Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath really changed things up from the typical Oddworld formula when it released. Gone was the lovable Abe and his mission to free Mudokens from the vicious Glukkons, and instead, players took on control of Stranger: a bounty-hunting badass who won’t let anything get in the way of him and his target. The gameplay completely changed up too, going from an explorative-puzzler to an action-adventure that blends together third-person and first-person perspectives.
After starting out as an Xbox exclusive back in 2005, it has seen multiple HD re-releases on an assortment of platforms over the years. Now, Switch owners are finally able to get in on the bounty hunting action too, and I’m happy to report that the game is just as fun to play fifteen-years on from its original release.
Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath’s tale sees Stranger in a tough situation, with him requiring a fair bit of moolah (the game’s currency) in order to pay for surgery that will save his life. What’s the best way for a bounty hunter to make some quick cash? By hunting some bounties down, of course, so he heads out across the towns of the Western-themed land to see what jobs he can take on, all whilst helping out the needy folk he encounters along the way. It’s a quirky little tale but one that’s full of silly humour that’ll keep you smiling throughout, with the charming characters and situations you find yourself in certainly capturing the Oddworld-vibe and ensuring that Stranger’s tale is an entertaining one.
Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath’s main gameplay revolves around hunting down the bounties that you pick up across the game’s towns, with a bigger reward given to you if you manage to capture them alive. Of course, it’s always easier to simply kill them, but those who want extra moolah to spend on new items and upgrades will want to try and capture as many as possible. Hunting bounties sees you working across the game’s world, defeating or sneaking past any of the bounty’s minions in your path, and then taking down the boss in a strategic encounter where you can either go all-guns blazing or try to be creative in order to take them in.
Stranger is a pretty efficient fighter and has a couple of melee attacks that are handy when taking on foes. However, it’s with his crossbow that he is most creative, with an assortment of different ammo types at his disposal to not only cause harm to his enemies but also outsmart them. You don’t use arrows in Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath, though– I mean, come on, that would be WAY too boring for an Oddworld game, right? Instead, you use live creatures as your ammunition. There are three different types of live-ammo that you’ll use: those that deal damage to your enemies, those that deplete their stamina in order to capture them, and those that lure enemies in and trap them.
These ammo types are then spread across the different creatures that you can find in the wild. The Stunkz for example are skunk-like creatures that’s smell will cause enemies to vomit, the Stingbees are like wasps and act as a machinegun-like damage dealer, whilst Chippunks will lure enemies to specific spots in order for you to catch them off guard. That’s just a small selection of the live-ammo you’ll use too, with plenty to discover and upgrade as you explore further across the vast world.
The most efficient bounty hunters will be those that mix together ammo types efficiently. You can arm your crossbow with two different creatures at a time, so you can use them in quick succession to take out your foes – there’s nothing quite like luring a group of enemies to one spot with some Chipmunks and then immobilising them quickly with a well-aimed Stunk for example. Being clever with your ammo will determine your success in Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath and can be a deciding factor as to whether or not you manage to take your bounty in dead or alive. Just be warned: this is live-ammo so you can’t just get it easily and have to hunt it down yourself, so make sure you go out of the way to track these creatures down when exploring so you’re not left empty-handed.
It makes for a really fun system in-game and it still holds up well today. Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath was pretty innovative when it released and even now some of its ideas haven’t been replicated that well elsewhere. Pursuing your bounty and being creative in your approach is certainly satisfying though, with the thrill of the hunt never subsiding even as you work through the game’s later sections. There are some tough difficulty spikes to be found though, so you’ll always need to keep your wits about you if you hope to survive.
The only real hindrance I found with the combat mechanics came with the JoyCon sticks, which seemed to lack the precision and accuracy to always line up shots perfectly. It’s something I’ve noticed in a few first-person titles on the platform previously, but given how important every shot is in Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath, it could make for a few frustrating moments when I couldn’t hit my shots perfectly each time. Of course, a lot of this could be down to my own lacking skills, but there’s no denying that some of this imprecision was due to over-sensitive JoyCon controls.
It’s also worth noting that despite holding up well, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath does show its age in some areas of its design. There’s a vacant feeling in some of the locales you visit and they seem to be lacking that hustle and bustle, whilst you can expect to see a fair bit of pop-in when heading across some of the larger areas of the game too. The stealth mechanics can also feel a little limited, with Stranger only really able to hide out in tall grass to keep out of sight of enemies – sure, it’s a viable means to hide out, but given how far the stealth genre has come over the years, you won’t be able to help but to wish that you had a few more modern tricks up your sleeve.
That’s not to say that some fresh ideas haven’t been introduced into the Switch release, with the new gyro controls giving you an all new way to line up your shots in-game. Whilst I’ll admit that I didn’t play around with it too much, I know it’s something that a lot of Switch owners appreciate in their shooters. The HUD has been re-worked and looks cleaner too, making it easier to keep track of everything in-game. It’s also surprisingly pretty with some truly imaginative sights to be seen, with the visuals holding up well despite this being a fifteen-year old title.
Performance-wise, everything is pretty smooth. The frame rate is mostly a consistent 60fps with the exception of a few of the busier areas, whilst the load times are pretty minimal. You’re never out of the action for too long if you die (which you will, it’s not an easy game) whilst travelling between locations is a breeze. The only real qualm I had came with the text size which could be a little small when playing on the Switch’s handheld mode, but it was certainly readable and didn’t deter from my overall experience.
With its charming tale and uniquely enjoyable bounty-hunting gameplay, there really is a whole lot of fun to be had in Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath. It holds up pretty well too, and whilst some aspects of the game can feel a little dated in places, it doesn’t feel like you’re playing a fifteen-year old game.
That’s not to say that everything is perfect though, with the controls proving to be a little finicky at times and the stealth mechanics a little too simple when it comes to trying to be sneaky in-game. Still, there’s certainly a lot more good than bad here, and Switch owners who fancy themselves an enjoyably unique escapade will definitely want to experience Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath bounty-hunting action.
Developer: Oddworld Inhabitants, Just Add Water, Square One
Publisher: Oddworld Inhabitants
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC