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Munch’s Oddysee was released for the original XBox back in November of 2001, and has just now been ported to the PC. So, how does an XBox launch title hold up on the PC, nine years since its release? Unfortunately, not well, and certainly not as well as the PC ports of the rest of the Oddworld series.
Oddworld is a critically acclaimed franchise that combines serious social issues with a whimsical setting. Set on a different planet that is populated by an assortment of goofy aliens, it addresses concerns such as enviromentalism, and respect for native peoples. However it’s full of amusing characters and situations, so it never feels preachy. As Munch's Oddysee is the third game in the series, it begins with a movie explaining the story of the previous two games- in rhyming verse (How often do you hear rhyming verse used for narrative in a video game)? Abe, the hero of the first two games is still around, but this time he has a new friend: Munch.
Munch is a strange little amphibious creature who is last of his race, the Gabbits. Apparently Gabbit eggs taste delicious, so they’ve been hunted to nigh extinction. Munch find himself captured by bad guys, is subjected to medical experiments, and has a cybernetic gizmo grafted to his head. This isn’t as bad as it sounds, because Munche finds that he can use this device to zap enemies, aid allies, and interact with his environment.
Players spend some parts of the game controlling Munch, and others controlling a humanoid "Mudokon" named Abe. Abe can run jump and climb as any third person adventurer should, but also has access to the sort of powers seen in previous Oddworld games; he can also command NPCs with a set of basic orders such as “Follow” “Wait” and “Attack”. All of these commands are delivered in “Gamespeak” which is context-sensitive nonspecific dialogue. You select the general idea, and Abe will give the specific instructions to his pals depending on where they are and what they’re doing.
Commanding these buddies is a key part of the Oddworld franchise; Abe gathers a band of Mudokons who are comically inept humanoids that can assist him in fighting, or chant to perform various forms of magic. Munch has an entirely different group of followers; a swarm of Fuzzles, a species of adorable-yet-deadly hairballs that are like a cross between a hamster and a wolverine. The fuzzles assist him in combat, and Munch is almost completely helpless when alone, so taking care of you friends is an important aspect of gameplay.
The first two Oddworld games were for the Playstation generation in the 90’s and used 3D graphics, but limited players to 2d movement. Munch’s Oddysee was the first in the franchise to use a fully 3D world, and it suffers from the troublesome camera that plagued many games of that time period. Unfortunately, the unstable camera is still present in the new PC port, and the game on the whole hasn’t been well optimized for the PC.
The default controls are outright terrible, with movement assigned to the keyboard’s arrow keys. The WASD buttons are used for targeting certain weapons, but you don’t actually use them until later in the game. Camera is set to mouse control by default, however the controls require you to keep both of your hands on the keyboard, so players will generally have to let the camera automatically set itself. Some of this can be remedied by remapping the controls to a traditional WASD & mouse set up, but even with a completely re-mapped control system, the camera is still hard to manage, and movement is imprecise.
Aside from the gameplay controls, Munch’s Oddysee’s also shows its console origins with the menu interface. You can’t select menu items with the mouse, but rather have to fumble around with the arrow keys. In addition, the text tutorials still make references to the XBox controller. I was told to click my "Thumbstick" to use one of my abilities, and then had to figure out which button on my PC keyboard translated to the XBox’s thumbstick L3 button. Another Oddworld game recently released for the PC, Stranger’s Wrath is getting a patch which will update that game to a more modern experience, but no such hope has been announced for Munch’s Oddysee as of this writing.
Even though the PC port isn’t great, the game is still a lot of fun to play. The story, voicework, and design are still present, and all of it is terrific. Oddworld is a charming place to visit, even in this technically flawed incarnation. The characters and setting are memorable, the dialog is funny, and Munch makes a terrific underdog protagonist. No matter how pathetic he is, you just can’t stop rooting for the little guy.
The good news is that Munch’s Oddysee is available as part of the bundle of four Oddworld games, and the other three are all excellent (See our review of Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath HERE). Munch is arguably the least of the series, but it is still a part of a wonderful franchise and should be experienced along with the rest.