Having already benefited from re-releases on PlayStation 3 and PC (with the issues relating to the ill-fated Xbox 360 edition all but a distant memory) Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath comes to PlayStation Vita with a certain amount of expectation weighted upon it’s shoulders. Thankfully, then, Just Add Water has ensured that this handheld debut is every bit the platform adventure that fans will be hoping for; this is not a scaled-down release, this is the PlayStation 3’s Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD in your pocket.
For the uninitiated, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath was the last original release birthed by the Oddworld franchise (though the advent of digital distribution systems on consoles means more may now be on the horizon). Originally released for Xbox in 2005, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath was a strange mix of platform and first-person shooter (FPS) gameplay that was arguably the closest thing to Metriod Prime outside of the GameCube’s astonishingly underrated catalogue of software. The videogame was met with a welcome amount of critical acclaim and yet underperformed at retail, as is far too often the case.
A digital rebirth has given Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath another opportunity to shine however, with many who missed the chance to get on board first time around now invited to do so with a wallet-friendly asking price and a nice new high-definition lick of paint. This is all Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD is however; it’s not a modernisation or a reboot, it’s simply a touched-up version of the Xbox original. On PlayStation 3 and PC this may not have been enough to convince those who have already mastered The Stranger’s dual-ammo bow and bounty hunter adventures to dive back in, but here on PlayStation Vita the videogame feels rejuvenated. At present, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD is an experience unlike any other available for Sony Computer Entertainment’s high-definition handheld format.
Of course, it’s the aforementioned bow that has always been seen as Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath’s unique selling point, and this is no different with Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD. Using ‘live anmo’ players will collect creatures from the environment in order to stalk and capture their prey. The variety of different creatures is simply wonderful and their tactical usefulness is almost unequalled even eight years later. Starting with the chipmunk (decoy) and Bolamite (tangle) ammo types the player is taught the basics of dispersing packs of enemies and taking them down one-by-one, before immediately moving on to the Stunkz, which offer an area-effect stun attack. Later ammo types add some fantastic variety to the tactical options, more so than many shooting-centric first-person videogames can muster for their entire duration.
In addition to the first-person action however, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD features a great deal of platform action. In actual fact, this is the bulk of the experience. In a similar vein to Shadow of the Colossus’ hunting upon an empty map followed by a highly detailed, tactical takedown of hulking beasts, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD has the playing accepting contracts which see them travelling across the map to a specific destination before facing the foe they have been sent to bring back, dead or alive. It’s a far less passionately vague world than that of Team ICO’s magnum opus, but it’s no less enjoyable a hunt.
The reward the player receives upon returning their bounty varies depending on the state of the enemy captured, but every bad guy taken out of action offers a reward of some kind so it’s not long til the player is receiving upgrades and new compliments to their arsenal. What’s more, there is all manner lf side quests to partake in, from rescue missions to gambling; perfectly attuned to intentionally bizarre old west art direction prevalent throughout this chapter of the Oddworld franchise.
And that art is fantastically presented throughout. The world is entirely believable in it’s eccentricity and the limited scope of the level design is less noticeable on the PlayStation Vita than on modern home systems. There are far fewer blemishes visible in this handheld version of the videogame (presumably thanks to the few months of additional development time) and, as was always the case, there’s more character presented in the minutiae of the live ammo’s animation than there is in many rival title’s entire cast.
Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD struggled to find its place on the PlayStation 3, with literally hundreds of over FPS titles to compete against and platform titles mist certainly having passed their market peek. Here on PlayStation Vita however, it offers a refreshing change of pace, as unique and inviting here as it was with its 2005 Xbox debut. If Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD teaches us anything, it’s that choosing the right for at to fit your gameplay experience makes all the difference.