The Ooze is certainly an interesting game, at least on a conceptual level. The story of the game is that you play as a scientist who is turned into ooze by the evil corporation he works for and he is on a mission of revenge to take down their toxic organization and regain his humanity. The interesting concept comes from HOW you play as this ooze, as you take the form of essentially a giant moving puddle with a skull at the center. As The Ooze, you move through various grimy and toxic locales on your trip to take down your boss, only able to attack by way of extending your form in a sort of punch or spitting a glob of goo at an enemy from afar. You can pick up ooze to grow bigger as you play, but you can lose it to various hazards and enemy attacks, so you’re always shifting in size as you progress.
Now, this idea has a lot of interesting POTENTIAL applications, and could make for a very unique game! …Unfortunately, The Ooze comes and hits you with an intriguing concept and then has no idea how to execute it. Right off the bat the game shows you it did not design levels with the Ooze in mind. The world is incredibly difficult to navigate and requires a lot of finicky tricks to get past areas where you’re almost guaranteed to lose some of your mass. You will only die if your skull gets hit by an enemy attack or you run too low on mass, and the game LOOOOOOOVES to take your mass away. Enemies are ruthless, some firing weapons that fire straight through you and can sever off a huge chunk of your mass no sweat, and while you can try to strike them from afar, enemies are often hidden around corners you have to take or down obnoxiously small hallways. If you had more control of your mass, perhaps this wouldn’t be so bad, but you actually control the skull and the slime follows it.
Speaking of those hallways, almost every level is poorly designed for what should be the main appeal of this game. As The Ooze, it is very satisfying to grow into an enormous green puddle of angry former scientist, but the game takes every opportunity to rob you of mass or give you areas that compress you into very narrow paths. Those narrow paths are often set ups for some sort of enemy attack or trap that will cut you down to size. There’s no avoiding it! I can see the game shrinking you down sometimes to make certain areas not too easy, and I can also see it as a punishment for being brazen and brash… but the game just punishes you in general for playing it.
I must say, The Ooze probably ties with The Mysterious Murasame Castle for the hardest game I’ve ever played that is hard for all the wrong reasons. Besides the previously mentioned problems, the Ooze’s controls are not very intuitive, even when giving the allowances for the strange character you’re controlling. Punches can be angled around corners but it’s difficult to do what you’re trying to do consistently and movement in general seems to follow no consistent rule on how your slime will behave. You will adjust to it, but the game does not wait to throw you in the deep end. Enemies are everywhere and are sometimes hidden, requiring you to potentially check every area you go into carefully to avoid a cheap death and thus slowing down the game’s pace incredibly. There are also obstacles you can’t see such as hidden drains, except sometimes, hidden drains are the way onward! The game is in love with making it impossible to figure out what you’re supposed to do. To progress, especially in the later levels, requires blind luck when it comes to which walls you press up against and finding out which switches to flip to deactivate one of tens of barriers in an area. The levels are almost universally designed to make things difficult for no reason and figuring out how to go on will never make you feel clever since it usually just involves ramming yourself against potential danger in the hopes you actually selected the right obscure area to progress. Surprisingly, the only levels I feel I had actual fun with and enjoyed… were in the last zone of the game. Somehow, while the front of the game is frustratingly difficult and poorly designed, they whip out a simple area with reasonable challenge and appropriate punishments right before the end. I would joke they made you play the game in reverse, but the game had only been throwing more and more bad design at you until suddenly it gives you what should have been the design philosophy behind all the levels.
Remember how I mentioned your goal is to restore your humanity? That’s only possible if you find a bunch of DNA orbs hidden throughout the levels. The game puts some in sight, but the majority of them are squared away in places just as obscure as the ways onward. Randomly pressing yourself into a corner can take you to a minigame to get one of the orbs, but if you fail, tough luck. I ultimately beat the game with maybe 20 out of the possible 50, and it turns out the reward for getting them all is essentially one extra image during the ending.
The bosses are no better than the levels. Many of them require way too much damage to kill, you get very little indication of your progress on a boss, and many will drain your mass so quickly that you have to step away and repeatedly kill slowly spawning enemies for more ooze before you can step back in and land a scant few more strikes. Again, the final area surprised me, as the final boss seemed a more reasonable fight than all the others!
After slogging through this overly difficult and unfair game, I was pretty sure that out there, other people must be suffering like I did. I decided to look up some reviews for this game before writing this, and… apparently it’s somehow a bit of a cult classic! I could hardly believe that people enjoyed this game that much, but as I investigated a bit deeper, I noticed a common thread. Most people seemed to have never finished the game! They praise it while pointing out how hard it is, perhaps giving up when they hit roadblocks or from dying so easily and losing their progress. If I had to identify one reason why people seem so fond of this game, besides perhaps the fact people will look back fondly on a game of their youth regardless of quality, is the game’s one major strength: the atmosphere.
The Ooze absolutely revels in the oppressive corporate toxicity of its setting. Everything is dully colored and looks grimy or coldly corporate. Enemies are bugs, gross monsters, and things that look like twisted humans or soulless machines. It’s a hostile world, one poisoned so thoroughly by the corporation you’re angling to take down that you wouldn’t even need to watch the poorly conveyed and flickering opening cutscene to justify wanting to wipe them from the face of the planet. Again, we come back to how intriguing the concept is, how unique it is that you’re playing as an ooze puddle, all sold beautifully by an environment that oozes its poisonous nature unapologetically. Ultimately though, it’s hard to appreciate all this when the game itself is resisting your attempts to play it. I won’t give a bad game a pass just because it has a nice coat of paint over it. However, I do think The Ooze could be reimagined into a much more interesting and fun experience on modern hardware and with a team making it who has no emotional ties to or knowledge of the first game.
THE VERDICT: I legitimately thought at times that The Ooze might be so bad it would earn itself a Disaster Report. It’s almost like those final levels were a desperate saving throw by the game to avoid an Atrocious rating, as they helped show that for all its faults, it’s a functional game that can have a few moments where you feel like you’re maneuvering the Ooze in an interesting way. Because of this, The Ooze does not stand amongst the worst of the worst, but it is still needlessly difficult, poorly structured and designed, and does not make good use of its admittedly intriguing concept while also squandering a pretty decent tone and visual theme.
And so, I give The Ooze for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive…