If there ever was a cookie-cutter genre in gaming, it was the platform game back in the heyday of 16-bit console systems. Every company had a "cute" or "hot-licensed" character it wanted to plug into a 2D side scroller. It really didn't matter if the titles were any good - and more often than not, they weren't. Gameplay frustrations such as blind jumps and opponents that would fire projectiles at players from off-screen quickly became commonplace, and people walked away from the whole mess scared and scarred. Consequently, gamers believed that games had to be 3D to be any good. Now, Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee has arrived, proving people wrong on both regards. Abe's is not only a platform game for people who are tired of platform games - it's one for people who never liked them to begin with.
In Oddworld, you play a slave called Abe, who works at the meat-processing plant Rupture Farms. Abe's a Mudokon, hardly your typical cute platform hero, but a gangly, orange-eyed, green-skinned creature with a samurai's tuft of hair and the posture of an ape. The story's premise is that the factory's owners have found a tasty new treat to whip into production since they ran their last "dish" into extinction. The problem is, it's you. Or more precisely, the Mudokons. When an eavesdropping Abe finds this out, he starts ham-stepping stage left, right quick, proving that curiosity can save the cat, too. Your goal, as Abe, is to escape Rupture Farms, liberating as many fellow Mudokons as possible, and find a way to bring down the entire plant. But playing a Christ figure isn't as easy as we'd all like to think. Using a limited vocabulary set, Abe must convince the Mudokons to follow him to safety, all the while racing through the factory flipping switches, avoiding obstacles, evading heavily armed guards, and staying alive.
While other games promise a variety of enemies and enemy AI, Abe's delivers, with creatures such as the Sligs (the heavily armed guards of Rupture Farms who are basically slugs with guns on stilts), Paramites (Giger face-hugger-like creatures), Scrabs (essentially four fast-moving legs with a sharp beak), and Slogs (the Sligs' fleshy-headed "dogs"). Each species has its own unique personality, which has to be understood and adapted to if Abe has any hope of surviving. For example, the Paramites get quite vicious if cornered or found in groups, but can be distracted if you throw them chunks of meat; the Scrabs fight like beta fish if you can lead them into the same room; the Sligs can be controlled by Abe's psychic ability, if no mind-control-inhibiting machinery is nearby; and the Slogs, in turn, can be ordered around by possessed Sligs. The game's developers, Oddworld Inhabitants, refer to the creature AI process as A.L.I.V.E. (Alive Lifeforms In a Virtual Environment), and it goes a long way toward making you feel as if you're interacting with an actual world and all its inhabitants.
Other variations from the platform norm include the absence of scoring (the goal is just to stay alive and save your friends, not rack up points), life meters (you'll know when you've expired), or extra lives (after death you simply start back at the beginning of the section you were in). Once you realize these features are gone, you'll probably begin wondering why games ever needed them in the first place. Best yet, unlike any number of platformers, Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee requires lots of thinking in solving its puzzles, which are well constructed and challenging, instead of cheap and frustrating. Abe's really is the ideal platformer, balancing its action and puzzle elements perfectly to make the game intelligent, engaging, and, best yet, fun. With about 25 to 30 hours of gameplay, there's a lot of meat for you to chew on, whatever kind it may end up being.