Consoles: XBLA (reviewed), PSN
Release Date: April 27th 2011
Price: 800 MSP (XBLA) Trial Here, $9.99 (PSN)
Once in a blue moon an interesting title will be created that melds together two different genres that you may never have thought could be joined together. Well Outland certainly is out there as far as that concept is concerned. Outland is a game that seems to blend together the action platforming genre with the bullet hell genre created so long ago. A number of titles have pioneered this melding of genres but none have tried to do what Outland is looking to perform. Will the unique look and gameplay of Outland turn out to be an unmissable title or has this combination turned sour?
Outland tells the story of a man, he isn’t anyone special at first, you don’t know his name nor are you able to name him. He learns of a story from an old man about two goddesses that created the world. These two goddesses used their powers of creation, Light and Dark to meld the world into what it is today, and then they tried to destroy it. Thousands of years ago a hero stepped forward and stopped the devastation that was about to happen and sealed the two goddesses away. Now the goddesses have awoken and it is up to this nondescript hero to stop them yet again.
The story is one that could only take place in a decaying world wrought with devastation and mystical energies. The story doesn’t provide much of an outline besides structuring your actions and providing an end goal. However Outland’s story is still extremely impressive mostly due to the fact that the environment is enough to tell the story as the game has some of the best graphical design I have seen in years. The way that the game is designed with all of the environmental imagery that is provided is more than enough to provide a feeling that you are in a devastated world that needs a hero, and you are such hero.
Now there are different measures of art. Some people may find one of the most realistic looking games a work of art and beautiful for how close to life it is. Now another work of art is something that takes a unique style and color scheme and creates such an artistic masterpiece that it can be enough to tell a story all on its own.
The unique style of Outland is certainly one of its greatest draws. The contrasting colors that it uses are extremely impressive and the neon coloration is some of the best you will find. Colors play a big part in the world of Outland mostly due to one of the gameplay elements that focuses solely on coloration. Besides the colors focused on gameplay, the color and design of the environment is top notch with dazzling lighting and level design.
Being of the platforming genre you will find numerous different routes that you can take and you will rarely find a dead end without some sort of reward at the end. It may not be the end of the level but it could be a collectible or something similar. The level design does sometimes causes a problem with doubling back however as it is somewhat easy to get lost very quickly. There is a map available but players may find themselves having to check the map far too often.
While your standard enemies are as impressive looking as the rest of the environment the bosses that you will be facing are in a league of their own. Originally you may not think that the bosses for a game like this would be too impressive but you will stand in amazement as you see these enemies rise up against you because of how amazing they actually look. I will refuse to spoil any appearance of these creatures because their design is one of the largest highlights of the game and should be experienced firsthand.
The main character may not have a voice of his own but one thing he does have is a rather impressive narrator that helps tell the story anytime it begins to develop. Besides the narrator however the sounds of the world around you are very pleasing to the ears and suit the game just fine. There isn’t much to write home about but it does provide a suitable experience to go along with the amazing appearance of Outland.
Earlier I mentioned that Outland was a combination of a platformer and a bullet hell game. This means that the controls for a game must be tight and responsive because one step off can end up causing your character to suffer damage or die. To avoid damage you can run, climb, slide, wall jump and more and all of these are easily controlled at the press of a button. The game handles running and jumping so fluidly you will find yourself thinking in tune with your character as you move fluidly across different platforms to wall jump up a narrow corridor, miss one and land in the spikes below and then be more than ready to start all over again.
Of course this is also an action platformer so this means you will be entering combat occasionally as you jump from platform to platform. You will do battle with a giant sword at first or even sliding into an enemy to send them flying into the air stunned. Combat is very satisfying but it does feel a bit cheap as basic attacks usually do not stun your enemy from their current attack, making some fights feel like a battle of attrition.
Now earlier I mentioned that colors play a large role in actual gameplay and this is extremely true. For the blood red color is the power of Darkness while the sky blue is the power of Light. The reason that these two colors play such a big part to the game is the fact that the player gains the ability to change their body into one of these colors. Now at first this may not appear to be a big deal until you see how well it blends into actual gameplay.
The coloration of your body equals what you will be immune to in the area you are traveling. The whole mechanic adds a layer of depth to the platforming by making things more complicated, but also very intriguing. You will spend your time often switching between Light and Dark as you navigate through orbs of energy being shot out of the ground or by enemies so you will not be hit by these orbs of energy. This works likewise when fighting enemies, a red enemy must be defeated while the player is blue or they will not be able to damage it. The concept may make platforming more difficult but it also provides a very rewarding experience.
That isn’t to say that Outland isn’t difficult. The game is actually quite hard and at times you will find yourself struggling to make it past a part in the game. Now the reason I classify Outland as a bullet hell game is that at times you will enter an area so full of energy orbs that you will wish it was just a normal platformer. At the same time however the difficulty doesn’t feel cheap. Sure you may spend a length of time in a certain area but you will feel justified when you manage to make it through the area instead of cursing the time that you wasted.
Now players also have the option to take the journey into the Outland with a friend online. You will be able to make your way through the entire game with a buddy if you so wish but it doesn’t change up the actual gameplay very much. At the same time you are also given specific areas that are made just for co-op play, called co-op challenges. These five challenges are interesting but also quite difficult as you must work together with your partner very closely or you both may die. This can cause a lot of problems due to the fact that if you aren’t playing with a very good friend you may find yourself never passing the first stage.
In the end Outland is an amazingly well designed game with beautiful graphic design and a unique gameplay mechanic to set itself apart from the rest of the pack. Considering the fact that it is also only an Arcade game it is quite the experience to have. With the fluid controls and color changing mechanic any platformer will find themselves in love with this game regardless of its difficulty. Outland is a great example of what can be done with limited resources and just a few simple mechanics that are woven together so tightly that they create a title that will be hard to forget.
I give Outland