How Metroidvania is it? Low Fit. Basically completely linear, and the game actually suffers from trying to have a ''Metroidvania'' world rather than linear levels that could better realize the gimmicks it presents.
Primary Challenge: Melee Combat
Time to beat: ~6 hours
Review Info: Outland was played on Steam. Since the review was originally posted, it has been removed from sale on Steam.
Buy Outland if you like…
- Interesting game concepts
- Its Unique Art Aesthetic
▼ Review continues below ▼
Outland has some good ideas, and good execution at parts, but overall it’s bogged down by uninspired level design that isn’t helped by a bland throw-away story. The whole thing gives me this feeling that there was one or two guys on the team that had a really good idea or passion with the talent to execute on those ideas specifically, but that the rest of the project was run by someone who didn’t know how to best utilize those ideas.
One of those good ideas is the game’s main gimmick, and the only reason I’d recommend anyone check this game out. Similar to Ikaruga or Sillouette Mirage, Enemies have two colors of attacks; Red and Blue. Eventually you get the ability to switch between these two colors, and if you’re hit by a projectile of the same color, you don’t take any damage.
When the game first introduces this idea to you, the potential is immediately apparent. This introduction is done through a flashback level where you have some of the game’s later power-ups for a short stint of time. Then, you are thrust back into “The real world” where you can’t change to any color until you unlock the ability. This experience highlights the game’s biggest problem – it feels padded. There really isn’t much value in making the player wade through 90 minutes of gameplay to get to the game’s unique characteristic. And even when you do unlock the power it’s only applied well in some parts of the game.
And this is the fault of level design more than anything, because the mechanics are a lot of fun. When you are able to watch a pattern and execute the perfect combination of jumps and attacks it’s very rewarding. However the mechanical design does have a potential flaw – In order to hurt enemies of a specific color, you have to be the opposite color. This means that in order to hurt something, you have to be vulnerable to them. The frustration that can come from this could easily be avoided by meticulous enemy placement, but in execution, Outland has many points where the only winning strategy is to simply wait a very long time until bullet conditions are favorable for you to move in. The absolute worst part of the game where this happens is the final boss, leaving the game off on a sour note. I could make a whole essay on this one point, but for the purposes of this review I’ll leave it at that as my opinion.
I do want to touch on one other thing that rubs me the wrong way about this game – and that’s its “Metroidvania” tag. Outland, as it’s presented, seems to think that backtracking is a “feature” of Metroidvania. I’ve seen some people attach that to the definition of “Metroidvania”, but I don’t think it’s a feature as much as it is a consequence. Letting the player explore and discover things is rewarding, and it’s been identified in at least one game design model as one of the core reasons a player might be interested in playing games. Exploration has value. However, quite often, in letting the player explore they might not discover everything they need to do, forcing them to backtrack through an area to look for things they’ve missed. Backtracking is a consequence of exploration. Outland doesn’t let you explore – it let’s you backtrack. And worst of all when you backtrack there aren’t any substantial rewards for doing so.
Let me explain. There are little butterflies that lead you exactly where you need to go at all times, and all of the items that you need to complete the game are within this predetermined path. Other Metroidvanias, like Shadow Complex, did this too – but the difference is that Shadow Complex showed you where on the map you needed to go and it was your job to figure out how to get there. The butterflies just string you along the whole way. Since every power up is in this breadcrumb trail, there’s nothing exciting to find in the game’s numerous dead ends other than optional achievement collectables and life-ups or stamina upgrades. The life-ups and stamina upgrades might be fun to find, but they require the game’s currency purchase once you find the Statue that disseminates them to you. This is like exploring only to find toll booths or loose change to spend on them. Worst of all, there are pathways you can’t access the first time you go through an area – so you have to go backtrack to get them. But the only thing you’ll find is either gold or a toll booth. So the only reason to do this is if you like Backtracking – hence “Outland treats Backtracking like it’s a feature instead of a consequence.”
The game should have either been open from the beginning, or it should have dropped the backtracking elements entirely and went for an entirely linear level-based game (which it is, it only pretends to be something else.) I personally think the game would have been its strongest with the latter decision.
Outland has interesting ideas that are worth checking out if you’re simply interested in unique game design mechanics, but for the general audience that just wants to play a good game I really can’t recommend it.
Combat is genuinely fun and challenging when the game's gimmick allows it to be - though the enemy variety wouldn't hold it up in the long run
You avatar moves way too slow, which hurts both its core gimmick and its platforming
The game is completely linear with only achievements and poorly designed health and mana upgrades to reward backtracking
The gimmick is occasionally used well for puzzle platforming purposes
The story poorly conveyed and does little to drive the gameplay or be anything of value
The aesthetic is really nice to look at, but does get a little samey as you progress
The slow, relaxing music is contradictory to what should be a faster paced game to take the most advantage of its gimmick
My interest was lost even before completing it once