Release Date: January 23, 2020
Rating: T (Teen)
System: Nintendo Switch
What's It About?
The Nintendo Switch recently got an HD version of Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath, which originally appeared on the Xbox back in 2005. We've since gotten several updates of the game on other consoles, but despite loving the look of it, I only got around to playing Stranger's Wrath recently on Switch. The story follows Stranger–a grizzled, Clint Eastwood-type bounty hunter that looks like someone merged a Dr. Seuss critter with a Spaghetti Western's anti-hero. It's a weird mash-up that somehow works perfectly. Along the way, Stranger takes in roughnecks and outlaws to the local jails in exchange for Moolah, the currency he needs for an expensive (and mysterious) operation.
Like its weird mash-up aesthetic, the gameplay is a strange combination of third-person action-adventure and first-person shooter, with a few flourishes of a platformer. Somehow, it works. Although switching between views and play-styles isn't always the easiest thing to do, especially in fights–but more on that later!
Although it may feel repetitive initially to leave town, bag a bounty, and return to collect Moolah, the game successfully keeps from feeling too monotonous by having players visit new areas for each bounty. Think of it as levels in a platformer. One time you may be running through a canyon filled with scared little duck-men, and the next time you're swimming through a labyrinthine water treatment facility. Almost always, you have to take a new path back to town, which also keeps the game feeling fresh.
I'm also a huge fan of the first-person shooter portions of the game. You collect different kinds of ammo, which are really just vermin that can do different things to the bad guys. There's a spider that wraps enemies in its web, a wasp that chases around and stings baddies (sometimes until they die), a skunk that ravages outlaws with its stench, and plenty more. Experimenting is part of the fun!
The game's quirks (duck people with thick Southern drawls, the rampant potty humor, and the tongue-in-cheek grizzled Western tropes) all mesh together to form a somewhat odd (as in Oddworld, get it?) adventure.
Despite the game successfully giving players new environments to explore throughout Stranger's adventure, most of the bounties feel pretty much the same. Sure, there are a few changes to the formula here and there (like the time you have to rescue a professor instead of bagging an outlaw), but there's not much discrepancies in most of the baddies. This is especially true early in the game, when there's almost no story. I nearly got bored and quit. Thankfully, the story kicks in after a few bounties, and the gameplay mechanics get much more interesting. Still, it's a bit of a slow start that might turn off some people.
And then there's one of my biggest (and maybe pettiest) nitpicks: the buttons. Yes, really. The buttons.
Let's be honest, it's not always super easy to switch between first-person shooter and third-person platformer at the drop of a hat–especially when you've got twenty bad guys shooting you with their shotguns and rocket launchers, and you need to double-jump across some precarious pieces of wreckage.
The button layout should've been way different and more user friendly. Pressing in the right analog stick while spamming three other buttons is never easy, and it seems like literally any other button could've been more efficient at switching between viewpoints and play-styles.
I'm not sure if this is a problem exclusively with the Nintendo Switch version, or if all the other ports had it. Either way, it's extremely annoying and can ruin whatever fun you're having with Stranger's Wrath. Personally, it's made me lay down the game a few times and play something else, but the overall fun of Stranger's Wrath has drawn me back to playing it without too long of a break. So maybe just consider it a cautious warning.
First off, we've got to talk about the price. Yeesh. Thirty bucks is a bit steep for a port like this, and I'm not convinced it's worth it. Don't get me wrong: it's a fun game–but it's got plenty of issues that keep it from being worth the $30 price. The biggest issues, of course, all come from just how poorly some parts of the game have aged.
The graphics, while given a nice HD update, still feel like they're from a game from 2005. I think it's mostly because of how washed-out a lot of the character designs and environments feel. Yes, I realize this is just the art style of the game, but it makes everything feel a tad outdated and dull. It just hasn't aged as well as it should've.
And speaking of things that haven't aged well: a lot of the humor feels cringe-worthy now. If you think ducks with hillbilly accents cursing and farting is hilarious, then great. For me, it got old–and really fast. In fact, most of the vulgarities felt dated and lame. In 2005, maybe it was edgy to have a cartoon duck saying “ass” a whole bunch. In 2020, it just makes me want to roll my eyes.
Overall, Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath offers a fun and quirky first-person shooter that keeps things fresh by borrowing from third-person platformers and action-adventure games. Despite some aging issues, I've enjoyed most of my time with it. Still, I'm not sure it's worth the $30 price.