The core ideas behind Outland feel fresh and entertaining at first, but predictable level design and frustrating boss encounters hurt the experience.
For a platformer to stand out in this day and age, the game has to do something quite inventive either from a visual or gameplay standpoint, preferably both. After all, there are so many platformers from both big and small companies that the genre is feeling extremely crowded. Outland is a creative title that looks and plays like charm and a few gameplay tweaks make it unique. Sadly, the initial impression quickly wears off and a feeling of frustration and trial-and-error sets in to never leave.
At first, Outland feels like a traditional platformer: you can jump over platforms, slide, attack enemies in different ways, avoid obstacles and so on. But a few minutes after you start playing, a new layer of complexity is revealed. You can switch between the light and dark spirits within your character which reveals hidden platforms, absorbs energy from the spirit you’re aligned with, activates switches and so on. But not only is this approach used for the layout of the levels, but also for the enemies and boss fights that punctuate your adventure which results in some memorable encounters, albeit extremely frustrating in some cases.
Some games have used the polarity system before, such as shoot ‘em up Ikaruga or platformer Guacamelee and what I like about the idea is that you quickly adopt the game’s logic. Traversing through Outland’s levels and fighting through enemies becomes an elegant ballet of slashes, ground pounds, laser beams and using the polarity system effectively. The result is a stylish platformer that mixes ideas seen before and combines them to create something fresh.
But there are some problems that hurt the experience. The trial-and-error approach when it comes to the boss fights and the process of memorizing patters can be frustrating and predictable. By the time I was done with most boss fights I felt relieved rather than rewarded for my efforts and that’s never a good feeling.
The game’s structure is simple yet effective: you explore a series of levels, jump over platforms, get doubloons, upgrade your stats, unlock abilities and face bosses. I really appreciated the clear map and the cloud of butterflies that’s always hovering over your next destination. To be clear, you do have the freedom to explore the different levels however you prefer (though, in true Metroidvania fashion, some paths are blocked until you get a specific ability,) but if you want to know exactly where to go next, the game shows that in a clear and comprehensive way.
Apart from the single player campaign (which should take you around 6 to 7 hours to complete) there are some extra modes. There’s online coop here you can play cooperative levels found on the single-player portion of the game with an online friend. And then there arcade mode were you need to finish a level as fast as you can in the allotted time with set abilities. Your performance is uploaded to the worldwide leaderboards for everyone to see once you’ve cleared a level.
The core ideas behind Outland feel fresh and entertaining at first, but predictable level design and frustrating boss encounters hurt the experience. The music, coop, visual style and polarity system are fantastic, but Outland quickly becomes too repetitive and frustrating to recommend.