Despite the critical success of the franchise stemming since its first entry on the original PlayStation, Lorne Lanning’s Oddworld series has featured a myriad of troubles commercially since its inception. While titles like Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee and Abe’s Exoddus went down as 2D platforming cult classics, the series almost immediately faded into obscurity when developer Oddworld Inhabitants released the first 3D title in the series, Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee, for the original Xbox with Microsoft publishing, with the fourth title (and focus of this review), Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath, falling into the lap of Electronic Arts. This ended up being the final straw for Lanning and his team as after EA refused to market the game following the cancellation of its PlayStation 2 port (and in spite of its critical success), the game bombed financially, and Oddworld Inhabitants seized all development of future Oddworld titles until 2016’s Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty. While the future is looking bright for Oddworld Inhabitants in between the downtime from Stranger’s Wrath to New ‘n’ Tasty, the team at Just Add Water and Square One Games have helped bring a lot of the classic titles to modern consoles, including the series’ Nintendo Switch debut with Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD.
Stranger’s Wrath stands squarely apart from the rest of the Oddworld series as it feels very distinct from Abe’s 2D platforming and Munch’s 3D platforming. Stranger’s Wrath is a first-person shooter/3D platformer hybrid taking place on a separate part of the planet than the previous titles, following the protagonist Stranger as he tries to raise money for a life-threatening operation by taking in bounties across multiple different towns. Each level is broken up into platforming stages followed by boss encounters with enemies that can all be captured either dead or alive and traded in for money. While a first-person shooter set in the Oddworld universe may sound strange at first, the ‘live-ammo’ mechanic stays perfectly in line with the series’ usual creative and innovative spin on the genre.
Stranger’s ammo is based off of living creatures that can be hunted in levels that are split into nine types, such as Fuzzles, which can be shot onto flat surfaces and so they can attach themselves to enemies to distract them, Zappflies, which are in unlimited supply and charge up electrically so they can be shot at enemies to stun them, and Stingbees, which are rapid-fire types that chase after enemies. Two ammo types can be selected at a time, and the player is free to take a stealthy or offensive approach. While levels aren’t as intricately mapped as the likes of Deus Ex or Metal Gear Solid, there are a lot of optional approaches to every boss. Certain bosses, however, are thrust upon the player without any story setup or break in between with major, out of place difficulty spikes, especially one encountered upon Stranger leaving the first town, that stick out as examples of inconsistent game design.
When it comes to world-building and atmosphere, few developers have come anywhere near Oddworld Inhabitants, and Stranger’s Wrath is proof that the team have always been far ahead of their time in this regard. Lorne Lanning and team have always been incredible with utilizing video games to convey the vision for Oddworld, and the world of Stranger’s Wrath represents the most ambitious take we’ve seen of the world to date. While the narrative isn’t groundbreaking, neither now nor back in 2005, never has Oddworld looked and felt so real, and I can’t wait to see Lanning return to the world with this scope some day.
As far as the Nintendo Switch port is concerned, Square One has put up an admirable effort with this outing, yet there are some issues that can hopefully be addressed in future updates. While the game looks great docked and undocked, and there are clear resolution differences between the two, the game is more prone to frame rate dips, especially when playing handheld. The draw distance also gets distracting while playing in handheld mode as there is constant foliage popping in when traversing the world. However, an addition to this Nintendo Switch port that greatly benefits the game is that of gyroscopic aiming as many Nintendo Switch ports of shooters have added in.
Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD for Nintendo Switch is a short yet fun and charming jump back into Oddworld ahead of 2020’s Oddworld: Soulstorm that showcases the series at its most ambitious yet. While this Nintendo Switch port falls short in some technical areas, Square One and Just Add Water have done a great job breathing new life into this cult classic and transferring it to a platform where it will hopefully receive the love it deserves.
Developer: Oddworld Inhabitants, Just Add Water, Square One
Publisher: Oddworld Inhabitants
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 23rd January 2020