Outland Review: Dark or Light?

Do you like platformers? Do you like Ikaruga? If so, then Outland is a game that might fit your bill. Developed by the amazing team at Housemarque (who also developed the mindlessly fun Dead Nations and puzzlingly addictive Super Stardust series), Outland is a mash up of several genres and mixes it into one challenging, but thoughtful package. But ultimately the question is: Is it fun to play?

I can safely say Outland is a treat for both the eyes and the experience. The shoot’em up junkie in me absolutely adored this game. To be honest, I don’t know how to describe Outland. What I initially thought as a gimmick-filled action imitation became a cleverly designed work of art. The story is rather a throwaway. There are two sisters who created the world, one dark and one light. One day they decide to undo the world and havoc ensues. A lone hero banishes them to imprisonment and that becomes the essences of the game. You are a nameless warrior who must gain the powers of light and dark to combat the sisters once again. If you don’t mind this typical creators gone berserk storyline, the mechanics of the game will surely intrigue you.

Much like a certain other platformer, you start the game with nothing except the ability to jump and attack. As you progress, the game will imbue you with various powers to tackle the next obstacle in your way. The controls in Outland are by far some of the smoothest I’ve experienced. They are by no means revolutionary, but extreme fluidity of the motion makes the the game that much more enjoyable. I haven’t even touched on the game’s largest aspect, the light and dark mechanics. Anyone who’s played Ikaruga, will tell you switching between the color at the right time is a daunting skill to hone. You will have to time your switches through arrays of bullets just like in Ikaruga. However, this isn’t the only way to tackle a course. You can test your dodging ability by sticking to one polarity and attempt to avoid the opposite. In essence, the dual polarity allows you flexibility in overcoming many of the games beautiful bullet patterns. Your arsenal of attacks consist of an attack button and a handful of command skills.

I also haven’t even touched on the game’s awe-inspiring presentation. The lush tree silhouettes of the Jungle level combined with the chirps and little waterfall sound effects, create an ambient and soothing atmosphere in the game. The enemies do start to feel stale once you’ve played up to the last level, as having to fight another spider or swordsman starts to become a little repetitive. The highlight of the game comes in the form of its unique bosses. To throw out another game (pardon me), the boss fights are instantly reminiscent of Team ICO’s Shadow of the Colossus in 2D form. While not as drawn out, these behemoths require a different strategy to tackle other than hitting the attack button repeatedly. If there’s one little quip with these fights, it’s that once you die in the boss fight, you will need to start all the way from the beginning of the fight, forcing you to concentrate on your dodging and attacking with pinpoint precision. Majestic and massive, these bosses will challenge your reflexes with each one getting progressively more challenging.

There are many things I could go on about Outland, but it is truly a game that you must play for yourself to see. We’re in an age where downloadable games aren’t simply cheap thrills, but full featured games with innovative mechanics and engaging narratives. Outland is a start in that direction. Let’s hope Housemarque continues that.

Grade : A-

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