The story of the Oddworld Inhabitants themselves is almost as interesting as that of any of their games. Founded by Hollywood veterans to take advantage of the correctly-predicted boom that 3D graphics would bring, the company had a clear, ambitious plan for a series of five games that took place in their Oddworld universe. A new team planning for that many games before they've even finished one is the game development equivalent of a rookie stepping up to the plate and pointing at the stands, but when Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee released, it seemed like the Oddworld Inhabitants weren't bluffing. The game was a massive hit, and the lead character Abe become something of a cult icon in the 32-bit era. It was followed by an initially unplanned direct sequel, Abe's Exoddus, which was meant to help fill the gap while everyone waited for the next chapter of the quintology.

The Abe games were 2D puzzle platformers in the vein of games like Another World or Prince of Persia. They had gorgeous graphics, but they were almost entirely pre-rendered, and the gameplay was, at best, 2.5D. The big step to 3D would happen with Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee, which ended up at least as famous for being a major Xbox-exclusive launch title as it did for any of its inherent qualities. It seemed like the Oddworld Inhabitants were having a bit of trouble getting the swing of a fully 3D game, and as a result, Munch's Oddysee was perhaps not the game fans were hoping for, and is considered the series lowpoint by many. Microsoft's lofty expectations for the series were too high for little Munch to live up to, and a seeming pivot in strategy for the company had Oddworld changing publishers again, this time to Electronic Arts. Hey, where's that grim organ music coming from all of a sudden?

Photo 2014-12-03, 17 22 33

At this point, I'm going to step aside from the history lesson to inject some personal feelings into all of this. I don't like Abe's Oddysee. There, I said it. I love Abe as a character, and I think the game has a beautiful and unique presentation, but I don't think it's terribly well-designed. The Oddworld Inhabitants were new to the craft and while the game was an amazing effort in that context, the lack of experience showed. I'll talk more about this should the game ever come to iOS, but I want to set that down immediately. Abe's Exoddus was better in some ways, worse in others, and Munch's Oddysee, while irresistibly charming, is the sort of decent-yet-forgettable 3D platfomer effort that flooded the early-to-mid period of the sixth-generation consoles. The entire series up to and including Munch unquestionably had a big fanbase, but I genuinely believe Oddworld got by on its personality more than anything else.

I'm not saying this stuff to be mean, but rather because the reception to Munch clearly led to a bit of soul-searching for the developer. I infer that because Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath [$0.99] is an incredible game in all respects. It's an exceptionally well-designed game from top to bottom, and it manages that while offering up some innovative mechanics and the usual top-shelf Oddworld production values. This is without question the developer's best game, and it reflects the sort of maturity and experience that are perhaps most quickly taught by harsh lessons. Naturally, it was the studio's biggest commercial failure because these things happen sometimes and, seriously, where is that scary organ music coming from? I can take a guess at the feeling of the studio as their most critically-acclaimed title went on to underperform in the market, because soon after, the Oddworld Inhabitants announced they were exiting the video game business. With that, one of the quirkiest underdogs of the PlayStation generation walked off into the sunset.

Photo 2014-12-03, 17 22 50

A funny thing happened in the video game industry in the near-decade that has passed since then. What was becoming an increasingly unsustainable business based on risk-averse and all-too-often exploitative publishing arrangements broke open, just a little, with the wide acceptance of digital distribution. It became once again possible for developers to get their games out to a massive audience without having to fork over their IP or gamble insane budgets to compete in the AAA space. This new model has its own share of problems, but for a studio like the Oddworld Inhabitants, it's just what they needed to get back into the game. They hooked up with developer Just Add Water, and players on other platforms have been enjoying the fruits of that union for a few years now. Well, it's time for iOS gamers to get their turn, because a certain Stranger just rolled into town, courtesy of mobile developer Square One Games.

Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath is at once very familiar and quite unconventional. You play as the titular Stranger, a bounty hunter making his way in a Spaghetti Western-like region of the Oddworld. The game itself is a mix of third-person platforming and first-person shooting where you tap a button to flick between the two viewpoints as needed. It's a bit tricky to get used to at first, but you'll soon get the hang of things, and the game rarely demands precision in the infrequent cases where you have to change views quickly. In keeping with Oddworld's somewhat family-friendly theme, Stranger doesn't use a gun with bullets to hunt his bounties. Instead, he uses a wrist-mounted bowgun that fires live creatures as ammunition. While some of these creatures work for dealing direct damage, they all have special uses that effective hunters will take advantage of to trap enemies, taking them in alive. You earn more moolah that way, you see, and moolah is what Stranger is after. He needs a whole pile of it to pay a doctor for a special surgery. Of course, in Oddworld tradition, you're eventually going to run afoul of an evil rich guy, whose plans end up intertwined with Stranger's life in some surprising ways.

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The story is quite interesting and the presentation is stunning, as you would expect from a game that was originally a full retail title on Xbox. It's a bit hammy at times, but the heart of it feels very sincere. I love the Western theme, as not nearly enough games use that kind of setting for my liking. Stranger is channeling Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, to be sure, but that's actually a pretty cool character type to build an action game around. Stranger's Wrath has its moments of levity, though most of the humor is of the dark or sadistic type, but it's surprising just how serious it can get at times. The Oddworld Inhabitants aren't the only developer to work a good story into a platformer, but it's rare enough in the genre that it feels like an unexpected treat. Also unexpected and deeply appreciated is just how big the game is. The game took me somewhere around 15 hours to finish, and that was leaving a lot of optional content unfinished for the sake of getting this review out to you within a reasonable span of time. There's really very little like it on iOS.

But maybe you know all that. Maybe you know Stranger's Wrath is a great game, and you're wondering about how great this particular version of the game is. The short answer is that it's pretty well-done. There's no perfect way to map ten buttons, two sticks, and a directional pad onto touch screen controls, but they've made a really good go of it here. As far as the technical end of things goes, the developer actually puts a lot of the power in your hands. The game's options include a bunch of sliders you can adjust to reduce visual quality in exchange for better performance. At the lowest settings, it runs very smoothly, and still looks alright. At maximum settings, even the hardiest device will have framerate issues in some parts of the game. It's a nice way to future-proof this port, though, and I wish more games included those kinds of options.

Photo 2014-12-03, 17 22 16

Now, for the slightly longer version. The original Stranger's Wrath didn't use every button on the Xbox's controller, but it did use almost all of them. The developers of this port have made use of the gyro sensor in iOS hardware to compensate for some of that, and if you're comfortable with using motion controls, you'll have a slightly easier time of things. Even with that, however, you've got to contend with a floating virtual stick for movement and an assortment of virtual buttons to use Stranger's various moves. If you don't want to use the gyro sensor for aiming, you can turn it off in the menu, but then you have to aim using a floating stick on the right side of the screen, too. You also have to shake the device to use Stranger's health-restoring shake move, no matter what. You can arrange the buttons as you like and even change their size, so the developer's given you lots of options to try to make the controls work for you. It's quite appreciated.

Surprisingly, the controls are mostly up to the task, as long as you're not the sort of person who can't get on with virtual buttons at all. There are a few sections that are a bit more frustrating in this version as a result of sometimes needing to take your eyes off the action to glance at the buttons, but Stranger's Wrath's general stop-and-go pace actually lends itself well to that limitation. Of course, if you have an MFi controller, none of this is a problem, as you can just play using that and get the original experience. I tested that functionality for the purposes of the review, and it's just like playing the console or Vita versions. Other than that brief bit of testing, I played the game entirely with touch controls, and I didn't have any serious issues with getting through the main game.

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Graphically, the game feels like a mix between the original Xbox version and the newer HD versions. It's not quite the all-around performer that the Vita version is, but the iOS version still looks really good at the maximum settings, if you're willing to sacrifice framerate. If you're not willing to do that, you fortunately don't have to. By fiddling around with the different graphics sliders, you can find a nice balance between detail and smoothness that fits your own personal tastes. It actually runs impressively well, keeping in mind how complex and open some of the environments are. I really like that the developer has put some of the power in the player's hands here, since everyone has a different tolerance level for framerates. The audio, although sounding somewhat compressed compared to the console version, still comes off really well. The game also has a full list of achievements and a bunch of leaderboards through Game Center.

Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath is one of those wonderful little gems that too many people missed when it first came out. It was an amazing game then as a full-priced retail console game, and it's every bit as awesome now on a mobile device. The price feels like a steal for a game of such substance. The only real thing I can say against it is that if you can't deal with virtual controls and don't have an MFi controller, you might run into trouble here the same way you would with any game with virtual buttons. Other than that, this is a huge, beautiful, unique game with excellent gameplay design. There's truly almost no competition in its category on iOS. Now, go on and bag your bounty, Stranger.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • brantov

    one of the best reviews ever.

    • VirtualBoyFreak

      True, very true. Not only for covering the game itself, but the writing style is fantastic. Congrats Shaun! Eli, keep Shaun in the team for a long, long time! ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Rip73

        Agreed.
        An exceptional review of an exceptional game.
        Very nicely done Shaun.

    • Tito Piccolo

      Shaun is the best.

  • PoloBaquerizoH

    Wonderfull review, is just a privilege to being able to play this underated masterpiece on a mobile device, and also glad that this gem keeps alive.

    • Luciano1084

      Agree 100%

  • Skyfluks

    Amazing game, really good review!

  • NickyNichols

    So glad to see this here. I was terribly disappointed at pocketgamer's 5/10 score, this game was fantastic then and it's fantastic now.

  • 61050

    well written review, im looking forward to giving this a go as a result. thanks.

    • 61050

      i should mention that ive never heard of this prior (my last console was a n64, lol)

  • protopop

    A deep review for a great game that was ahead of it's time, with wonderful graphics and a powerful story. My only issue is that virtual controls can't match physical ones, but that's a device issue, and the huge amount of customization options Oddworld gives us really helps. Also amazing to see 2005 console games now play on handheld devices (can Shadow of the Colossus on iPhone be far behind?). I predict Xbox 360 performance on mobile by 2016.

    • MaqueGenio

      "I predict Xbox 360 performance on mobile by 2016."
      Not so fast mate. Tomb Raider 2 just got released for ios and that is a PS1 game. So we have yet to mach PS2 performance on mobile.

      • protopop

        good point, but I stand by my prediction:) We had GTA San Andreas, a late cycle PS2 Game on iPhone last year. And Xbox 360s Bioshock with lower resolution graphics in 2014, so we're already dipping into last gen game territory on mobile. I know that if one person could do open world iPhone with Nimian Legends : BrightRidge on iPhone 5, a whole team of people could put something like Skyrim on an iPhone 8. . Plus phone increase power substantially every year, while consoles are aiming for 10 year cycles - i think they'll catch up soon.

      • MaqueGenio

        My point is that you simply cant draw conclusions about performance solely based on poorly coded ports of old games like Bioshock. Its just not a good way to measure the perfomance of these devices. Personally i think we have reached and surpassed 360 performance already with A8 and A8x devices. At the moment unfortunately the only objective way to test it is with benchmarks such as Gfxbench.

      • protopop

        wow -you know your stuff:) You're right - a benchmark is the only way to truly compare raw performance, and I am definitely not an expert with technical details like that. I guess then i just mean we'll see more 360/ps3 era ports/equivalents soon - it's the spirit of the idea and what we think and believe is possible is part of what will inspire today's designers to port or create new games.

        My main thing is that i grew up on a diet of 'mobile games can only be puzzles' and simple things, and now in the space of a few years we're seeing games like Stranger's Wrath which would have been absolutely unthinkable on an iPhone 3s, and mobile is so portable and handy and backward compatible (I assume we'll be able to play Oddworld on iPhone 7 and up) , and i think Stranger's Wrath is another example of the inexorable march to near console parity.

        Even if I'm wrong about 2016 it's gonna happen sooner or later. I mean Xbox One is supposed to last until 2023 - imagine what kind of phones we'll have by then:)

      • elthesensai

        Actually both Sony and Microsoft said it was a mistake to try and have consoles last 10 years like they did with the ps3 and xbox 360. They're now aiming 5 years like past consoles, it's why both used off the shelf parts to build their new consoles.

      • protopop

        That's smart - after my experience with Xbox One I think bulky, long lifecycle consoles have seen their day.

        But to be honest I haven't heard anything about 5 year lifecycles. In fact everything I've heard points towards similar or longer eighth generation lifecycles.

        I think console makers were caught off guard by mobile - consoles went one way (big, bulky, long installs) while mobile went in a better direction for gamers (backwards compat, portability, onscreen and gamepad controls etc). The only benefit I can see to consoles right now is better performance - for me everything else about the mobile form factor is superior.

