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On 07/06/2011 at 09:21 AM by Nick DiMola
This metroidvania game puts an extremely compelling spin on the tried-and-true formula.
For everyone. A must-play for metroidvania fans.
Metroidvania games are unquestionably some of my favorites. While there aren’t too many produced outside of the titles from where the subgenre name is lifted, they are often a treat when they become available. Outland is no exception to this rule, offering up a 2D platformer that places a far greater focus on its action elements, requiring players to master movement, attacking, and timely switching between a light/dark mechanic.
Things start off simply, allowing players to get a feel for the basics. The hero is quite nimble in the dark but lightly-colored 2D world that holds him. With the ability to wall jump and swing a sword, the hero can dispose of enemies and platform his way to new heights in order to hit switches or collect keys in order to progress. The hero possesses these abilities because he is a reincarnation of a hero of the past, who needs to take this quest to destroy or detain the Sisters of Chaos who threaten the world.
Like Metroid, as you progress through the quest, you will unlock new areas which hold new abilities. These abilities largely act as the keys to other new areas, though some physical keys do exist to unlock the boss rooms. Unlike Metroid, the game is not very heavy on exploration. Deviating from the beaten path or accessing hidden rooms does little more than allow you to collect money and the 42 hidden masks.
The masks at first will only unlock concept art but eventually provide some gameplay benefits, the first of which is the ability to cling onto walls longer – a great help for avoiding energy bullets.
After about an hour of play, the hero will be donned with both light and dark forms, which he can alternate between. In light form, you’ll be able to defeat dark enemies and deflect light energy bullets, with the inverse being true for the dark form. Additionally, switching between the forms is often used as a trigger of sorts to turn on and off certain elements in the environments. At times these are helpful platforms or platforms used as shields to the energy bullets; other times they will trigger spikes that will hurt you.
Outland succeeds in producing unbelievably mind-bending and physically demanding segments for the hero to progress through. It’s clear that Housemarque went through the effort of meticulously playtesting the game. They are often able to trip you up by providing things like dark enemies while you are being attacked by dark energy. Your dark form will deflect the bullets, but will bar you from attacking the enemy, forcing you to bait them away from the energy, bypass them and risk being attacked, or attack them and take a hit. Platforms that protect you apply similar restrictions. In that case, you’ll often be provided with a small window to destroy the enemy, assuming you can time everything properly.
The entire experience toys with the combination of energy bullets, platforms, and enemies. It’s a compelling concept that will force a balancing act of multiple functions at once. In certain instances I’d need to switch my energy alignment mid-wall jump to bypass an opposite energy and immediately switch back upon landing to fight a foe.
Both the basic enemies and boss fights are extremely diverse. While players initially start with just spiders attacking them, eventually varying warriors are introduced, each of which require a different tactic to defeat. The bosses are all mind-blowing, forcing players to think on their toes and execute enormous dexterity. The second boss was extremely memorable, forcing me to avoid flying debris by clinging to different surfaces, while switching alignments to attack. The second phase had me climbing ever-falling platforms while avoiding her attacks, and retaliating with attacks of the proper energy alignment. Eventually I even had to deflect the proper energy beams.
With the constantly evolving palette of moves (I unlocked a man-beam), there’s plenty to keep you coming back for more, though the extremely linear progression in the non-linear world was less than desirable. Over time the drab surroundings and lack of color wore on me. While at first it’s catchy and unique, by the end I was looking for something a bit more colorful and full of life.
I’d love to see the Outland concept revisited with a less linear progression, but what’s here is phenomenal in its own right. Housemarque has produced an extremely compelling experience that’s worthy of everyone’s time. It’s not perfect by any means, but if you are a fan of either Metroid or Castlevania, it’s a must-play experience and one of the best downloadable games of the year.