Take Ikaruga’s two color switching madness and Metroidvania style platforming and put them in a blender. What will come out is Outland, Housemarque’s latest downloadable game for Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network. Outland takes familiar elements seen in other games, and meshes them into a unique, challenging 2-D platformer that will surely please anybody looking for a great title on the downloadable front.
Outland’s story is not the focal point of the game, and therefore is bare and simple. A man must go on a journey to stop two sisters: one sister controls the light and the other sister controls the dark. He realizes he must do this because he embodies the hero who cast away these sisters long ago. In between every world there is some text that pushes the story along, but overall, the story isn’t all that captivating or interesting, but it doesn’t have to be. The main strength of Outland lies in the gameplay.
Initially, the game begins with a very Metroidvania feel to it. The hero starts with no powers or abilities; he is limited to jumping and slashing his sword. Eventually, he gets skills such as sliding and ground stomping. But the challenge and crux of the game arises when the hero gets the power to switch colors to blue and red. If the player is of one color, then he or she will be able to absorb bullets of said color, and hurt enemies of the opposing color. There are many obstacles and puzzles that will be solved with this swapping, such as platforms only being available when being blue or red.
Once the game gives you the power to switch colors is when Outland really hits its stride. The platforming begins to get tougher and the enemies start to get trickier, as sometimes there will be many enemies of different colors in one area, forcing the player to react quickly. The game holds back giving the player both of the colors for far too long, and this results in some uneven pacing and difficulty. The first few hours are way too easy, and then the game ramps up its difficulty greatly in the latter sections of the game. Near the end, Outland will throw bullet hell of red and blue at your face, and you are going to need to be switching colors constantly. This game is tough, but for those looking for a challenge will salivate. This is a platformer that will punish those who are impatient, but is completely and totally fair.
In addition to the rigorous platforming, the combat is excellent as well. The main weapon the hero has is his sword. The sword is terrific, mainly because every hit feels so impactful. Each slash is stressed with the controller vibrating and the screen freezing for a split second. The hero eventually discovers new attacks that require energy to use. These moves are way more devastating and usually kill standard foes in one or two hits. These abilities are great, as you just feel so damn powerful using them.
The highlights of the game are without a doubt the boss encounters. Each boss is a towering monstrosity that forces the player to use his or her wits. These battles usually span a huge area, and the way the player is taken to new locales during the fight is really awesome. Many modern games have way too easy bosses, but in Outland, these beasts definitely made me grit my teeth in frustration.
The visuals in Outland are superb. It takes Limbo’s use of heavy shadows and imbues it with lush colors and backgrounds. The character and enemy design is fantastic as well. However, sometimes the game will zoom too far out and I would lose track of my hero, usually resulting in a loss of a heart. The music in the game, while nothing special, does an effective job and fits the overall theme of Outland extremely well.
As I was trekking through Outland, I kept thinking: why has nobody done this before? Taking Ikaruga’s color swapping and implementing them in a different genre was a genius move on Housemarque’s part. This great game mechanic should not be limited to only to shmups. At the price of only 10$, Outland definitely needs to be on the radar of anyone looking for a difficult, yet fair, 2-D platformer.