I started playing Oddworld: New ‘N Tasty and oh god, I’m going to have to save all 299 of these Mudokons, aren’t I?
In 2014’s Oddworld: New ‘N’ Tasty, you play as the Mudokon Abe, an overworked, underpaid alien working for a company that destroys the ecosystem and drives indigenous creatures extinct — so your typical Amazon employee. New ‘N’ Tasty follows Abe as he escapes from RuptureFarms, an evil meat processing plant whose board has decided to turn its Mudokon workforce into its latest product. There are 299 Mudokon slaves you can choose to save from the clutches of Evil Alien Jeff Bezos, but you only need to rescue about half of them to get the game’s good ending. I don’t 100% complete games, even though I sometimes want to, because I think it’s a waste of time, but 150 I can do.
For most of the game you navigate gruesome platforming puzzles, like dodging falling chunks of meat or sneaking by armed trigger-happy guards. You save your co-workers by calling out to them with a number of commands. To get their attention you can make Abe say “Hello.” To get them to follow you to wherever the closest portal to freedom is, you simply say “Follow me.”
The reason why I only planned on saving the minimum amount of Mudokons required to get the good ending is because Mudokons are dumb as bricks. Without meticulous guidance, they will walk carefree into the various traps and hazards that make RuptureFarms an OSHA nightmare. Forget to disarm a meat-grinder before beckoning to your friends with the “follow me” command? Well, now there are chunks of Mudokon exploding across the screen as a gut-wrenching audio cue sounds to mark your failure. I don’t need that kind of stress, y’all.
As I was exploring, I came across a big sign that said “If you leave, everyone will die.” It’s a big, heartstring-pulling sign that has a bunch of sad, dead Mudokons silently asking “you won’t leave us here to die, right, Abe?”
Yes, I would. After all what do flight attendants tell you before taking off: “You gotta secure your mask before helping others.” Abe’s gotta save himself first, right?
Oddworld is nice in that it keeps track of how many Mudokons there are and how many you’ve saved via big billboards placed sporadically throughout the game. Before escaping RuptureFarms, I checked my progress on the billboard. I was at 20 Mudokons saved, no casualties and 279 Mudokons left. The game is sneaky in that it tells you how many total Mudkons there are (299), but never how many in just your level. So when I arrived at the next level, I was unprepared for the horror I felt at being told that I’d abandoned 50 Mudokons to their doom. I knew about the secrets — the well-concealed trap doors and portals that reveal hidden areas where there are more workers to free. But I wasn’t trying to 100% this game, I had some idea that people would die, I just didn’t expect over 2/3rds of the Mudokons in that level would be in hidden areas.
I felt really bad, in a way I wasn’t expecting. That 50 in the “casualties” spot on the billboard was a condemnation not of my thoroughness as a gamer, but as a person. What kind of monster knowingly leaves 50 Mudokons behind to die for your crimes? If it were one or two maybe I could have continued on my “bare minimum” run. But 50? That was too much. Those lives were on my head, and I had to make it right. I am Jack Shepard and I have to go back.
I thought it’d be a simple matter of reloading my last quicksave, except quicksaves don’t work between levels. In order to go back, I’d have to start the game over. So I did. There’s a point in the first level where you can sneak by a sleeping guard or kill him. I snuck past, but I should have chosen violence: When I went back to that area after realising I missed a secret, the way the guard is positioned prevented me from killing or sneaking past again. Another restart. All told, I spent over three hours scouring a place that normally takes only 40 minutes, before finally completing it with all 70 Mudokons saved.
Since I hadn’t planned on 100% completing the game, I thought I was prepared to accept some casualties. I don’t need 299 Mudokons to get the good ending, but these are lives at stake. When Mario misses a hidden cat shine, nobody shoots a cat. If I fail to find my coworker secreted away in a hidden area, he fucking dies. The guilt is crushing.
So this is my life now, I’m on the path to save 299 coworkers because I can’t live with the knowledge of leaving them behind. I have to play with my laptop nearby, a walkthrough queued up, because I’m paranoid I’ll miss a secret area.
It’s hard being saddled with this new responsibility. All that stress I was trying to avoid has become my constant companion. I’m gutted whenever I fuck up and a coworker dies, forcing me to reload a difficult puzzle. It’s worse because Abe knows their deaths are his fault, but he just shrugs and offers a pitiful “oh no” in response. Why am I cursed to care so much?