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Oddworld: New N Tasty review: Fresh produce

S. Prell, @SamPrell

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Question: When is a video game remake not a remake? Answer: When it adds enough new ideas and tweaks existing content so that the resulting product is neither a re-hash nor a re-imagining. When it doesn't stop at HD textures and smoother character models, and instead opts for new gameplay, expanded objectives and modern conveniences.

When is a remake not a remake? When it's Oddworld: New N Tasty.

Gallery: Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty (4/25/14) | 8 Photos

Recreated from scratch in Unity by developer Just Add Water, New N Tasty tells the 17-year-old story of Abe from the PlayStation game, Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee.

Abe is a lowly factory worker slaving away on Rupture Farms, a meat-packing factory full of blood-stained sawblades, twisted metal piping, thick smoke and the glowing red eyes of surveillance drones. It is a suffocating place run by nasty creatures called Glukkons – suit-wearing slug monsters obsessed with profit above all else.

When Meech Munchies are taken off the Rupture Farms menu due to Meeches going extinct, the Glukkons aim to replace the snack with a treat made from the slave labor force that works the factory – Abe and his race, the Mudokons. Abe discovers this horrific plot and sets out to escape, choosing to save or ignore the 299 other Mudokon slaves. Yes, 299 - a solid 200 more than the number of Mudokons in the original game.

It's a dark tale with twisted humor and grotesque creature designs. Even our hero Abe is no looker, with bloodshot, yellow eyes bulging out the side of his head and stitches crossing over his mouth; a face only Tim Burton could love.

And yet, New N Tasty's weird world is charming, and bursting with personality. It's always fun to move to the next area to see what's waiting. It might be a two-legged frog-dinosaur to ride, or a ruined temple full of spider-like creatures with long, spindly claws coming out of their mouth. Even the Sligs, enforcers for the Glukkons and major source of Abe-death, are fun to watch as they grumble angrily while on patrol. Oddworld was a unique setting in 1997, and to this day there's still nothing like it.

Seeing the flora and fauna rendered in high definition graphics with new animations is a treat – Abe is an expressive guy thanks to the Unity engine's processing power, and despite his off-putting appearance and mostly quiet demeanor, he's a character you come to care about and root for. Well, when you're not screaming at him for jumping onto a landmine.

New N Tasty isn't a particularly brutal game, but several areas will test your patience as much as they test your jumping skills. Abe can leap long distances with a running start, or make a short hop by pressing the left thumbstick and the jump button at the same time. These are his main weapons in his war on evil, and for the most part, they work. For the most part.

Unfortunately, the short hops in particular feel stiff, and Abe will often take a small step before his leap, meaning that sometimes a death in New N Tasty feels more attributable to janky controls than an error on your part. When a smattering of landmines doesn't leave room for error, it's frustrating to have Abe take a step you didn't intend and wind up exploding into meaty bits.

Thankfully, other than Abe's peculiar jumps, the 1997 game has been brought up to modern standards and Just Add Water has ironed out the kinks that would otherwise make it feel dated. There are more checkpoints, Abe can now direct where he throws bombs and rocks with the right thumbstick, and instead of single-screen puzzle rooms, New N Tasty plays with a scrolling camera.

The camera alone makes a huge difference in the overall feel of Abe's adventure. Instead of constant stop-and-go gameplay, you have continuous momentum carrying you through the various areas, some of which are new, while others are almost 1:1 copies of how they originally looked. Coupled with other additions like an increased number of Mudokons to rescue, new controls and more plentiful checkpoints, the result is a game that, despite being almost two decades old, feels fresh – even to those who remember the original flavor.

Whether you have or haven't played Abe's Oddysee, you haven't played New N Tasty. This HD remake is more than a simple reskin of nostalgia, and offers a compelling adventure with contemporary design that will satisfy most anyone's puzzle-platformer appetite.

This review is based on a downloadable copy of the PlayStation 4 version of Oddworld: New N Tasty, provided by Sony.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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