Oddworld: Soulstorm Review – Abe is Back

    Title: Oddworld: Soulstorm
    Developer: Oddworld Inhabitants
    Release Date: April 6, 2021
    Reviewed On: PS5
    Publisher: Oddworld Inhabitants
    Genre: Puzzle-Platformer

The Oddworld series is an odd one. Across numerous titles, we’ve seen the series tackle multiple genres, including puzzle-platforming, 3D platforming, third-person shooting; you get the idea. It’s as if the developers at Oddworld Inhabitants want to keep fans on their toes as to what they will deliver next. Well, we don’t have to wait anymore with the release of Oddworld: Soulstorm. In this more direct and world-building entry, we see a return to classic form as players take control of Abe once again to save his Mudoken race from the clutches of Glukkons.

Oddworld: Soulstorm begins as Abe and the escaped Mudokens search for a place they can call home. However, the Glukkons are hot on their tail, and they must run for their lives once again. The adventure here is kicked off when Abe is given a strange neckless that directs him to find someone known as “The Keeper.” This is the only hope he and his followers have for survival as a strange illness sweeps over his race with the potential to wipe them out.

For a slightly comical puzzle-platformer, Oddworld: Soulstorm knows how to tell a story. The layout of this narrative connects with the game’s overall design as you progress through the stages. Each stage visually projects to the player that they are moving through this world. You see this in the enemies, items, and even the design of checkpoints. These small choices make the entire adventure feel grand and much bigger than you or Abe could imagine. It’s not something that had to be there, but it worked brilliantly in execution and sold the feeling of being in this world.

Further, these characters are fighting for their lives, and the writing between the cast reflects that. The humorous tone is still there, I mean, the characters are pretty goofy visually, but I never thought I’d be this engaged in their conflicts. I never once wanted to stop playing, if only because I desired to see what would come of Abe.

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Gameplay marks the returns of the 2.5D puzzle platformer. Abe can run, double jump, roll, take control of enemies, sneak, and call out to his followers, which has been a part of his typical skillset. In this entry, Abe can also craft items such as smoke bombs, rubber band balls, stun mines, and more. The crafting system comes with its caveats, though. For starters, it slows down the rhythm of a typical Abe adventure. You’re stuck looking through garbage bins and lockers that are sometimes placed five in a row. I would have liked it if Abe’s followers had lent a hand gathering items, which would have saved a considerable amount of time because these structures are so close together that you’ll sometimes search the same one multiple times.

There are some positives to this new system, though, as it gives you options to approach situations. You can lay down a stun mine trap or knock out an enemy with a candy ball and tie him up. There are moments where items are more plentiful, but late-game puzzles require you to be more mindful with how you use your items. Further, money is also in the game, which becomes more needed when certain doors require you to pay, or you need to buy something from the vending machine.

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Everything in Oddworld: Soulstorm rolls out slowly. The pacing in the levels reflects where you are in the world. If you’re in a Glukkon factory, you can expect there to be more Mudoken slaves to save. However, if you in the middle of nowhere, there aren’t too many Mudakens around. Sadly, this pace makes the opening moments of gameplay feel like a completely different game. I mainly focused on keeping Abe alive, but I don’t find that nearly as charming as trying to save a group of followers. Thankfully, this isn’t an issue in the later stages, where the developers provide classic series puzzle layouts with more modern systems. It’s a decent balance of the two as I was often tested on how best to approach a situation, especially when I’ve got 10 Mudokens behind me.

Sadly, there are a few gameplay bugs in this adventure, that for the most part, have been stomped out of existence by the developer. I’ve played through the affected stages again, and they have been fixed, which I appreciated. However, there’s one boss known as the Slig Mama who I felt needed way more playtesting. This robot boss was a pain, and, in the end, I had to run back through the stage to find an item to make one smoke bomb to defeat it. If I can give you any tips, it’s this: Don’t use that smoke bomb on anything other than getting through this boss because it’s the only one craftable in the stage.

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Oddworld: Soulstorm has some brilliant level designs, and I was never bored or felt like I was taking on situations the same during each encounter. In fact, when I did try that, I quickly died and was forced to take another approach. One of the most hindering aspects of the game is the controls. Each button seems to have a different effect where you press or hold it. Long into the game, I accidentally ran instead of sneaking or forgetting how to pull up the crafting menu. It’s one of the most significant issues present and one that cost me a few too many deaths.

I wish the levels had more rhythm to them. Checkpoints save you progress as you touch them, which sucked when I touched a checkpoint, and an enemy spotted me, causing me to die in a constant loop until I figured out a way to interrupt him with an item. I wouldn’t have minded if dungeons had more rhythm aspects to them so you can take full advantage of timing jumps and item usage.

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Oddworld: Soulstorm is hands-down the best entry in the series to date. It takes everything great about these games and packages it up in a beautiful and modern adventure that mirrors its classic gameplay mechanics used for over 20 years. Some of the item management systems weigh on the pacing, and the controls take a few hours to master, but there’s just something unique in every stage that makes this adventure enjoyable from beginning to end.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Azario Lopez

Hanging out max, relaxing all cool.