Looking back to the past seems to be something the games industry has been obsessed with for the past few years. Whether it is back to the dawn of the entertainment phenomenon or more recent efforts, it looks like HD remakes are almost certainly here to stay – for better or worse. This along with advances in digital distribution has given rise to a new direction for Oddworld Inhabitants and their developer partner Just Add Water, to revive one of the best-loved cult franchises – Oddworld. Not simply content with re-releases of their classic library, when Stranger’s Wrath HD came to PlayStation 3 and PC, the fans went along with the ride. Stranger’s Wrath HD is now available for the PlayStation Vita, giving fans a chance to take the HD remake of the 2005 Xbox title on the road for the first time. Is it worth taking a Stranger on your journey too?
Essentially, Stranger’s Wrath HD is about rounding up outlaws that have bounties on them. The mission structure is showing its age, as early on it relies on taking on bounties, rounding them up dead or alive, and then reporting to the bounty store only to take on the next. The pacing changes dramatically after a point, but by setting the game on a more linear track it loses part of its initial freedom. What little plot points there are however, certainly expand on the lore of the Oddworld universe and certainly provide some commentary on poaching endangered species in our own world.
Gameplay itself feels fairly loose, enabling you to shift from third to first person perspectives on the fly with a simple double-tap on the PlayStation Vita’s screen. Third-person perspective acts as you’d expect, though Stranger’s jumping prowess isn’t the most impressive of his physical abilities. Melee combat here is handled with each of the shoulder buttons and works in a pinch. You’ll spend a significant amount of your time in the first person mode, where firing weapons is done in the twin-stick shooter way. Changing weapons by pressing the d-pad and touching the two ammunition types you want loaded is a painless procedure. The only huge downside is that the button layout can’t be changed, which means if you really don’t like punching every five seconds in first person thanks to the rear touch pad being reserved for that action, you’re pretty much stuck with it.
The challenge with Stranger’s Wrath HD is how to tackle each situation. Do you go in all guns blazing and kill everything you see, or do you aim to capture the enemies alive? Attracting too much attention regardless is ill advised as the AI has a tendency to swarm around you like a pack of vicious hounds. Thankfully your tools of the trade – living creatures – are very well adept to either ensnaring foes or killing them. They range from chipmunks that lure enemies over with their smack talk and skunks that make enemies hurl long enough for you to capture them, to swarms of rapid fire bees and explosive bats. Hunting for your weaponry is a bit out of the norm, but plentiful ammunition boxes help out if you’re running out in key gunfights.
It’s tough enough for a developer to re-master their own work for the HD era, but to then package that into a portable system is nothing short of a miracle. For Just Add Water to achieve the transition while keeping the resolution pretty high just shows how much love they have for their franchise. The world still looks great, with a heavy emphasis on the Wild West theme with its wooden huts, to more extravagant buildings as you progress through the game. The sound however, is still the same as it was back in the original release; so while the voice acting is absolutely fine, the sound effects come off a lot less favourably as it lacks any punch.
Judging a game that was released in 2005 by the standards of those released today is not a fair contest. So it’s nice to see that Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD on the PlayStation Vita, like the PlayStation 3 and PC versions before it, manages to be capable shooter/platformer hybrid with a great setting. Each bounty or boss you encounter is a decent and different challenge, though finding cover from crack shot enemies is surprisingly difficult. The weapons are unconventional and fun to use, with Stranger bring fairly mobile. But what lets it down is that the structure is a tad too linear, relying too much on its appropriately themed bounty theme to carry its narrative through. In a way, it’s a faithful recreation of a game that is a relic of the past.
As for the HD upgrades for the PlayStation Vita, the visuals look better than ever, but the decision to not allow you to remap the controls for this game means one or two allocations can be distracting as a result. If you can get over the structure and the control issues though, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD is certainly a great conversion of an older game for the relatively under-appreciated PlayStation Vita. Given that the best games for the handheld tend to lean towards the remake territory, Stranger’s Wrath HD feels right at home.