Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD Review — Hello Again, Stranger
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“I need this…to survive.” These are the words that capture Stranger’s timidity that is masked by his menacing complexion and gruff sounding, exhausted voice. Words that show a sense of desperation hungering deep within the protagonist of Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD. For me, I’ve been reunited with Stranger after nearly 15 years since it originally launched on the Xbox.
Seeing Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath released in 2020 after having owned the 2005 Xbox exclusive is a strange reality. Stranger as a character had left a memorable impression on me in my younger years as he has the makings of an antagonist. But he’s just struggling, trying to earn Moolah to pay for a mysterious operation. To do that, the bounty hunter does what he does best, hunting bounties.
The game takes you through three towns of an alien world set to the theme of a western. The towns are inhabited by turkey-chicken beings that you can slap about and steal their Moolah if you feel nasty. Outside of these towns are the outlaws that Stranger can capture, either dead or alive. Capturing them alive with your weird sucky device will grant you more Moolah than if you capture them dead. The art of capturing the outlaws is a simple button hold, but it does leave you open to attacks.
Enemies consist of numerous gangs around the world. Each gang has various types of henchmen that can either be left to decay or bagged up quickly for extra cash when the main bounty has been captured. The main bounties are bosses, of whom can also be captured dead or alive. Each one is unique with their own ways of being taken down, providing you have the right type of ammo and can knock their stamina down low enough.
This is why stealth in Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD is favored over action; it’s just a shame the stealth mechanics are incredibly problematic. The only stealth mechanic is the ability to hide within some tall grass, which can allow you to lure enemies with live ammo — which I’ll get into in a moment. But the act of being stealthy becomes a pointless exercise as the game progresses and the tall grass starts to become more sparse, and instead more puzzle-like elements become a stronger focus.
Stranger is capable of two melee attacks, a spinning attack and a headbutt attack. However, he also has the crossbow, the key and standout weapon throughout Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD. For the crossbow, Stranger can equip numerous “live ammunition” in the form of critters that can be either purchased from the general goods store or hunted around the world. Each critter serves different purposes: some distract enemies, some trap enemies, others explode, some provide electricity to overcome obstacles.
The crossbow has two slots, allowing you to easily double up on critters, such as having a Zappfly to shock the enemy and then tie them up with a Bolamite. Time pauses when you’re flicking through your critters, which gives you the time to go through how many critters you have left, and how best to utilize them.
Equipping the crossbow does change the perspective, meaning you’ll be going from a third-person platformer to a first-person shooter at your command. I felt the feature worked wonderfully, but there’s still that irritation that you can’t have it set specifically for first-person or third-person, especially if you’re not a fan of a specific perspective. Additionally, trying to flick between third-person melee combat and ranged combat can be incredibly fiddly during intense combat.
There are also issues with the camera rotation and aiming options. Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD allows the player to use the right thumbstick or the gyroscope in the Joy-Con to aim or control the camera. Both of them are awful when in docked mode. The thumbstick aiming, no matter with what sensitivity, feels too sticky. As for gyroscope aiming, when docked, you can rotate the right Joy-Con to control the camera, but it becomes a shivering and sensitive mess, or low-sensitivity wrist-twisting pain. The only way the gyroscope aiming works is when in handheld mode. The aiming in this mode feels just right and makes for a better experience.
While the third-person platforming experience feels fluid with lots of grunting and jumping and locating moolah, there are some performance issues. Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD is slated to run at 60fps in 720p HD. However, when confined to smaller areas in the world, the game runs great. In the larger areas and outside of towns, the frame rate drops depending on your anti-aliasing setting.
With anti-aliasing turned off, the game runs smoothly. Switch it to MSAA and you start to see movement becoming jerky and wriggling with a noticeable drop in FPS. Ramp it up to FXAA and the FPS drops even more, with a more noticeable wobbly screen. On the plus side, the loading screens are almost non-existent and are incredibly fast, at least when respawning.
Dropped frames during travelling can be somewhat distracting, but the game runs well and doesn’t cause significant battery drain. I was able to play for about three hours and the battery went from 100% to 57% in that time. And while textures might look better than the 2005 version, when up close they can look rough, but at least the sky looks beautiful.
The entire game’s interface has been revamped since the 2010 HD remaster to suit the modern screen, so it does look a lot nicer. The problem is, navigating the new store layout is now complicated, and informative text feels far too small to read when in handheld mode. The minimap will only appear if enemies are nearby, and navigating the rest of the world is reliant on finding physical signs and speaking to the chicken people.
I felt there could have been more to indicate low-health situations. While you get directional indicators to show you where the damage is coming from in the world, there’s nothing to indicate if you’re low on health. Sure, you’ve got the health bar in the top right, but you’d be surprised at how often it gets overlooked. Having some animation on the bar to make it stand out, or even an onscreen effect such as a vignette would remind you to heal up.
By the way, healing up can be done by simply thumping your chest like a monkey, compensating stamina for health. You can purchase health and stamina consumables, but even on normal difficulty, I’ve made it through the game without using a single consumable.
The subtitle situation is a complicated matter in Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD. In 2005, the game had no subtitles whatsoever. In 2011, the PS3 version had subtitles present throughout the entire game, including in-game cutscenes, cinematics, and during gameplay. In the 2020 Nintendo Switch version, subtitles seem to be a mess.
Some subtitles seem to be missing as the game progresses and gameplay subtitles don’t seem to exist…except for one chicken guy. Just him; no one else in the entire game has gameplay subtitles. The issue here is that gameplay dialogue can be essential to learning of locations or intel. There’s even a button to make Stranger address the player personally about what the next objective is.
After speaking to a representative about these missing subtitles, it was confirmed that a free DLC is heading to the game shortly after launch. The DLC will introduce full subtitles for all forms of dialogue in numerous languages. It’s a shame that it’s not available at launch, but it’s still great to see numerous languages being supported in full.
The performances in Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD are all memorable with humorous quips that will stay with you and comedic situations that keep the game entertaining throughout its dark story. While there’s not much to do outside of the linear progression and main story, the number of bounties available keep the game lengthy. The scale of the world is impressive as well, considering that the game comes in at roughly 962 MB.
Overall, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD feels incredibly enjoyable to play and despite being a game that’s now 15 years old, it has been adapted to the Switch fantastically. The port certainly keeps the magic of the classic alive with the overhauled interface and impressive loading times. It’s certainly an enjoyable single-player experience especially for fans of platforming adventures.