Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath was a unique console exclusive for the original Xbox when it released in 2005, and it still manages to stand apart from today’s games ten years later. Controlling Stranger in both first- and third-person, the game managed to combine action, adventure, and shooting in to a nice, neat package, further increased by excellent storytelling, great voice acting (for its time, anyway) and solid character design within its western setting.
Celebrating a decade of odd, developer Square One ported the game over to mobile platforms, as well as the OUYA microconsole in 2015, but this isn’t the first time a new developer decided to bring the game to other markets. In 2011, developer Just Add Water did a pretty stellar job remastering the game in 720p for PS3 and PC, but unfortunately for OUYA owners, the newly released version is the worst available.
If you’ve never played the game before, Stranger’s Wrath is a first- and third-person hybrid action/shooter where you’ll spend a lot of your time collecting and completing bounties in a western-themed world. As Stranger, you’re equipped with a unique weapon that fires off living creatures as ammunition. For instance, one critter may attract enemies to its landing zone, while another covers them in a sticky web or causes them to vomit in order to immobilize them for easier capture–bringing back targets alive always yields a larger payment. Stranger’s crossbow also allows you to equip two critters at once for a more strategic approach to combat, and gives you some rather interesting ways to thwart the opposition. Stranger’s Wrath is about 15-20 hours long and mostly enjoyable with a great soundtrack, fun characters, and funny dialogue, but it’s not without its fair share of shortcomings.
“…the visuals live in an odd place between the original Xbox version and the HD remaster.”
Square One’s OUYA port includes the widescreen support introduced in 2011’s PS3 version, but the visuals live in an odd place between the original Xbox version and the HD remaster. Since the power of a mobile device varies from phone to phone, it makes sense that Square One would include a PC-like settings menu where users can tweak different aspects of the game’s visuals in order to get the most bang for their buck. The OUYA, however, has a static set of hardware, yet the option to adjust the graphics still exists. It’s adjusted to the recommended OUYA settings by default, but I still found myself having to lower a few different settings; in turn, making it look as good or worse than the original 2005 version just to get the game to run at a steady pace.
I toyed around with various visual settings just to see how the game would run, but anything beyond the default was an unplayable mess. Ramping it up to ‘ultra’ was a laughable task, and I’m surprised my OUYA didn’t catch fire before exploding across my bedroom floor. The microconsole is best when used for retro-inspired indies and local competitive/co-op games, of which there are plenty, and this was made even more apparent in its struggle to render a 10-year old Xbox title. Should OUYA release a more powerful console in the future that also happens to be backwards compatible, maybe this feature will pay off.
Stranger’s Wrath is still an enjoyable game though, and after cranking down the resolution in order to play it effectively, I was reminded of my time playing it on the Xbox back in 2005. Sure, it’s ugly by today’s standards, but back then I remember getting absorbed in to its world and the tactical nature of its gunplay. My friends and I would chuckle each time we lured a bandit in to a trap with the ‘chippunk’ ammo, and we’d mimic his “AAHHOOOOOO!” noise while double-jumping on to a platform, or off of a rope. I’ve since moved out of state and don’t get to see those same people anymore, so Stranger’s Wrath was a nice trip down memory lane.
“…without the added benefit of enhanced graphics due to the OUYA’s hardware limitations, its glaring flaws are even more prominent.”
It’s not all candy and nuts though, as I often discover when playing through these modern remasters. Things I didn’t notice in 2005, like awful platforming and chaotic camera controls, stuck out like a sore thumb and made playing through it a bit of a chore instead of being enjoyable. Rather than porting a game in the exact state it was released in ten years ago, why not take the time and work through the old problems? Games aren’t just about graphics, and while I do enjoy seeing how an old favorite from the last console generation fares on modern hardware, I’m more inclined to notice that it plays like shit instead of admiring its upscaled resolution. In the case of Stranger’s Wrath, however, there is no upscaled resolution to apply that band-aid; thus said “playing like shit” was even more prominent.
No matter how I adjusted the speed of the camera, I never found my comfort zone and struggled with it for the entire game. Gunplay is fine after all these years, but controlling Stranger during his platforming segments felt sluggish and jumping from pillar to pillar seemed floaty and unpredictable. When I wasn’t fighting with the controls though, I really enjoyed the aspects of the game I fondly remembered from 2005: strategically using the live ammunition system, the hilarious dialogue, and hunting bounties. Bounties tend to become a bit samey after a while, but figuring out how to take down a room of baddies is way more fun than any of the high profile boss fights.
Stranger is such a far departure from the series’ more iconic Abe character, and Stranger’s Wrath still manages to stand out after a decade of absence. However, without the added benefit of enhanced visuals due to the OUYA’s hardware limitations, its glaring flaws are even more prominent. If you’ve never experienced the game before, it’s easy to recommend because it’s just so different from the average platformer or shooter, but I suggest going with the PS3 or PC HD remaster from 2011 instead of Square One’s OUYA port. It’s easily the worst of the bunch.
Recommended for fans of: other Oddworld titles, or 3D action games in general.
*This review is based on the OUYA version of Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath, developed by Square One. It is also available across iOS and Android devices, but unless we find significant differences between each version, consider this our definitive review.