Mudokon's (Abe's species) to manufacture their new food product. You then must escape the factory, save as many Mudokon as you can, and return to Rupture Farms to destroy the factory. The humor is nice but it's easy to overlook when you are constantly dying from the game, though.
+ The graphics themselves were good for the time. They used pre-rendered 3D graphics to make the 2D platformer. The only problem when doing this, however, is that it's easier for the player to overlook things. With pixelated sprites you can clearly mark off the borders and boundaries of objects, but with pre-rendered 3D objects it's a lot easier for things to blur together. A few examples of how the graphics hurt the gameplay was when I had to jump across three platforms with swinging spiked balls. I never felt confident about when it was safe to jump because I didn't know when the 3D object was away or when it would collide with my character. Likewise on the same screen, there was a bat floating around which I thought was part of the background. It was only after I kept dying randomly on that screen that I realized the bat was actually a hazard I had to avoid. It's things like these that can be tricky when using pre-rendered graphics like Abe's Oddysee does.
+ I'm not really sure I can recommend this game. I think I clocked 11 hours total but that was after restarting the game a few times and then playing so many areas over and over again because I kept dying. The actual amount of time I spent in-game was much much shorter. In the end this game just does not feel rewarding enough to play. I'm sure if you played it when it came out in 1997 it would have been a real good game, but today it was just so obvious to point out its flaws. As a student studying game design, the only personal value I got out of this game was to learn what makes a bad game and how can I avoid it.