Developer: Housemarque / Publisher: Ubisoft / Played on: XBLA / Price: $10 (800 MSP) / ESRB: Everybody 10+ (Fantasy Violence)
Running and jumping in Mario games is easy. Absorbing black bullets and avoiding white bullets in Ikaruga presents a great and rewarding challenge. Collecting new abilities and navigating puzzles in Metroid is rewarding. But what if a game did all of these things at one time? Then you’d have Outland, a new action and puzzle game from Ubisoft. Feeding off staples from their respective genres, Outland is ambitious and a blast to play.
A tale involving ancient goddesses who control the power of light and dark respectively loosely holds the story together. The cliché story and forgettable events that unfold upon completion of the game are second to the gameplay. At its core, Outland is an action-platformer that will have you running from ledge to distant ledge, dodging foes, and slicing through some with your trusty blade. But that is just the tip of the iceberg that is Outland’s superb gameplay. Light and dark energies take priority after the introductory stage and become the driving force until the last boss falls. Blue (light) and red (dark) projectiles fill the screen, placing you in impossible situations from which to escape. Thankfully you soon awaken within yourself the awesome power to nullify the effects of these orbs. In a very similar fashion to the DreamCast shooter Ikaruga, you can change the color of the hero to either red or blue, with each variant absorbing their respective color. The mechanic worked well for Ikaruga and it works great here too, leading to some of the most intense and incredibly designed puzzles I can recall in recent memory. Light and dark also affect combat, with red enemies susceptible only if you have the blue suit equipped. Since you’re changing your color on the fly and frequently, combat beautifully mixes with platforming and puzzle-solving.
What makes Outland stand out even more is how well each aspect of the game flows together. At one point I was being assaulted by light and dark laser beams from above, being attacked by enemies below, and all the while I was on a moving platform that required me to jump and switch colors in order to reach the next platform. Everything here feels so natural that you become completely immersed in the puzzle at hand. The game is also perfectly paced. After you have one area mastered, you’re given new abilities such as bursts of strength that can knock down larger walls or the ability to propel yourself upwards higher than a normal jump to reach previously unattainable ledges. This Metroid-esque structure makes each stage a new adventure, and it never gets stale. Capping the already enchanting package is a co-op mode that can be played online or off that features two-player specific puzzles that are even nastier than some of the single player puzzles. Hidden collectibles scattered throughout each level add some replay value as you can only attain some by backtracking to previous locations once you attain newer skills. Despite being on the shorter side (six or so hours), Outland is a spectacular game that every gamer should experience.
Outland has a unique graphical style that is simple yet sophisticated. Characters, enemies, and the ground you run on are simple silhouettes (similar to Limbo) except with a vibrant gold outline. The only other color comes from energy projectiles or light and dark enemies that radiate a brilliant red or blue tone. It seems simple but seeing the game in motion really showcases the eye-catching style. Each of the worlds has a different setting, from crumbling cities to flourishing forests. Backgrounds share the same shadowy design as the foreground and only add to the richness. The boss fights are among the highlights of Outland’s graphical prowess; one fight takes place entirely on falling debris while a giant goddess blasts you with light and dark energies. While it may look simple at first, Outland is one of the best looking games to come out this year.
Great gameplay is nothing without fine control and Outland handles itself well. Running around and leaping to distant ledges becomes second nature as you progress though the game because everything feels so responsive. Outland requires fast reflexes to navigate through its many puzzles and in this respect the controls are fantastic. You switch between light and dark, slicing up spiders, and jumping off walls at the same time, making responsive controls a necessity. As you progress you uncover a bevy of new skills and attacks, and these feel natural as well. It’s impressive, given how complicated the controls could have been due to how many actions you can eventually perform.
Outland’s soundtrack is a good mix of heavy bass and tribal themes. The songs fit the setting well but came off as uninspired to me. They don’t sound bad at all on a technical point, but seem almost too mundane when compared to the uniqueness of the rest of the game. The sound effects on the other hand are spot on and sound fantastic. Screeches of spiders, clangs of your sword against the wall, and even vases shattering all sound great and help to draw you in by creating an immersive atmosphere. The soundtrack is a bit common but overall Outland employs a good use of sound.
Outland has a lot to offer: A great combination of gameplay styles influenced by other games, astounding controls, and a simple and effective aesthetic. In short it has everything a game needs to be great. Though I’m not a fan of the soundtrack, that’s not to say the game doesn’t sound good on the whole. For ten bucks you can’t do much better than Outland, and your trip into the world won’t soon be forgotten.
9.0 / 10