There's something uniquely odd about Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath, and that's not just because of the franchise name. Despite getting showered with praise when it came out in 2005 only 600,000 copies were ever sold on the original Xbox, cementing it as a commercial failure. Whether that was because of the incoming console generation or down to baffled gamers is another matter, but it's undeniable that Stranger's Wrath deserved more love. Thankfully, Stranger's Wrath HD manages to be even better than it was 15 years ago despite its age, and this Switch port is a golden opportunity for players to experience this golden cult classic.
Switching up the oppressive hyper-capitalistic factories for a straightforward spaghetti western theme, Stranger's Wrath puts you in the boots of the titular intimidating, deep-voiced bounty hunter named Stranger. He ain't strolling into town to make pals though, thanks to his ambition to catch outlaws and earn a ton of 'moolah' for a mysterious life-changing operation he's desperate for.
It's all straightforward and laid back at first, but after a damning reveal later on everything becomes far more dramatically rich. Stranger initially comes off as a stereotype who fits into the surroundings like a glove, but as everything becomes clearer you begin to understand the affecting motivations and conflicts that drive him forward. It's mature stuff for a game that also has a lot of really silly moments, but it all ends up coming together to make something with a strong moral compass and a life lesson that anyone can adhere to. Some might call it a tad too preachy, but there's no denying that the core message is perhaps more impactful now than it's ever been before.
The plot isn't the only aspect that subverts expectations though. Shifting away from its roots, Stranger's Wrath primarily focuses on hunting down outlaws instead of saving slaves. Most of the time it's a similar deal; you head into a town filled with ugly chickens, take your pick from the available bounties, and then head to their location. After you've kicked the outlaw around a bit you take a convenient shortcut back to town and do it all over again. This sounds both boring and repetitive but the flexible gameplay and open level design mixes things up, allowing for a lot of improvisation that constantly keeps things feeling fresh throughout the entire game.
One of the notable features is that you can switch between a first and third-person gameplay style whenever you please by clicking the right stick, with different advantages depending on the situation. For example, the latter is naturally ideal for traversing across the many surprisingly large and detailed environments you'll be visiting since Stranger can run pretty quickly, along with jumping across platforms and climbing things with ease. It feels a little sluggish, especially when the camera seems to have a hard time panning up and down in this mode but it does give you a keen advantage when figuring out how you'll deal with enemies.
First-person, on the other hand, is where everything shines with the usual weirdness that Oddworld is known for along with the better combat potential. In this mode, Stranger whips out his trusty crossbow to shoot at varmints with live ammunition, essentially little animals and critters you collect that all have different uses depending on whether you want to outright kill your foes or capture them for more cash. Since you can use two at a time there's plenty of great combinations for you to improvise with during the mayhem.
Zappflies are the most useful thanks to their infinite ammo and snappy fire rate along with a charged shot that can interact with explosive barrels and dangerous objects, which comes in handy whenever you spot some idiots who thought it would be a great idea to stand directly under a giant boulder. Fuzzles meanwhile are meant for pestering enemies and causing havoc whilst Thudslugs, Stingbees and Boombats are great for causing utter devastation when used right. Our favourite combo was the Thudslug and Zappfly, useful for stunning foes and knocking them to the ground for an easy catch. Later on, they all get better upgrades, and quite frankly we don't think there'll ever be as good a combo as the Stunkz (a literal skunk) and Boombat together. The former sucks the enemies in, the latter blows them up. There's no way that isn't entertaining, leading to combat encounters that are always encouraging you to think about how to best deal with the situation using what you have available. You can even save the game at nearly any point you want just to experiment with what you can do.
Mind you, it is possible to avoid combat altogether even if it ends up being tediously dull. Stealth is an option with the Chippunk, a loudmouthed rodent that attracts enemies to a location along with Bolamites, a web that instantly traps enemies for you to easily catch them. This all sounds good, but there's just not much incentive to use them consistently. Catching enemies during a firefight is mostly easy, and if you take damage you can recover all your lost health with a single button if you have enough stamina.
On top of that, the level design generally doesn't encourage stealth in the first place. For example, early on you'll be after a bounty hidden inside a fort with patrolling guards. It's the perfect case for being stealthy until you find out that smashing up the front gate in front of every single enemy is the only way in. Sadly stuff like this is consistent across the whole game, constantly holding the true golden potential of Stranger's Wrath back from glory.
This isn't a huge concern though, especially not when the boss fights are this good. The bounties you hunt down are all a lot tougher than the regular goons you fight since each of them features different arenas and powers to keep everything varied, like having a ton of enemies back them up or even a super-powered robot suit with a crucial weak spot. They're all loud and in charge, but the best ones change as the fight goes on, such as a crazy minecart ride where you shoot buttons to get him on level terms with you. Sniper battles, force fields, bigger protective brutes and so on make each encounter memorably thrilling to the end, especially if you try to capture them for the extra cash and challenge.
They've also all got amusingly silly names like 'Packrat Palooka' and the same loud voices that all managed to get a good few laughs out of us. In fact, nearly everything in Stranger's Wrath has aged gracefully with a lot of humour and a strong sense of character to everyone and everything. The cranky chicken townsfolk are probably the best of the bunch since you'll be interacting with them a lot via chatting to sort out easy prerequisites needed to access areas. Expect to be mocked, insulted and praised by these corpulent flightless vermin - especially when you fail to resist the urge of punching them in the face for calling you a turd again.
Shame about the muffled audio quality though, which is perhaps the only let down in the HD update aside from the low-resolution FMV cutscenes. The rest of the game looks gorgeous for the most part with dusty deserts and lush forests, pushing far beyond what the original could do all those years ago. In fact on a technical level, things get pretty interesting with the Switch port. Stranger's Wrath runs at a crisp 1080p in docked mode (720p in handheld) with anti-aliasing options on hand, which dramatically change the visual quality and framerate. Whilst you could set it to MSAA and call it a day we recommend you instead turn it off to get a smooth framerate of 60fps. Even then, it still dips below that on several occasions despite the low texture filtering and poor foliage draw distance. These aren't a huge deal, however, considering the resolution bump and ability to take your bounty hunting adventures wherever you want with snappy load times to sweeten the deal. Heck, you can even turn on the gyroscopic aiming for both first and third-person modes if you're alright with looking like a fool and getting better shots.
Some games from the past can seem a lot more archaic as time moves forward, but that doesn't entirely apply to Stranger's Wrath aside from the stealth gameplay and technical jank. If anything it's aged beautifully and is still just as good as the day it first came out 15 long years ago, with flexible combat and a story that is more relatable than ever before. Whether you missed it the first time or have never even heard of Oddworld before, this is the perfect time to jump into the excellent Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath HD if you have a Switch.
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