Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath Xbox Review

The brilliance of the original Oddworld, and even the sequels, doesn't really lie in the puzzles or gameplay. It's the world they're inside. It's one of the games that really created an entirely new place to visit, something more games seem to be doing as hardware power can match up with a creator's vision. Lorne Lanning and his team completely redesigned the series in Stranger's Wrath, and created the best game in the series (and one of the best showcases of true video game art in the process).

Deciding to take the series elsewhere, platform and puzzle solving are still present, all be it in completely different form. This is a wilder action game, featuring ideas that are new not just new additions to the series, but to the video game world as a whole. Replacing Abe and Munch is the Stranger, a bounty hunter desperate for work to pay for a necessary surgery. Unlike the hopeless creatures of past games, Stranger is fully capable of defending himself with his double-sided crossbow.

On that bow is live ammo. Not like a grenade after a pin is pulled mind you. These are voracious little animals, willing to be shot at anything you aim for. You need to knock them out just to sit them down, which means yes, you need to collect it alive. Unlike a typical first person shooter where ammo remains relatively the same between weapons, these creatures have strategic value, and each is needed at some point in the game. These are not situations created by the developers (though the first use of each weapon is done like this to give players an idea of what the ammo is capable of), but understanding to the wants and needs of the player.

Outside of the first person viewpoint (with a quick press of the analog stick), it becomes a flawlessly crafted platforming title. There is a reliance on crate breaking to find cash and necessary double jumps are abundant, yet this never once seems to be derivative. That's a nod to the art design crew who could never receive the credit they deserve for this. This is pushing the console as far as it can go, showcasing environments and original characters to populate it. Lighting and shadows could not have been used more effectively than this either.

There is a mechanic that completely changes the way you play title: The idea here isn't to kill; it's to capture. Yes, you can still blow up the gangsters in this faux-Wild West setting. You'll earn less cash by doing so, and power-ups will be scarce. It takes a fine line between causing damage and stunning enemies to reel them in, leading to boss fights that are an absolute joy to complete. Each one is unique, requiring a specific strategy to conquer. They can be exploited (rather easily), though doing so is missing the point and ruining the fun.

The developers have also found that perfect way to slide in-between between frustration and oblivious difficulty levels. If death comes often, tips appear to guide you through the challenge. It's a subtle way to keep you playing, avoid being forced into a strategy guide, and it's greatly appreciated. The only thing that could stop you from playing is the redundant mission structure, which always involves receiving the mission, completing it, and returning for the next.

With all of the fantastic gameplay crammed onto this disc, it's truly magical there was enough space to put this much personality in too. The games rather twisted sense of humor rules this one out for kids (the Teen rating is pushed to the limits), but it's perfect for adults. Don't let the cartoon nature fool you. Your ammo isn't the only thing that will spout off hilarious remarks as the population is a parody of typical RPG towns, mocking the Stranger when he stops to talk to everyone about an obvious question. Enemies discuss their own lack of intelligence, and stopping in the midst of a stage to listen is worth the asking price.

Stranger's Wrath is another entry into a game of the year race that's growing quicker than any year before it. It finds itself on that list because of how much it offers to the player, and how immersed it makes them feel. It's an engrossing world, and though the series creator wants to take these characters elsewhere, here's hoping we can get at least one more visit.

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