More ports, more HD makeovers. It’s time for the inhabitants of Oddworld to go on daytime TV to receive a make over from a style guru and show them just how beautiful they can be.
The amount of games coming over from the PS2/XBOX era show just how wonderful games were, yet how they were visually limited by the technology they were running on. We’ve had Metal Gear Solid, Silent Hill, Sly Raccoon, Devil May Cry, Prince Of Persia and more. Not all have been successful, but those that did work have managed to allow gamers to relive some classics how they remembered them, giving each the rose-tinted glasses filter. The latest to come is Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD, from developers Just Add Water.
If you have played the original, which was criminally not as successful as it should have been, all you need to know is that this is a perfect port of a wonderful game, so drop you money and get it now. If you already have the PS3 version, then spend the extra money, support the developers and get the Vita version too. If you have never played Stranger’s Wrath, then you’re probably not alone, it was an exclusive for the XBOX, along with previous title Munch’s Oddysee. So what makes this game so special.
In truth, there isn’t anything ‘special’ about the game, it is a solid action title that switches between first and third person views, with a well balanced mix of platforming, puzzle and shooting. What it did though was craft a game that mixed the various gameplay elements, along with the humour of Oddworld to create something that was simply a joy to play. It is as simple as that, a game that was created just to let you have fun, something that is often gets lost in modern gaming.
Players take the role of Stranger, a Bounty Hunter who is need of an operation, so needs to take down and collect outlaws so he can receive his bounty and get his operation. That is the initial build up anyhow, the story does take some surprising twists which are mainly told through cut-scenes. Stranger isn’t much of a talker, so the game isn’t really dialogue heavy, but it is engaging and you will find that you have a fair amount of empathy for the characters as you progress.
As mentioned, the game is played using a mix of first person and third person views. Whilst in first person Stranger will have his weapon that shoots live ammo, that must be collected as you move through the levels. The live ammo really is live, as it is made up of various critters dotted around the world. Each of these critters will have a different abilty, from being able to wrap up an enemy so you can disable them temporarily, or one that acts as a decoy, allowing you to separate one bad guy from a group, others that can be set as traps and so on. It is a system that works really well, especially as you have two types loaded at any time.
What this also does, is allow for a certain degree of strategy, making sure you have the right ammo for the right scenario. How you approach a single enemy, will differ from how you take down a larger group. It’s not just in numbers that matter, the location will have a baring too. You can force some to jump into water and drown themselves, or take out exploding barrels to kill any enemies near by. Whether you can use certain parts of the area to your advantage will depend on how well you manage your ammo and how well you can hunt and collect it.
Whilst much of the action is pretty much a case of being given a bounty to collect, then going ahead and collecting, there are a few times where this changes up, the bosses you encounter are challenging, but without ever coming across as unfair, not totally under-powered. They are each rather unique too, which helps keep things fresh. There is no QTE style events that plague many games now and the whole thing is just really well put together.
The Vita version of the game does have a trade off or two against the PS3 and PC versions of the game (no 360 port right now, despite the original being exclusive to the XBOX on consoles). The HD visuals do look stunning on the Vita’s OLED screen, but it does have the slightest visual downgrade in comparison, a few lower-res textures here and there, but that is it really. The other thing is because the Vita lacks the L2 and R2 buttons then some of the controls are mapped to the touch screen and rear touch pad. Yet on the whole this works really well, you double tap the screen to change views and use the rear touch to melee attack whilst in first person. Unlike other Vita games, this never really feels tacked on, nor does it feel like a case of using touch, because it is there. The decisions for the differences in control are obvious and for the most part it works really well.
The only minor niggle, is that you can often find yourself accidentally catching the rear touch and melee attacking for no reason at all. It is really sensitive and you’ll likely find you need to adjust slightly how you hold the unit. It is only a mild annoyance though and you’ll soon be able to overcome it. Everything else though works just right, it is a game that shows why twin sticks were needed on a handheld and why games like this were never possible on the PSP.
Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath is a rare example of a game that works just as well on a handheld, as it does on a PC or home console and whilst the pacing of levels may not be best suited to playing on the move, it does feel like the game you wanted when the PSP was introduced. Sure it has taken until the Vita to get it, but you are able to play a proper console quality title in the palm of your hands. No compromise no cut down version with large amounts stripped out, no half baked port. This is what was dreamed of when handhelds started packing more punch.
The Oddworld games are fondly remembered by those that played them, yet seemed to become the forgotten franchise after the move to HD consoles, however along with the recent HD releases of Munch’s Oddysee for PS3 and the Vita release of Stanger’s Wrath, there is hopefully a rebirth on the way. It is a series that deserves to be alive, that deserves to have exposure and deserves most all to be played by as many people as possible.
Stranger’s Wrath was a fine game back in 2005, it is just as good in 2012. It has been given the best treatment possible for it’s re-release and it is quite possibly one of the best console to handheld ports to date.