The Oddworld franchise is filled with interesting characters and themes, but we make the case for why Munch deserves another chance to shine.
With Oddworld: Soulstorm being a retcon of Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus, I see a lot of people wondering what will happen to Munch as a character as well as his game, Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee. Some even worry that his character won’t make a return at all. They wonder if his game will have the same treatment or if it’ll be sacked.
Personally, I love Munch as a character. He might be my favorite despite him being in my least favorite game of the series. As such, I’ve thought a lot about what made Munch’s Oddysee something I liked less from a series that I have adored since I was young. There’s a lot of easy answers; like repetitive gameplay, graphics that weren’t as inspiring as the old games, and the lack of proper stealth based puzzles. But I’ve come to a bigger conclusion I think might be a bit contested by other fans.
Munch’s Oddysee doesn’t hit the mark because Abe is in the game.
The Purpose of the Franchise
Now, before you hardcore fans get your loincloths in a bunch, let me use Stranger’s Wrath as an example. If you haven’t played Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath, let me give you a brief explanation.
You play as Stranger, a mysterious bounty hunter in need of a life saving operation. For about half the game that’s more or less all you know. You move from town to town picking up bounties, earning money for this operation, and keeping your eyes open for the elusive steef (whose horns could easily square away your bill).
Here comes the big spoiler of the game, so if you plan on playing this game blind, skip to the next paragraph. The big plot twist of the game is that Stranger himself is the last known living steef and his operation is to remove his second set of legs to make him properly bipedal. Once his secret is out, he accepts himself for what he really is and fights those who hunt him.
I’ve met a lot of fans of the series who refuse to give Stranger’s Wrath a chance because, to them, if the game doesn’t have Abe it isn’t a REAL Oddworld game. However, it has always seemed to me that the main title that carries into all of their games, Oddworld, is the real focal point of the series. World building is what creates and moves the story. The goal is to reach an understanding of the corrupt systems at work on Oddworld and watch it change through the actions of oppressed characters who inhabit it. Ultimately the game(s) seek to get players to reach a conclusion about the corruption of our own world.
Therefore, Stranger’s Wrath is an important installment in the series because it shows a different part of Oddworld and how even powerful, well armed characters, may be oppressed so long as they’re seen as lesser beings than the ruling class. Stranger stands on his own two (or four) feet because he is allowed to shine in his own introductory story. The player reaches a more meaningful conclusion to Stranger as a character because we see how he overcomes his own set of unique obstacles without the looming legacy of Abe and his coming into a hero role.
Abe’s legacy casts a shadow over Munch’s Oddysee. The game does a fantastic job at introducing Munch in the first few cutscenes. We’re given a terribly sad introduction as Munch swims in the oceans of Oddworld. His species is being fished into extinction until he can no longer find another gabbit, no matter how much he calls out to them. Desperation leads him to land where he is captured and experimented on by a new species of ethically bereaved scientists. Munch soon discovers there is hope for his kind in a highly prized can of gabiar, the last of his kind’s eggs.
Already we have a great setup for the coming of a new freedom fighter struggling through the corruption on Oddworld. But then Abe and his mudokons come in and the focus shifts. Yes, the game still aims to save Munch and his kind from complete extinction, but so much of it follows Abe once again moving through factories, freeing mudokons, and eventually taking down another big headquarters of the ruling class. Abe’s inclusion robs Munch of the opportunity to really develop as a character and explore new parts of the world unique to his situation. His own achievements are dulled by Abe, an already established hero, taking up at least half of the spotlight.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love that they team up and become friends, but the gameplay doesn’t do much to create meaningful differences to feel like I’m playing as two unique characters. Munch zaps enemies with an augment attached to him by the scientists and Abe has a sort of slapping fight using melee combat. Munch can tell fuzzles to attack enemies while Abe does the same with mudokons. Both use the same general powerups. The biggest differences are that Abe can possess enemies and Munch can swim, but even this is used as a means to open paths for Abe. So in reality, Abe has the only truly unique ability which is taking over enemies. (Here comes another spoiler) In fact, that same ability is the one thing that lets them buy the eggs and save Munch’s kind. Munch relies heavily on Abe and his kind would have been doomed without Abe’s help.
