Calling a PlayStation Vita game "HD" is something of a misnomer, as the Vita screen isn't physically capable of displaying 720p, let alone 1080i/p. With that said, we're willing to give Stranger's Wrath a pass on the overused marketing speak since the game looks absolutely fantastic on the Vita's OLED display. The gameplay doesn't quite live up to the same lofty standards, though it still holds its own against much of the competition. That's not bad for a game that was originally released in 2005.
Part of the Oddworld franchise, Stranger's Wrath made its debut on the original Xbox, courtesy of EA. The game tells the story of the mysterious Stranger, a bounty hunter who needs to earn 20,000 "moolah" in order to pay for life-saving surgery. The game kicks off with a short tutorial segment before setting you loose on the bad guys of Oddworld.
Crafted from the mind of Lorne Lanning, the environments you'll explore within Oddworld are its biggest strength. Mixing equal parts reality and fantasy, the world is both familiar and foreign all at once. Standard conventions — such as stores, towns and weapons — apply, yet everything is tweaked just enough to feel alien. It can be best described as a surreal Western, complete with anthropomorphic creatures and living ammunition.
One theme that has always run through the Oddworld games is that of nature versus corrupt corporations, and that theme carries through in Stranger's Wrath. One way in which it does so is with the living ammunition. Since Stranger is at one with nature and fighting the good fight, he uses the creatures of the land to power his crossbow. In this way, extra ammo is nearly always around — you just need to catch it.
Each critter you snag has a specific effect. The spiders wrap your targets in webbing when fired while the smartass Chippunks serve as a distraction. Fire them near a group of enemies, and their incessant smack talk draws in your opponents. Each weapon type serves as an analog to a more traditional gun, so nothing really feels out of place; it's just slightly tweaked.
The towns of Oddworld serve as level hubs as you progress through the game. You can get supplies in the shop and accept bounties at the bounty store. Each bounty has two prices listed: one for living and one for dead. Capturing a bounty alive always rewards a higher payout, so there's an incentive to do just that. Of course, there's also a catch — many of the outlaws don't want to be taken alive. Killing them is usually easier than capturing them, at least when talking about specific bounty targets.
Fighting against standard enemies in Stranger's Wrath is much like any other action adventure. They can be a decent challenge, but so long as you play it smart and don't go rushing into the thick of things, you'll probably be all right. Like your bounties, capturing normal enemies alive awards a higher payout. This has the net result of encouraging stealth-like play for much of the game.
Once you move into battle with a bounty target, Stranger's Wrath switches gears a bit and starts to show some of the puzzle logic that was a mainstay in the earlier Oddworld games. Whereas the adventuring portions could be completed in a straightforward manner, each boss fight requires identifying specific weaknesses and exploiting them, especially if you want to catch them alive. Simply running in blind is guaranteed to result in death.
This difference in play style is one of the areas in which Stranger's Wrath is a product of its time. Rather than lead the player into a fight with some knowledge of what's to come, it just throws you in cold. If you don't know what to do, it's going to seem terribly unfair. To be honest, it is. The actual combat AI behind the boss characters isn't anything impressive, so the way the game provides a challenge is to create obstacles that can only be taken out in a specific way. Once you learn the weak spots, the bounty fights become much easier.
In addition to the visuals, the audio presentation is another area where Stranger's Wrath has been improved over the Xbox original. Spoken lines are very clear on the Vita, making it easy to understand lines that sometimes sounded like a mumbled mess before. While it wasn't a game-breaker back then, the new level of clarity allows some overlooked humor to shine through.
Despite feeling slightly dated, Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath still manages to impress on the Vita's small screen. The revamped graphics look incredibly sharp, and the repetitive bits of gameplay don't have a chance to grate on the player because of the Vita's convenient suspend feature. It's a game that is perfectly suited for consumption in 15- to 30-minute chunks. At a retail price of only $15, it's also one of the better values in the Vita library.
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