Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD

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Well, isn’t this strange? I rolled the dice for this game about a week ago, and was just about to fire it up when Nintendo’s latest Direct, focusing on indie devs, started streaming. I sure was mighty spooked when the game I had just put off playing was announced during that selfsame Direct, I tell you h’wat.

Stranger’s Wrath is set in a different part of the Oddworld universe to previously-binned Munch’s Oddysee– a Wild West-inspired desert wasteland full o’ varmints what need haulin’ in. Enter, The Stranger- sadly not the same The Stranger from Bastion- whose bounty-huntin’ ways are gonna clean up this town.

Also much like Munch, Stranger seems to be a victim of its era. 3D engines were becoming more advanced and devs were increasingly experimental in the ways they presented their games- it was a real Wild West of ideas, if you like. Stranger here decided to mash up FPS and 3rd person adventuring with stealth action, and didn’t quite manage to get any of those parts right.

The ideas are very interesting, and I appluad trying something new. Stranger uses live ammunition, here defined as ammunition that is alive. Hunting bugs and other critters to use as ammo adds a prototypical survival aspect to the game, requiring the player to scrounge around in the dirt to find the right bugs to clear the next compound.

Stranger can also fight in the third person, with a quick punch attack and a slow headbutt attack to knock enemies out- at which point he captures them dead or alive to collect their bounty.

Trouble is- Stranger is very fragile, and although there is ostensibly a stealth element involved, it’s not really implemented well. You can only hide in tall grass, with walls not providing any visibility cover, and enemies are so densely packed in some areas that the stealth element doesn’t come into play at all, playing more like a typical FPS… except you can’t take many hits and capturing enemies takes a long time.

Fin or Bin:

UIltimately it just doesn’t feel very cohesive, interesting though its ideas are, and I wasn’t having a lot of fun- a crime carrying a sentence of immediate Binning. What tore it for me was actually the amount of times control was taken from me for minor cutscenes which, in moder games, would just play out ‘live’. Walk along a bridge- cutscene starts bridge collapses- okay, start playing again. The screenshot for this post is from one of the most egregious of these, with two crims arguing over which button is the correct one to set an explosive, before hilariously pressing the wrong one- an amusing moment, but nothing actually changes; the explosion doesn’t open up a new area or assist in a battle, control was taken from me solely for the purpose of a throwaway gag.

(Steam, and apparently soon on Switch!)

Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee

During the N64 and Playstation era, free-roaming collectathon platformers reigned supreme. Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie, Crash, Spyro- rave-reviewed, fondly-remembered kings of their time. As the next console generation rolled in, however, the genre suddenly seemed to die on its arse. With these early-mid 2000′s era platformers getting a second chance on Steam lately, I think it’s becoming apparent why.

The Oddworld series, beginning with Abe’s Oddysee (which was awful) and Abe’s Exoddus (which was super) somewhat defied definition. They were, I guess, 2D puzzle-platformers? You were tasked with using Abe’s acrobatics to solve rooms full of traps so that your mudokon buddies could escape with their lives (or, alternatively, throw them under the bus so you could escape scot-free). To a large degree, gameplay was gated only by how thorough you were in saving all of the mudokons, combined with the player’s skill versus the (really bloody difficult) platforming sections.

In transition to a 3D free-roam collectathon platformer, Oddworld’s lost its way. To begin, the controls are atonishingly bad, with each button being assigned two or three different functions based only on how long you hold it down for. Most of them are used to speak with and issue commands to the mudokons you find along the way.

What really scrabs my paramites, though, is the entirely arbitrary addtion of collectible currency. Dotted around the entire world are Spooce Spores, which Abe must collect in order to open doors. These are not challenging in the slightest to obtain, being used in much the same way as coins in the Mario series. You can even, as many times as you like, chant over a spore to cause it to regrow in a matter of seconds, ready to be collected again. The doors are therefore entirely pointless- if you find yourself short on spores, you can simply stand over a site and chant endlessly until you have enough.

Oddworld became a collectathon Just Because, and I think a great many other games did likewise. The genre didn’t die so much as become ubiquitous.

Fin or Bin:

The most recent title, Oddworld: Super Mario’s Oddysee, came out on Switch in 2017. I’ve got high hopes for that one. Munch, however, can go back into the Bins of time.

(Steam)