Categories: Reviews

Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD Review

The Oddworld series is beloved for a reason, and the last main entry in the series is no exception. Stranger’s Wrath was a big departure from the first set of puzzle-platformers, this time becoming an action-adventure shooter hybrid. It originally released in 2005 for the Xbox, with an HD remaster for PC and PlayStation 3 developed in 2010 and 2011 respectively.

After being ported to a plethora of systems (even including the Ouya, remember that for later), it’s finally gracing a modern system with this new Nintendo Switch release. This release promises a full 1080p and 60 frames-per-second experience with the biggest new feature being optional gyroscopic aiming. On paper, this seems like the perfect version, especially for those who prefer portable gaming, but unfortunately, there are some technical issues that hold it back from true greatness.

The main character is the titular Stranger, a bounty hunter that spends his days tracking down outlaws to raise money for an operation he needs. His past is shrouded in mystery, and we learn most about his personality from gameplay and his short interactions with villagers. He’s not an incredibly deep character, but you may be surprised where his character arc goes. The plot takes plenty of twists and turns as Stranger travels from one town to the next, but I think the true star is the setting. The world feels alive and interconnected with quirky character designs that differentiate it from your typical Western-inspired setting.

With the exception of the previously mentioned gyroscopic aiming, there is no noticeable change to the gameplay. Stranger’s Wrath had a solid foundation to begin with though, and this has made the transition to the newest port very well. You have two control styles – first and third-person – and you can switch between them as you please. Third-person is faster, but first-person is where you can deal the most damage.

Stranger is equipped with a crossbow and a capture device. In probably the most innovative aspect of the gameplay, he doesn’t shoot average ammunition. He has to gather a variety of live tiny animals to take down the enemies that he faces. These can vary anywhere between bee stingers that can rapid-fire, an electric shock that can instantly stun (one you’ll likely want to always have equipped), little monsters that can sap enemy health (great for setting traps), and much more. Once you knock out or kill an enemy, you can capture them. Live enemies get you a higher reward than dead ones, and how this gameplay mechanic develops between the first and second parts of the game was rather genius.

There’s a very satisfying cycle in place for the majority of the game: You take a bounty, talk to townsfolk to learn more about where to find them, travel to their hideouts, take down their goons along the way, and then make it to the outlaws’ boss fight. In a sense, the first chunk of the game is centered around these boss fights. The enemy types are very generic and are recycled frequently, but every single outlaw has a unique design and personality. All of them have their own gimmicks which work into their boss fights, and no two bosses play the same. These bosses are no joke, but an extra layer of complexity is added by your decision on taking enemies dead or alive. It’s a lot easier to kill bosses than capture them, but if you want more money you’ll have to tough out these challenging fights and sap their energy to capture them alive.

Unfortunately, despite the perfect set up for a game centered around boss fights, I found these to be the weakest part. What was consistently exciting, however, were the stages leading up to each boss fight. These are promising to begin with but gradually get worse starting with Packrat Palooka, becoming the antithesis of the levels that precede them. The level design is brimming with creativity, making a nice balance between difficulty and frantic fun. The outlaws eventually begin to rely heavily on cheap tactics like homing missiles and, in some cases, endlessly spawning enemies. The only way to really survive these is to frequently hide behind cover to avoid quick deaths. They lack excitement and grow tedious the further in you get. It’s an unfortunate blemish on a very creative game, but still not bad enough to ruin the experience.

The gyroscopic aiming goes a long way in helping you aim in first-person, letting you precisely line up your shots. Thankfully for those who don’t care for this, you can toggle it in the options menu. The settings available to you are surprisingly extensive for a Nintendo Switch game, going as far as letting you adjust anti-aliasing (between none, FXAA, and MSAA). There are even two UI styles to chose from. “2015” is the version that existed for the majority of my playthrough, and was based on the Ouya port which, in turn, was based on the mobile port. I’ll be blunt, this UI style looks incredibly ugly. The touch screen aspects didn’t work properly, and navigating shops is a nightmare.

This review was initially going to be much harsher because of this, but I was very surprised to see that a couple of days before launch the game got a pretty substantial update to reimplement the UI style from the original HD remaster. This “2019” option is the default now and works wonderfully. From this, I imagine that this Switch port may have been based on the 2015 Ouya version, which would explain the awkward mobile UI being taken directly from that. Thankfully the Nintendo Switch version is far better optimized, looking a clean 1080p when docked and never dropping below 60 frames-per-second.

There are some glitches that I hope can be ironed out with patches in the coming weeks. One of the ammo types, the Boombats, permanently have their eyes rolled almost into the back of their heads. It’s a minor thing, but heavily distracting when you notice it (you’re welcome). Also, when you’re in multi-level structures, you can see the shadows of enemies clip through the ground. One thing that I’ve already been told will be patched in is full subtitle implementation, but I hope this addresses a frequent issue of the subtitle text not actually matching certain spoken lines.

To many people, these issues would seem incredibly minor, and I honestly agree given the current state of the game. Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD is an unconventional game with a brilliant setting and a surprisingly innovative set of gameplay mechanics. Especially when you consider how much of a departure it is from the rest of the Oddworld games. The story didn’t move me too much, but Stranger’s journey was an entertaining one from start to finish. I wish the boss fights could have been a bit stronger and the port needs some more work before it becomes truly perfect, but I’d easily recommend this to someone looking for a shooter on their Nintendo Switch that stands out amongst the rest.

Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Oddworld Inhabitants

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Published by
Cullen Black

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