The Oddworld series is fittingly… an odd one. A stealth 2D platformer that rewards patience more than anything, the series follows the adventures of Abe, a Mudoken who was captured and forced to work on Rupture farms, but who eventually escapes and tries to help his fellow Mudokens on the way. How many he saves, is entirely up to you though.
With his ability to chant to possess enemies, command his fellow Mudokens, and his nimble platforming, the originals were beloved back in the day but the series has struggled to adapt over the ensuing console generations until we got the Oddworld: New’n’Tasty, a ground-up remake of the original Abe’s Odyssey. Now we arrive at Oddworld: Soulstorm, a remake and reimagining of Abe’s Exodus, so let’s dive into it with our Oddworld: Soulstorm Nintendo Switch review.
As mentioned this is a game that rewards patience. Taking place on a strictly 2D plain, Abe doesn’t feel as satisfying as Mario, he’s meant to feel more like a survivor, a struggling individual fighting the fierce forces of capitalism that have enslaved his people. The series has always been on the nose with its metaphors, but exceptional writing and a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour help make this world set itself apart.
Soulstorm feels like the first time that developer and publisher Oddworld Inhabitants has attempted to truly make a modern game, but the fact it’s a remake of one of their most beloved entries puts it in a weird spot. Beholden to the design of the original, but with bells and whistles that signify ‘current gen’, what we’ve ended up with is a game that’s a little too different from the originals, or just not different enough.
First up, Oddworld: Soulstorm is an ambitious game. The bones of Abe’s Exodus are here, but the developer has done away with the single-screen movement, instead, you can now see far into the level ahead of you, movement is more fluid, and large set pieces are a common occurrence. Crucially, the single-tile movement is also gone, instead, now Abe feels a little looser, which in a game all about pinpoint precision, can be a little annoying.
The story picks up straight after Abe’s Odyssey (or Oddworld New’n’Tasty if that’s the version you played) with Abe having saved a small army of Mudokens from Rupture farms, but now they must escape the capitalist pigs who run the farm, chasing after them in a deadly blimp and with a tremendous amount of familiar enemies at their disposal. Those dastardly sligs are back, so get ready to hear their familiar grunts and “WAIT!?” as you explore.
The opening cut scene also sets the bar for presentation, and it’s clear that this title debuted on more powerful hardware last year. The detail in the CG animations is fantastic, and on the OLED screen, I was genuinely floored by how good these cut scenes looked. I wish I could say the same for the gameplay, but it was a really strong starting point at least. As you finally start the game, gone is the heavy machinery, neon lights, and metallic corridors of Rupture Farms, instead replaced with wide open desert, dirt roads, run-down scaffolding, and the occasional mining cave. The setting changes over time, but none of it feels like it recaptures the personality of the original, and the low textures of this Switch port only add to that feeling.
The gameplay is familiar, with a few caveats. Abe still sneaks around sleeping enemies, bombs, traps, and countless deadly obstacles for the most part. Oddworld: Soulstorm is a punishing game, and if you’re hoping to breeze through and save everyone on your first go, well, good luck. As mentioned, Abe now feels somewhat slippier, and while I can see that this was meant to coincide with a larger game, to have Abe running and jumping constantly between platforms, makes the more slow and punishing moments a little tougher. Abe doesn’t feel tight enough for the slow moments and doesn’t feel good enough to truly feel fun while exploring.
You’re still using chanting powers as well, as you find sickly Mudokens littered around the world you must craft an antidote, lead them to a portal, and chant to open it, setting them free. Getting the Mudokens to follow you is made easier with commands like “wait” and “follow me”, but it gets a little tricky with how imprecise the platforming feels. You can either tap or hold the command buttons to change the field or your command, capturing all nearby Mudokens in one go, but trying to command a single one is often a little annoying. They also don’t have great AI, so I found the odd one struggling to keep up, or setting off occasional traps or sleeping enemies.
The other side of the chanting coin is possessing enemies, which luckily is still one of the best parts of the game. The wandering and flying sligs carry weapons, so possessing them is your only chance to ever really attack anything. There are a lot of chant-suppressing orbs though, so you can’t quite live out your power fantasies. It makes sense, this is a stealth game first, but a little more time to let loose would be good. PS, sometimes sligs and their weapons are integral to destroying blocks to find secret areas, so be careful not to kill them straight after you’re done with them.
This leads us nicely onto the secrets, and this world is rich with them. Oddworld: Soulstorm is a game that wants to be explored slowly. Rewarding those of you who backtrack, poke in every conceivable nook, and use items smartly. There are collectables and secrets galore in every level, and a handy counter pops up any time you find one. Find them all to earn a platinum medal, but even seeing the little counter move up one each time is really rewarding. This often gives extra items, craftable materials, and Mudokens to save as well, so it’s well worth your time. If you want to save everyone, you’re going to have to take your time.
