>Oddworld (or, it’s not whoring if you love it)

>There were any number of reasons why I decided to do it, but, as usual, “Because I Can” ruled the day, and in 2-8 business days I should be getting a copy of “Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus” in the mail.

This is not just another “I am a consumer whore” post. This is a blogworthy event because the PS1 Oddworld titles are what got me back into videogames.

When I was a kid, I had an Atari 2600. When my little brother was a kid, he had a Sega Genesis. (Somehow we bypassed Nintendo.) Even though there were 6 1/2 years between us, we always liked playing games together, and we both accumulated pretty respectable collections on our respective platforms. I had no problem putting the Atari away when Jono got his Genesis hooked up (even then I was a graphics whore). We spent long hours trading the controller back and forth on the Sonic games, Streets of Rage, Golden Axe, NBA Jam and the NHL games, on (gulp) Jurassic Park… I think the last game I really got obsessed with on the Genesis was Chakan, an obscure and very weird action game with an absurdly punishing difficulty. (That wikipedia page mentions that there were plans of a Dreamcast sequel… oh, if only.)

And then I went to college, which pretty much cut me off from videogames. None of my friends at school had brought systems to their dorm rooms, and my trips home from school were usually too short or too busy to get me any significant playtime. And my college experience was pretty much 24/7 non-stop sensory stimulation anyway – I didn’t really have time to think about gaming, nor did it occur to me that I wasn’t thinking about gaming.

It wasn’t until after I graduated college and was at my first post-school job that I got back into gaming, and that is entirely because of my friend Jongre, who had gotten a PS1 and a copy of Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee. I had seen commercials for it on TV but it didn’t really register; Jongre, however, had been intrigued enough to pick it up and called me up to check it out.

And I was hooked, immediately. I hadn’t thought about gaming in 6 years, and suddenly I was right back in it.

Those original Oddworld games (Exoddus might have come 2nd, but it was everything the first game was missing, and their releases weren’t that far apart, if I remember correctly) were totally unlike anything I’d ever seen before. For starters, they were staggeringly beautiful; in an era where anything 3D was a sight to behold, these 2D games easily trumped them all, and whenever you got to a cutscene, you truly felt like you were being rewarded. They had incredibly engaging mechanics – they were essentially puzzle games, but with elements of strategy, stealth and action seamlessly intertwined. Most importantly, they had established a mythos that, while clearly satirical in nature, felt very real and lived-in; the world had an ecosystem, a sense of history, a social dynamic. The game’s storytelling did an incredible job in establishing who you were playing as and what the stakes were for your kind, and even if the humor was a bit childish, it was always endearing.

I guess, if you’d had the sort of break with the hobby that I did – 1992-1998 being a pretty big gap – you’d maybe understand why the Oddworld games felt so seminal. Other people can point to Mario and Metal Gear and Final Fantasy – for me, it was Oddworld that was the torch-bearer, the light in the darkness, the new benchmark in storytelling and interactive entertainment. Clearly I was in the minority – I’m not sure if anybody remembers the Oddworld games anymore other than as the franchise with fart jokes that kinda died on the Xbox, mostly because the transition from 2D to 3D never quite worked the way it should’ve.

I’ll say this, though – when I heard that Oddworld was bypassing the PS2 and bringing the long-awaited Munch’s Oddysee to the Xbox as a launch title, I immediately knew which console I was going to buy. So in many respects, my standing as an Xbox fanboy is really because of Oddworld, even if the game’s roots were on the PS1.

When the news broke last week that there’s going to be a new Oddworld game, eventually, I got all sorts of excited, especially since it would be a no-brainer to get those old PS1 games onto PSN or XBLA. Right? Give ’em a little HD polish and get ’em out there again.

But then, I asked myself – why wait? Amazon had some copies of both Oddysee and Exoddus available, and after making sure that it would be playable on my PS3, I decided to bite the bullet and go for it. In the end, I opted for Exoddus over Oddysee; Exoddus had everything that made Oddysee awesome, with an even more epic story and the much-needed ability to save anywhere.

Thus endeth my latest consumer whore confession.

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