      • darkich

        Guys, right now the best phone GPU's are almost as powerful as the Xbox 360 and PS3.
        And they're FAR AND BEYOND the PS2 level.
        Even the Galaxy S3 can run ENHANCED (much greater resolution, draw distance, real time dynamic lighting and shadows, enhanced character and vehicle models) GTA SA.
        And that chip had 14 GFLOPS.
        iPhone 6 reaches around 200 GFLOPS!
        and the Adreno 420 in the Note 4 is also a beast with over 200 GFLOPS, but it has to deal with insane 1440p resolution.
        There.

        Now, compliment for the review from me too, Shaun ๐Ÿ™‚ Great game.

      • BeenThere

        Xbox was more powerful than PS

    • IAP-king

      Hey it's 2016, we're not quite there yet.

      • protopop

        I don't know - I think Phones are at or surpassing Xbox 360 already, and the games to take advantage of this hardware are in development right now. I'm looking at the big picture - I don't think it's about "mobile" as a type of game design. Its about hardware. The fact that we can hold it in our hands or not is incidental to the larger picture of advanced hardware in the hands of developers and consumers.

        Not to make waves, but I get the feeling many people are pushing back against the idea of this, or need to see such concrete quantifiable proof before looking at the big picture. It's like when i was a kid you couldn't legally say cigarettes caused cancer, but we knew they did anyways even without the paperwork.

        I have BrightRidge HD running on an iPhone 5s, let alone what's possible on a 6+

        ๐Ÿ™‚

  • godofodd

    Great review. I saw a 5/10 review elsewhere based solely on the controls, which I've had no trouble with. Makes me think it had more to do with the reviewer's skill than the actual game.

    If you can play this with a controller, do it! It really is like playing on a console.

    • Tito Piccolo

      The good thing about this game is you can adjust the control based on your personal preference. There's nothing wrong with the game, pocketgamer's reviewer just sucks.

  • Faglor

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    Sorry, sorry, sorry! I had to do it! No offense intended to Maglor, just being sarcastic. It'll probably get deleted as soon as it goes up. Still, I just had to do it...

  • Blodia

    My organ makes scary music.

    • Joe Welke

      I'm sure there are medicines you can take for that condition.

  • worldcitizen1919

    Thanks very much Shaun for the review.

  • Tito Piccolo

    Crashes on my ipad mini 2, I just changed the resolution and everything went fine.

    This game is Awesoooome!!!!

  • sinagog

    Abe's Oddysee's cut-scenes gave me several years' worth of nightmares as a kid. That first one in the slave-run meat-processing factory was particularly harrowing- they were going to make pies out of Abe! Those Oddworld dudes really should have made a black-as-a-redneck's-molars animated movie in that style. It would have become a cult classic.

    By the way, this is one of the best IOS games of the year! Don't hesitate.

  • sinagog

    Argh, just found out this studio was set to put out an anti-Disney animated movie, but it got cancelled part-way through. Curse this world and its lack of interest in interesting things!

  • madreviewer

    All guys I am a fan of ratchet and clank, do you think that game has the same charming gameplay?

  • Kwee

    Awesome ! Great review ! You can compare graphics between PS3, PS Vita, Android(same as iOS) and Xbox Original /watch?v=IXqtU-SzbVU

  • primalxconvoy

    The Android version seems to be the same as the iOS version, with even the slowly-dying Ouya getting a release (but the Ouya's awful controller support and lack of refund policy rules that out as a viable choice, unfortunately).

    I also think this will be Android TV compatible, so yay!

    How is the framerate with this mirrored on Apple TV?

  • Himanshu Modi

    These days, when I get done with an iOS game, I just come around scouting for a new game around here. This review totally won me over!

  • Raphael Alexander

    When I saw the price on android I had to try it and was amazed by the quality but I can't complete it because there is this part where there's a super strong guy In this arena and there these platforms around the inside and I guess your supposed to jump from platform to platform and shoot him as you do it but I can't shoot and jump at the same time so I keep falling and getting killed so If anyone can help it would really be appreciated.
    I don't have a controller.

  • Raphael Alexander

    Amazing game with great graphics and gameplay, but I really don't think a dollar is enough for this game. The controls are bad but it's definitely playable so great.

Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 5