It seems to me Munch isn’t given the proper opportunity to grow from oppressed to freedom fighter in Abe’s shadow. This also limits the world building opportunities in the game and, thus, shies away from the focus of Oddworld as a series.
This is why I see the retcon of Abe’s Exoddus as an opportunity to do the same with Munch. Here’s what a new and improved Munch’s Oddysee COULD look like if Munch was given the chance to stand on his own foot, or in this case, swim on his own flipper.
Keep the beginning the same. Munch explains he can’t find his own kind anymore after being overfished. He still gets captured by the Vykkers, the scientists who lack all sense of ethics and focus in animal testing. While their labs are located in a zeppelin in the original game, let’s keep them in the water. Animal testing and the harm it does to the environment would be a topical central theme, by focusing more on ocean life. Portions of the game taking place in the labs could take place on land and in the water as Munch travels through testing facilities, tanks, and flooded areas.
Unlike Abe, Munch isn’t discovering his ancestral home in his escape from the lab. Instead, he is searching for answers. Why was his kind hunted to near extinction? What sort of horrible experiments took place on his kind? Why can he still not find them in a lab filled with other sea creatures? There’s something being covered up about his species and what’s become of them and Munch must follow a trail of clues to find them.
My reasoning for changing the focus from the gabbit eggs is because of how unlikely it is that a simple can of gabbit eggs will save his race. Are they fertilized? Can they still hatch after being canned for who knows how long? If they hatch, how many will survive when many fish here on Earth die long before reaching maturity? Can they breed if we assume they’re all related?
No, the goal here isn’t to consume gabbits or their eggs. Rather, this new plot focuses on the consumption of information. The augment installed into their heads has turned them into controlled slaves set loose into the sewers of major cities to collect data to help create new products and raise sales. Munch’s only saving grace is that his malfunctioned and now acts as a ticking time bomb and his only defense against those who pursue him as he overloads it and zaps them. Munch must find a way out of the lab, into the ocean, and then into the sewers to deactivate the control devices.
This rethinking of the plot still makes Munch’s goal to save his kind, but it moves him through entirely unique places we’ve never gotten to see on Oddworld. What sort of harm is coming to their oceans and the animals living there? What lurks in the murky depths of the water and what sort of fantastic beauty is being horribly destroyed in the never ending march to sell and consume? What are the cities of Oddworld like and, most importantly, where do fleeches go when they get too big to be kept as pets and are, logically, flushed down the toilet? While Stranger’s Wrath is nearly completely separate from Abe’s original story, this new Munch’s Oddysee is closer to home and weaves into some similar settings through a fresh perspective.
For me, the biggest letdown from the original Munch’s Oddysee was the missed opportunity for exploring the waters of Oddworld. Munch swam but didn’t dive, which felt very counterintuitive to the character we were introduced to. If you’ve ever played Subnautica or Abzu, imagine that same sense of discovery and wonder set on Oddworld. Many of the ruling creatures are based on squids and octopuses, we could discover their origins. Maneuver through dark ocean caves, bright coral reefs that are slowly turning white and dying. New friendly and dangerous creatures, and how all are at the mercy of fishing nets that span miles of the ocean. A juxtaposition of the beauty of nature and the destruction of profit for profit’s sake.
That’s just my own idea on how we can re-imagine Munch in a more meaningful way in his story’s contribution to Oddworld at large. I don’t think Lorne Lanning, creator of the series, will be quick to toss aside such a wonderful character and opportunity. Only time will tell what’s in store for Munch, but we can all rest easy knowing it’ll be something delightfully odd.