From the Metroid-esque antics of Shadow Complex to the unsettling and shadowy deaths of Limbo, Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network have played host to a number of solid, even stellar platformers. Of course, to use a term as simple and antiquated as ‘platformer’ may be considered as derogatory, particularly when such titles require a great deal of thought and careful timing on the part of the player. Outland is such a game, where shadow and colour collide to produce a challenge that will test both your reflexes and observational skills to the limit.
Prince of Persia meets Ikaruga; that’s the most appropriate way to describe the proceedings in Outland. You’ll be running, jumping, sliding and slashing your way through a silhouetted selection of well-designed levels to a variety of backdrops. This artistic style endures throughout the course of the game, and you may find yourself a little exhausted of it all after an especially long sitting. It’s certainly pretty and evokes the sense of wonder that developer Housemarque no doubt intended, but it may not be to everyone’s liking. It soon becomes apparent however that presentation is to take a back seat to the action itself, which is no bad thing given how addictive the gameplay can get.
It won’t be too long before you’re hopping about and swiping at enemies like a pro, with the game’s introductory sequences easing you in to the different abilities, of which there are a few. Occasionally you’ll come upon a door or route that cannot be accessed until a certain power is unlocked, but these become more of a curiosity than a pain given the use of glittering waypoints. Outland does a fine job of giving you a helping hand in telling you where to go and providing clues as to when you should use a certain power. What it won’t do is hold your hand – traversing those challenging screens fraught with danger is all up to you, and this extends to working out the pattern for each boss fight.
The biggest aspect of the adventure is the inclusion of light and dark enemies, projectiles and character states. Blue enemies can only be felled when your hero is red, but this also leaves you open to attack and vice versa. It’s very much Ikaruga, for those who have played it, with the deadly swirls and rapid fire of ever-changing colours making for deadly traps that will have you restarting from checkpoints throughout your journey. It’s difficult at times, but rarely does it come across as cheap and unfair, as what will lay waste to you on your first attempt may be conquered without a single hit on the next.
Enemy design is interesting and all are colour-coded to appear visible on screen, as opposed to blending in with the black foreground. Giant spiders, beam-blasting serpents and spear-wielding warriors are among the challenges you face beyond the tricky colour traps, and each has a quick method of being overcome should the situation arise – warriors for instance, are partial to an uppercut followed by a number of well-placed slashes, while the charging armadillos are best avoided altogether. Technically, there’s little in Outland that you haven’t seen before, but the odds are you haven’t seen these elements pasted together or as well executed as this in some time.
There is a rudimentary story woven into Outland that tries, yet fails to make much sense or even become relevant. We would try to explain it here but may well end up passing on nonsense and misinterpretations, so all we’ll say is that there is very little exposition and you won’t find yourself even remotely intrigued by the tale trying to be told here. It’s down to the addictive gameplay and top-notch level design to see you through to the end then. You will want to keep an eye out for secret areas hiding collectible masks too, breaking jars and collecting coins to exchange for health and energy slots. Outland may not be bursting with content, but there’s enough here to keep you on your toes and more than satisfied.
Something old, something new, something red and something blue, Outland stands as another fine example of how old-school platforming can be brought triumphantly into the modern era with tight gameplay and an interesting twist on an old staple. It’s tough but always good fun, with frequent checkpoints to prevent frustration as you bound between levels whilst switching between polarities. Rewarding by giving a sense of achievement, Outland is one of those games that you find yourself playing long into the morning under the pretence of ‘just one more go’. It isn’t perfect by any means, but you just can’t be too hard on a game as well-constructed as this.
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