Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD Review: Weird, old west

Oddworld Stranger's Wrath

Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath first released back in 2005 on the original Xbox. Released in what was then the late-January dead zone, Stranger’s Wrath was critically adored but sank commercially when Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords launched around a fortnight later. I was one of the few that bought Stranger’s Wrath at the time, a blind purchase based on nothing more than the cover art and a gut feeling. I urgently sang the praises of this accidental masterpiece to anyone who would listen. 15 years later, I’m about to do it again. It is truly remarkable how ahead of its time Stranger’s Wrath really was. Developer Oddworld Inhabitants created something that would stand the test of time, and no-one played it. That they’ve re-released it with an HD overhaul for modern systems pleases me more than I can express.

Howdy, pardner

The game is set within the Oddworld universe, the same one that the famous Abe’s Odysee sprang from. It follows the mysterious Stranger, a feline-presenting Wild West drifter who ekes out a living as a bounty hunter. Dressed in the manner of The Man With No Name from Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy, Stranger is a unique creation. Stranger isn’t an academic. He mumbles and slurs his small words, pausing to think of the right ones mid-sentence, but his profession is such that he rarely needs them. He is a deadly and cunning foe, setting traps for his wily quarry to order to haul them in dead or alive.

Round em up

Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath follows a simple loop. You pick up a bounty, and head out to their last-known location. You infiltrate the stronghold and take down their gang one member at a time, capturing them dead or alive. Once you’ve slain or caught enough of them, your quarry will be drawn in the open. Take them down or take them in. Head back to the Bounty Store and cash in. Dead men can’t be brought to justice, thus live capture is more profitable.

To accomplish this, Stranger uses a single weapon — his trusty crossbow. The crossbow can be loaded with Live Ammo, actual living creatures that all perform different actions. Some have razor sharp teeth and can be placed on the ground, ready to chomp on unsuspecting guards. Some act as a grenade, flung into mobs of enemies for huge AOE damage. There are critters that stun with electricty, or tie guards up with webbing. Critters that make a noise to attract attention. As the strongholds become more challenging, finding creative ways to deploy your live ammo is the key to success. Trying to skate by on only two or three will get you killed. You need to use them all in different ways.

Stranger’s Wrath also sets itself apart by encouraging the player to switch between third- and first-person perspectives. The two perspectives allow developer Oddworld Inhabitants to experiment. Third-person is reserved for 3D platforming and exploration, while first-person is used for combat and planning your attack. The Switch version binds this to the right stick and you can jump between them at any time.

Dirty jokes

It’s been quite a while since the Oddworld series had a new entry in it. In fact, based on their Wikipedia page, Oddworld Inhabitants haven’t released a new game since 2014’s New ‘n’ Tasty! The last game prior to that was Stranger’s Wrath. Because of this, many players may not be familiar with the strange, somewhat offputting world in which the game is set. There are no humans in Oddworld, only animals and animal hybrids. The enemies you fight are mostly slugs in overalls. The people you help are mostly chicken people with southern accents. Stranger himself is like a panther crossed with Clint Eastwood. Its sense of humour is loud and mostly crude. It clearly has a lot of love for westerns as a genre, but it isn’t afraid to take an off-colour swipe at them either.

It’s kind of a lot to take in if you’ve never been exposed to Oddworld before. It’s also, somehow, exactly the kind of it-is-what-is weird bullshit that the internet adores. Again, it’s like OI looked into the future and knew what we wanted before we did.

Weird lookin’ dude

This is Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD, the remastered version of the game that was originally released back in 2011. Created by British developer Just Add Water, it’s been ported to just about every platform imaginable. The Switch version is the final release of what had originally been slated as a Wii U port. Just about every part of the game has been given a sharpen up; the game now runs in 1080p resolution, the models are more detailed, the voice lines and sound effects have been replaced with higher quality samples. All of the bonus content from the PlayStation 4 version makes its way over as well. The only thing the Switch version is missing is trophies and achievements, but if you’re on the Switch then that likely won’t bother you much.

The remaster does a great job of highlighting all of OI’s great visual work. The character animations are still full of charm, all of Stranger’s ammo critters are as fun to look at as ever. It also makes it easier to navigate the map. Climbable ropes and sections that were previously a little unclear are now a little more readable overall. This is good because it was easy to get turned around in the original. That doesn’t happen so much anymore.

Final thoughts

15 years after its release, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD feels as though it was well ahead of its time. Its ideas are as strong as they were at launch, its loop still as enjoyable as ever. It’s stood the test of time far better than many games of its era, and I’m glad it’s getting a second run on a portable system like the Switch. It belongs in the same rarified air as Beyond Good & Evil, a great game overlooked in its time that found its audience across multiple years and platforms. Well worth a look for video game historians, western fans and anyone in the mood for something weird.

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Highlights: Satisfying game loop; strong characterisation; Solid HD remaster
Lowlights: Humour and tone may be offputting for some
Developer: Oddworld Inhabitants, Just Add Water
Publisher: Microids
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Available: Now

Review conducted on Nintendo Switch using a retail code provided by the publisher.

David Smith

David Smith is the games and technology editor at The AU Review. He has previously written for PC World Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @RhunWords.

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