Those aforementioned items are crucial this time around, as Abe not only chants and creeps, but can use things such as water (to extinguish fires), flammable liquid (to spread fires), remote bombs, and more. Holding X opens a wheel with all your items, but this feels unresponsive and tricky to navigate. Meanwhile, when throwing the items, often despite having a clear line showing their arc, it seems like they missed the intended target anyway. It’s a shame, as running around and lobbing items can feel good, but those issues niggle at me.
Meanwhile, for many items, you have to collect materials to craft them, and you’d better believe these materials are sparse. For a game that’s already slow, having to pick up extra materials and then spend time on a crafting screen feels like needless busy work. Just finding the items would be enough, and they’re often so hard to craft I don’t bother anyway. The game is so punishing that it would be nice to have more options, so the extra items just feel like they’re taunting me in their sparseness.
If you’ve played any previous game in the series, then you know these titles are meant to be tough. But Oddworld: Soulstorms changes from the items to the loose controls make things feel often brutal beyond belief. The larger levels often position snipers or other enemies attacking you from a distance as well, laying even more on top of somewhat unsatisfying controls. While the stealth moments can frustrate with their pacing, the action just feels downright unfair at points. Sure, it feels great when you finally get through, but often it feels more like luck than a challenge overcome.
The bones of the original Oddworld games are here, and fans will find a lot to love with the great level design, the expansive worlds, and the traditional secrets and rewards for exploration. But so many additional elements feel like they’re holding it back, and stripping away some of the charm. A real signifier of this is (stick with me) Abe can no longer fart. It was such a silly part of the original titles, but Abe could fart just for fun, or could even possess his fart cloud and make it explode. It was just a portent of the extra… silliness, that seems to have been lost, making way for a more dour and sombre title, losing much of what made those classic games so loveable.
A lot of this is compounded by the game feeling so slow as well. Load times appear often and regularly hover around the 30-second or more mark, and many of the Mudokens you encounter spout off long sentences of unskippable dialogue. If it felt as funny or charming as older titles I wouldn’t mind, but this world feels more Mad Max than Hitchhiker’s Guide, and with so much backtracking to do and items to find and craft, I didn’t want to sit around listening to every person I met.
Obviously, we’re playing this on a Switch, and while New’N’Tasty fit right at home (seriously, that remake is fantastic), Oddworld: Soulstorm sure feels like a much larger game that has been shrunk down. The title hovers around a consistent 30FPS, even when you have a trail of Mudokens behind you, which is pretty impressive given the size of the levels and the amount of moving parts in the background. I did come across the odd bit of stuttering, which can be especially frustrating when jumping over platforms, as it happened often enough to make me wary of taking risks.
Lighting effects and smoke have also been paired down considerably, which along with the muddy textures can make it a little tough to see what’s going on. The character models look great, so you never lose sight of Abe, but the levels can present a bit of a visual challenge, especially in the darker mines. Going back to the textures, it’s clear the developer had to really strip this game back to be on Switch, and while I’m grateful it looks good where it needs to, some of the prominent rocks in the foreground look worse than Pokémon Sword and Shield’s trees. It doesn’t take away from anything, but boy is it noticeable.
Oddworld: Soulstorm is an interesting expansion of the series, and an ambitious attempt to recapture the magic of the franchise’s heyday while bringing it screaming into the modern day. Fans will find a whole lot to love, as this is easily a 15/20 hour game with multiple secrets, rewards, and even different endings. But where before it balanced its slow pacing and challenging gameplay with charm and precision, Soulstorm feels bogged down with tricky controls, needless busywork, and gameplay that feels more like trial and error than a real challenge.
The Switch port is an admirable one that runs consistently, but its issues only further compound its slow pacing with long load times, a muddy appearance and spotty performance that can make the difficult platforming feel downright unfair. If you’ve got nowhere else to play it, this game is still gorgeous at points and the scale of the game feels great, but this entry doesn’t reach the heights, the humour, or the satisfaction of anything that came before.
Oddworld: Soulstorm Nintendo Switch review
A reimaging of a dormant series that straddles the line between homage and invention, but delivers an entry that doesn’t go far enough in either direction. Oddworld: Soulstorm still has plenty to please fans and it looks gorgeous at certain points, but it’s often an exercise in frustration geld back even further by load times, control issues, and brutal level design. Plus he can’t fart anymore, come on man.