Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath HD

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PlayStation Vita, Xbox, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action
Developer: Oddworld Inhabitants
Release Date: Jan. 23, 2020


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Switch Review - 'Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath HD'

by Cody Medellin on Jan. 31, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

In Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath, players step into the role of the Stranger, a rough and tumble bounty hunter who tracks down outlaws for moolah.

Released in 2005 for the original Xbox, Stranger's Wrath didn't sell incredibly well, but it spawned a faithful following and many ports. It was only a matter of time when we would get the first Nintendo Switch port, et voilà, Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath HD is here. While a dedicated fan base is great, they aren't worth a lot if the game doesn't perform up to today's standards. Let's see how well the HD version on the Switch holds up in 2020.

If you haven't heard of Oddworld, there are a few games that you may want to catch up on. Stranger's Wrath HD might be a great entry point, as it tells a mostly contained tale while retaining the series' signature visual style. In Stranger's Wrath, we control Stranger, a creature that's a mix between a dog, lion and man. Stranger is a tough-as-nails bounty hunter who's always on the lookout for some Moolah, which is the currency in this world. As such, we take on contracts to deliver bandits and collect bounties — either dead or alive. What starts as some loosely strung-together bounty missions evolves into an interesting and twisting story. The gameplay, story and structure hold up relatively well, especially considering the game's age. Chances are that if you weren't a fan of the original, this port would likely frustrate you.

Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath HD mixes two distinct gameplay genres: first-person shooter and third-person platformer. The former is more pronounced than the latter, but both are required in equal measures. Both gameplay styles work well, but it can be strange to frequently switch between them because the viewpoint drastically changes the way Stranger moves. When platforming, Stranger has some weight to him. We can double-jump on platforms, slide down angled surfaces, and climb ropes. It's not difficult, but his movements are relatively clunky and ponderous. When Stranger misses a platform and falls, it highlights the game's lack of fluidity that we're accustomed to in most platformers. It's more of a start-stop-start motion that doesn't really blend together well. Stranger can also attack using a headbutt and a rotary melee attack that is handy when surrounded by a bunch of enemies.

In first-person view, the gameplay changes quite a bit. We can still double-jump for platforming purposes, but melee attacks are limited to a simple jab. Some platforming elements, such as climbing ropes, require us to switch back into third-person. It's also as if Stranger loses all of his weight in this mode; jumping and traversal feel much smoother and precise. That's one of the reasons why I remained in first-person mode as much as possible.

The other reason is the main combat attraction, Stranger's crossbow. It's what sets apart Stranger's Wrath from other games. The only weapon aside from our fists is a trusty crossbow that we use to shoot live ammunition at enemies. We can load up to two types of ammunition into our crossbow, all of which serve different purposes. There are chipmunks to lure enemies to locations by making noise, spiders to entangle enemies, skunks to make them pass out and vomit, bugs with an electrical current to serve as a trap and distraction. It's essentially what makes the gameplay varied and interesting, since we can swap between available ammunition types.

It's also where the general bounty system kicks in. As mentioned, we take on bounties and then hunt down the culprit and any minions. We can either kill or disable them, but we get more Moolah if we capture (or vacuum) them alive. Once we defeat an enemy, we can vacuum them up and receive a bounty when we return to town. Some enemies and bosses are designed with certain ammunition in mind. It isn't the most varied arsenal in a video game, but it's varied enough that it is fun to experiment and use them in different situations over the 10+ hours. Apart from ammunition, there are also some environmental hazards — e.g., cranes, fans, water — that can be used to kill enemies by activating them or pushing enemies into them. The encounters are generally fun and reasonably varied, it's remarkable since the title is about 15 years old at this point.

The environments aren't all visual masterpieces, but there is a decent variety, even though a few areas look similar. The game even tries to include some stealth, but apart from hiding in a few bushes, this component is underdeveloped. The same can be said to the earned Moolah, since we can't spend it outside of a few upgrades in the general store. That means there's not much of an incentive to capture any enemy alive, apart from challenging yourself. It's a shame that this mechanic doesn't lead to more repercussions in the game world, but it doesn't break anything, either, so how you want to play is ultimately up to you.

The game's age certainly shows. Some enemies and encounters can be frustratingly tough, and it occasionally feels as if "difficulty" means more and higher-damage guns being pointed at you. This is where the inherent clunkiness of some controls takes its toll. Since we're using live ammunition, we have to hunt for it when we run out. This usually boils down to finding where the little critters hide, take them out, and collect them. However, this is way too difficult for a theoretically simple task. The crosshair is huge, so it's hard to hit the little creatures, especially if you have the collective force of 10 different guns blasting at your back.

Even if you don't run out of ammo, it doesn't feel natural to change ammo types, either. This frustration extends to other parts of the control scheme, such as camera controls that can be painfully slow and awkward. Even after setting the sensitivity to the highest level and inverting the camera controls, the Y axis moves ridiculously slow compared to the X axis. There is support for gyro aiming, but that may or may not work better, depending on how comfortable you can get to that control scheme.

Visually, Stranger's Wrath HD looks like a 15-year-old game pushed to HD. For that, it looks decidedly solid but not great. The live critter ammunition on your crossbow is still funny to watch as they grimace at you, and the overall design and cut scenes hold up pretty well. The character models aren't pretty, textures look blurry, and the towns look dead — but not by intentional design. It runs at an HD resolution and aims for 60 fps, but especially when docked, that frame rate will not be locked. The settings offer to turn off the anti-aliasing to gain more stability, which I would recommend. There's also the option of FXAA and MSAA, but those make the game less smooth.

Handheld mode runs better to the naked eye, but that may be due to the smaller screen. It's perfectly playable at all times. This inherently extends to sound and voice acting, which may be charmingly old school for some or annoyingly bad if you are expecting sound design that is close to what we are used to nowadays. Voice acting is sometimes cringe-inducing, and the variety of lines is limited, especially for NPCs. The music is good enough and rounds out the decently dated audio experience.

Overall, there isn't much that one can fault in Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath HD on the Switch. It runs and looks improved on all fronts, and it features a game that is interesting and fun to play. It's quite dated in some respects, such as the audio, controls, and overall design. While this is unlikely to scare away fans of the series, newcomers should probably be aware that this is a diamond in the rough with more than a few sharp edges. Just like 15 years ago, though, this is still a trip worth taking.

Score: 7.5/10

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