The Five D's of Outland: Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive, and Dodge.
Falling what seems like thousands of feet, I become aware of one thing: There's danger below me, around me, all in different forms. Giant spiders dig up out of the ground and men clad in armor and carrying spears patrol floating platforms. The environment itself is my enemy, vicious, mobile, and utterly surprising in every way. This is Outland.
[image1]Developer Housemarquee's Outland is a downloadable title with direct ties to several iconic games that have defined genres. The most noticeable of these is the color-switching gameplay found in the shmup Ikaruga. Matching the colors of unfriendly enemies or environmental hazards prevents you from taking damage, but you'll have to take a walk on the opposite side to attack and defeat the creatures that inhabit Outland.
Outland also mimics the coin-collecting obsessive nature of the Super Mario series and heavily-rewarded exploration of Metroid-vania games. Even its dark and foreboding art style can be traced back to Limbo despite its heavy splashes of vibrant color. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but can Outland pull this ass-kissing off?
The short answer is yes. Outland deftly navigates a web of intricate gameplay systems, all of which are possible at any given moment. Players have to be on their toes in order to react to the shmup level design, color-juggling combat, edge-to-edge platforming, and risk-reward exploration. Luckily, all of the above is satisfying and even more so when it happens simultaneously.
[image2]Somehow Ubisoft has a remarkable penchant for satisfying platformers and Outland is no different. Wall jumps, hanging from ledges, and environmental spikes are all par for the course, but the fluidity with which the hero can navigate the dangerous terrain makes the player feel like an acrobat. Devilishly intricate combat including moves as varied as lifts, stomps, air attacks, and straight-forward strikes mixes satisfyingly with the platforming. Of course, the real pull here is the color-alternating hero and his ability to withstand attacks of the same color.
When the environment casts a net of blue, the player has to match the color in order to survive. Later areas put blue enemies within blue hazards so that the player will have to leap and attack while red at the right time to deal damage before switching back to blue to avoid damage. Spikes in the environment will occasionally pertain to specific colors and platforms will only activate when you match your color to them as well.
Levels feel like the old-school platforms of yesteryear. If you remember looking at long 2D maps with power-up and reward locations dotting them in your chosen video game publication, you'll be instantly drawn into the level design, which is challenging without being cheap. Checkpoints are spread evenly throughout so the penalty of dying is much less severe than it could have been. Revisiting earlier levels with powers you receive later in the game also rewards the player.
[image3]If Outland's levels are the main course, then the game's boss fights are the dessert. Bosses test every reflex and ability the player has at his or her disposal. Boss fights do ultimately boil down to rote memorization, but they'll still leave you satisfied and empowered. The final two bosses spike in difficulty but with patience the extra challenge ends up being all the more satisfying.
The only real problem is the yawn-inducing narrative. Limbo struck a chord with so many gamers because of how much it didn't say. Outland talks and talks and talks. It leaves nothing to the imagination and interrupts the most powerfully visual moments in the game. So much more could have been left unsaid and the story would have been all the better for it.
Mixing genres can be a quick way to ensure a game's uniqueness, but that can leave a lot to be desired. Thankfully, Outland is both unique and well-developed and will leave you wanting more. If the seven-hour main campaign isn't enough, you can go back and play any number of Outland's inspirations.