Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee began as Oddworld designer Lorne Lanning's great Xbox prodigy. The prospect of evolving the series into full-blown 3D was certainly enticing, and Lanning's cheerful enthusiasm and unwavering support for the Xbox console convinced us all that Munch's Oddysee would be even more ambitious than its predecessors. Similar to NFL Fever 2002, Project Gotham Racing, Dead Or Alive 3, and the forthcoming Jet Set Radio Future, Munch's Oddysee was an opportunity to bring an acclaimed but undersold franchise into the limelight as a premier showcase for the Xbox. In light of such potential and high expectations, it's unfortunate that Munch's Oddysee ultimately falls short of its aspirations. What could have been a game that enveloped gamers into a socially conscious tale of slavery, genocide, and tyranny is merely a typical action-platformer with some enchanting cut scenes thrown in for atmosphere.
What I found most disappointing about Munch's Oddysee was not the structure of the puzzles or the linear progression of the gameplay. On the contrary, I was impressed with the creativity put into the puzzles. The gameplay centers around teamwork between Munch and Abe, and Lanning did a superlative job with this unique feature. Additionally, I rarely found the game to be repetitive. I surmise that my patience with the game may have resulted from shortened playing sessions (usually lasting for an hour or so at most) instead of my usual epic indulgence. However, while many concepts are repeated, I found the puzzles challenging and interesting enough to remain engaging. I always took my time while playing, surveying my surroundings and tossing ideas around before settling on a course of action. As a result, I didn't find the game to be a jumbled mess of trial and error, but a well-thought-out platformer that rewards brainpower over quick thumbs.
What disappoints me about Munch's Oddysee is that it is just that—a good platformer. The story, told via some of the most gorgeous full-motion video I've laid eyes on, is a gripping tale of a rag-tag band of heroes starting an insurrection against a tyrannical race of creatures in a desperate bid to save oppressed specie from lives of slavery and inevitably gruesome deaths. It's exactly the kind of mature, thoughtful tale that is sorely lacking in modern gaming. If games are ever to be viewed as a creative medium equal to that of film or literature, it is vital that the shackles of convention be broken to allow such stirring concepts to evolve the art. Munch's Oddysee, with its dark humor and appealing characters, could have stood as a testament to this potential. Instead, it only reminds us how far gamers are from their own "Invisible Man" or "Schindler's List." What starts as an opportunity to captivate us ends merely entertaining.
Why does Munch's Oddysee fail? It is simply because there is little to bind the gameplay with the plot. Players will progress from one brain-bending puzzle to the next, leading Mudoken, Fuzzles, or what have you from a starting point to a clearly marked finish, at which time a brief cut-scene may elaborate on the details of the story. The result is that the gameplay feels very disjointed. Players may be amused by Munch, Abe, and their cohorts, but any deeper empathy is unlikely. Further, the cleverly dark humor never sees its potential. The characters are all very interesting and full of humorous personalities, but there is little during the interactive portions of the game to evolve it beyond whimsical one-liners and unfunny scatological gags.
I really had high hopes for Munch's Oddysee, as I feel that the Oddworld series is one of the most unique and beautifully realized game concepts of the past few years. The design of the dark industrial worlds, populated by grotesque creatures with oddly appealing personalities, represents a creative standard rarely equaled. If only the gameplay could have risen above convention and predictability by further integrating its narrative, I might be writing about a modern classic. Instead, I'm writing about a good platformer—nothing more.