Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee

This is a 5/5 game, it’s clearly a 5/5 game, it’s always been a 5/5 game. But, cut to the punch, I can’t in all honesty award it more than 4/5.

Abe’s Oddysee is one of the quintessential PlatyStation 1 games. It was one of the very first games acquired for the system way back in ‘the day’. I’ve played this many times over the years. Always one of the first games to be installed in any emulation. And this is the reason for its demotion into the 4/5 realms. At the end of Paramania there’s a level were you need to out run a nest of Paramites. At the start there’s some alternate platforms to wander and preview the layout of the obstacle course, but even with modern emulation cheats the course is impossible, I just can’t do it!

For those not in the know Abe is somewhat traditional 2D puzzle platformer. In style it feels very much the spiritual successor to the Amiga classic Flashback: Quest For Identity. You play loveable alien Abe who is a worker in a meat factory. It appears fellow members of his species are the latest product for canning. You guide Abe through a series of platform puzzles designed to take him on an adventure to free his species and bring down the evil mega corp.

At a time of the industry moving to and experimenting with 3D, a 2D platformer was a relatively brave thing to attempt. It pays off because Abe really does stand out visually among the pantheon of PS1 titles. The sprites, colours and animations the new generation of consoles could handle over the previous SNES and MegaDrive’s are really put to good use. There’s a very fluid feel to the animation that is extremely reminiscent of Flashbacks rotoscoping technique.

All in all a PS1 must play that only misses out on top marks thanks to an insane level of difficulty later on that even snapshotting in modern emulators cannot overcome.

4/5

Lemmings

There are few games that represent the 16-bit era as well as Lemmings. It did make a few ports over to the more popular, older, 8-bit machines, and on to games consoles of the time, but It never really translated well to keyboards, gamepads and joysticks. This is a game built for a mouse at a time when the mouse was new.

At its heart it is a fairly straight forward puzzle game. A number of rodents will appear through an entrance on one side of the screen and you need to guide them to safety through the exit on the other side of the screen. Simple enough. However these are Lemmings and any hazards between entrance and exists won’t be avoided. These critters will happily march to their death.

To avoid this you, the player, have the power to upgrade any Lemming in to a super-Lemming with a special ability. It’s the use of these special abilities that allow you to guide the little fellows away from danger and herd them to the exit. Lemmings are upgraded by selecting the required power from the menu at the bottom of the screen and then clicking on the Lemming needed to perform this task.

Improvements include climbing obsticles, parachuting (with an umbrella), bashing through rocks, digging out the ground and just stopping other Lemmings from going were they are not wanted.

There are around 100 levels in the original game at various difficulty from really easy dig a whole to highly frustrating falling to their death immediately out of the entrance, and everything in between. All levels are really well designed and the puzzles leave the player with that all important ‘one more try’ feeling as you spend most of your time learning from your failures.

As I said in the opening paragraph, this games was made for the mouse. It’s hard to think of another game that really thought about its design language and gameplay loop so well and married perfectly to a new input method. Much like Solitaire being given away by Microsoft with every copy of Windows 95.

5/5

Tomb Raider

Going back 25 years later and there’s a lot not to like about this seminal classic. Being the first of its kind there’s a lot of rough edges that stand out today in a way they didn’t way back then. For this reason we need to take care how we judge games like this. It is an early PlayStation 1 classic and everything that goes with that after all.

Importantly Tomb Raider really was the first of its kind and set the ground work for everything that has come since. 3D games existed way back before the early ZX Spectrum days. Machines like the Spectrum, C64 and Amstrad CPC where pioneering this kind of solid 3D rendering in the mid-late 80’s. But it’s very difficult to think of another game that offered this kind of third person action-adventure platforming prior. A couple of contemporaries, Die Hard Trilogy and Fade To Black, come close but it was Tomb Raider that defined the language of 3D third person gameplay that game makers would spend the PlayStation 2 era perfecting.

In Tomb Raider you play Indiana Jones-like adventurer Lara Croft on a mission to locate the missing pieces of the Scion. A quest taking you to fully realised 3D worlds set in caves and tombs around Puru, Greece, Egypt and Atlantis. The majority of the gameplay involves platforming climbing, swimming and leaver pulling to solve a variety of puzzles impeding your progress. This is interspersed with a touch of quick gunfire to ward of dangerous critters and the old rival adventurer.

Looking back from a modern perspective the low screen resolution, minimal texture detail and flat 2D sprites in place of 3D objects do stand out but all were incredibly impressive to gamers at the time coming from, at best, flat shaded 3D models on earlier 16-bit machines.

Likeways the tank controls can be a trial. Being used to modern dual analogue thumb controls with control over camera positioning. Tomb Raider hails from an era where the venerable D-pad was the only option. Still once you get used to the controller layout it is an incredibly responsive and fluid game to play.

One area where Tom Raider really excels over modern games is in it’s level and puzzle design. It’s the Goldilocks design of puzzle platforming. Modern games tend to be a little to hand-holdy. Earlier puzzle platformers could be a little obtuse in their solutions (get jerry can and take to Fred fill with spring water before pouring on magic bean to grow beanstalk to climb!?!). Tomb Raiders puzzles revolve mostly around finding the platform path, pulling the right leavers, and locating fairly obvious keys.

All in all the game still stands up. It’s a little clunky today but once you get used to the controls the revolution gameplay design shines through and remains every bit as enjoyable and challenging as when it first hit the shelves.

5/5