Ikaruga as a platformer works great
Outland is a game easy to describe using a combination of other games, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a unique and stylist platformer that is very easy to recommend to anyone with an Xbox 360 or PS3. Okay so let’s get it out of the way, the game takes the art style of Patapon, the exploration of Metroid, the color switching mechanics of Ikaruga and boss battles reminiscent of Shadow of the Colossus. Though admittedly side scrolling platforms have had a long history of huge bosses that tower over the game protagonist.
The story doesn’t break any new ground with its themes of ancient gods becoming corrupt, deciding to destroy the world and then a hero destined to save the world. That said, it’s interesting enough to keep things going. If anything, the art design does more for the story with unique levels littered by ancient statues, hieroglyphics and runes that provide more context to the world of the game.
The game does a good job of easing you into the use of your powers so it’s not until later in the game that the platforming starts to get really crazy. It doesn’t ever reach the level of Ikaruga punishing difficulty provided you collect enough money to visit the occasional statue for increasing your health meter. I suspect that just like for Ikaruga there will be people who become absolute masters of this game that will learn how to navigate the most complicated bullet patterns without taking damage. Usually my deaths were from attempts at trying to be that guy and failing miserably.
The gameplay is Metroid in that you will gradually gain new abilities that let you traverse areas that you couldn’t before, but it’s not as exploration based and new powers are gained very quickly. The primary mechanic of the game is the hero’s ability to change between light and dark power or blue and red. You’re shielded from bullets of the same color and need to be the opposite color in order to inflict damage. Also there are platforms that you must change color to stand upon and spikes that protrude when you’re one color or another.
The two collectible items are the “Mark of the Gods” and treasure pots of money. The game helpfully lists the number of marks via the map screen and also how many of them you’ve found. The treasure pots you’ll stumble upon frequently, but once you’ve collected enough marks they’ll be revealed on the map screen which is very helpful. Only one achievement is tied to finding the marks, and the money based one is for quantity which could be grinded if you’re a real achievement lover. The game is actually very good about leaving small subtle indicators of where hidden areas might be so I managed to find all the marks without looking at a FAQ.
In addition to the platforming there’s some combat that’s a mix of three hit sword combos, stun moves, ground pounds, sliding kicks and launch moves to juggle your enemies. The combat isn’t terribly deep, but things get a lot more interesting when you’re faced with enemies of different colors or enemies who can change their color. The boss battles are pattern based, but their attack variations really keep you on your toes and are never frustrating. There were a couple I took several tries before completing, but usually the reasons for my failure were due to rushing or being too careless. The final boss battle in particular is very trying, but incredibly satisfying to finish.
In addition to the story mode there’s an arcade mode complete with leaderboards for those of you out there who have to test their speed and also scoring ability. Arcade mode is broken up into sections with a timer, smaller health meter and points assigned to enemies you kill. Also you collect multipliers from dead enemies for an even higher score. There’s also an online-only co-op mode which I didn’t try out because I didn’t have any Xbox friends to play with, and I didn’t want to humiliate myself by pairing myself up with someone who might be a total savant at the game. There are also a few levels specifically designed for co-op play.
The art style of Outland is really beautiful to look at with its 3D cel shaded silhouetted look. The backgrounds are a mix of beautiful pastels with a lot of depth that really shows as you run through the level. The animation of your character and enemies are fluid and really enhance the tight control of the gameplay. Bosses are also impressively animated and a lot of fun to just look at. Even if there have been a lot of games with similar visual motifs, Outland really does a great job of distinguishing itself.
I beat Outland in about seven hours and so far have added one or two more going back to previous levels for collectibles. At ten dollars, Outland is well worth the price and a great downloadable platformer for fans of the genre who are looking for something new.