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Review: Oddworld Stranger's Wrath HD is one of the year's best portable games (PS Vita)

Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath Screenshot - 1132769

So there I was, compiling a rough list of the best portable games of 2012.  There were quite a few good ones this year – some for iPad, some for the Nintendo 3DS, and, yes, some for the PlayStation Vita.  Sure, it may not have the greatest sales numbers, and not every developer is really going "all out" for Sony's handheld, but given to the right team, it has the potential to do great things.  And just when I was ready to name Persona 4 Golden as my top experience for it, I booted up Stranger's Wrath.

A game that initially came out in 2006 for the Xbox (and wowed me then) before coming out in beautiful high-definition late last year for the PlayStation 3, Oddworld Stranger's Wrath HD is a wonderful collaborative effort between Oddworld Inhabitants (headed up by the great Lorne Lanning) and the talented team at Just Add Water.  It was excellent on the PS3, and the Vita version follows suit with a few minor changes.

oddworld

The game tells the story of the Stranger, a bounty hunter who uses (mostly) non-violent means to capturing criminals in the Old West, between an assortment of bugs with special purposes (in first person view) and a vacuum cannon that sucks them right up, dead or alive.  As the story progresses, the Stranger finds himself against a greater evil, one that could bring danger and chaos to the land.  And along the way, he learns a little something about himself.

The gameplay in Oddworld Stranger's Wrath differs between two types.  For most of the game, you're playing in third person, using platforming skills and a spinning melee punch to get around and destroy stuff, while collecting goods for trade at the general store.  The second type of gameplay is first-person shooting, where your ammunition happily sits along your crossbow as you line up shots, including distraction tools and non-harmful incapacitating shots.  Sometimes your enemies die – it happens – but for the most part, it's a unique twist on just using the same old six-shooter.

stranger

Where the big change in playing the game on Vita lies is its gameplay.  Moving about utilizes the analog stick, and pulling off attacks involves both face and shoulder buttons, to good effect.  But when you're switching back and forth between third person and first person, you have to tap the touch screen.  It's distracting at first, especially when enemies are on the screen, but it soon feels like second nature, and you'll get to love it.  In addition, using the rear touch pad in first-person view lets you execute quick melee attacks.  Not as effective as its ammo, but it's nice to have in case you're surrounded.

Just Add Water continues to work its magic on the Vita.  Stranger's Wrath is one of the best looking games for it, downloadable or otherwise.  The graphics are beautiful, bringing the Stranger's Western world to very effective life, despite a few blurry textures.  The sound is also mighty good, between distinct character voices (the Stranger executes a growling Clint Eastwood-like demeanor) and a great music score that really picks up later on in the game.

stranger

The lack of a multiplayer component does take away from Stranger's Wrath a bit, as it would've been interesting to see what kind of deathmatch options could've come from both the ammo and capture system.  But it was never part of the original game, so no biggie there.  The single player campaign remains a delight, especially with a story twist that very few will probably see coming – unless you've played the original, that is.

For $15, Oddworld Stranger's Wrath HD is one of the best portable games you'll play this year.  Looks like I'll have to tweak that list a little… 

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Robert Workman
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