How Metroidvania is it? High Fit. Outbuddies invokes the feel of Metroid, particularly with its atmosphere, but also with its progression design.
Primary Challenge: Exploration Focus
Time to beat: ~10 hours
Review Info: The Steam review code for Outbuddies was provided by the Developer.
Buy Outbuddies if you like…
- Metroid's Atmospheric focus
- Asymmetrical Co-op Play
- Vast Exploration
- Puzzle Platforming
▼ Review continues below ▼
Outbuddies was reviewed as of Patch 1.51 and has not been updated for subsequent patches
Outbuddies opens with a great hook. Your protagonist has hit the end of his lifelong search for an ancient ruin, and to save himself and to satisfy his curiosity, he must uncover all of the ruin’s secrets. In a Metroidvania where the point of the game is to simply discover, the setup is a great alignment of player goals and theming. Outbuddies delivers on its concept with some unique exploration challenges, even if the payoff isn’t as strong as it could be.
Outbuddies leans heavily into the “Metroid” side of the genre spectrum. What really sets it apart from other games in the same category is its Local Co-op features. From the start you’re given this buddy robot, which in the single player mode is a glorified scout and hacking tool; its primary function being to interact with specific objects and enemies or to reveal hidden passages as an alternative to just bombing everything. Enter the second player and the Buddy Bot’s hacking tool becomes a deadly weapon, and they gain the ability to place temporary platforms anywhere on the screen. It’s very convenient to have someone who can scout for secret passages while you are going about your business, but the other additional functions essentially let you “cheat” your way through the game. It subverts the need to have the obligatory double jump in a lot of areas since a chain of platforms will let you fly anywhere. Letting your friend control the camera also allows him to clear a room of its enemies while you’re completely out of harm’s way; provided that both of you are patient enough. It seems like such an overpowered tool would ruin the game, but the puzzle platforming challenges presented are open enough that there’s still a thrill in solving them using your expanded toolset, providing as much satisfaction – if not more – as doing it the single player way. Just like sequence breaking in any Metroidvania, going where “you’re not supposed to” has its own joys attached to it. It’s also not a complete subversion of the game’s intended challenges, since there are rooms that force you to figure things out the normal way, with devices that restrict the usage of the created platforms.
Puzzling your way through the hallways is the best part of the game. You’re given basically the entire game map from the beginning – you just have to fill it in – however finding your way from “Point A” to “Point B” is obstructed by enemy challenges or obstacles that require your powers or thinking to solve. It’s designed in a clever way to prevent boring repetition of these challenges, but the first time through any given room you risk numerous deaths until you figure out its secrets. Thankfully this focus on high-risk room solving is balanced by a very forgiving death system. Every screen transition is a checkpoint, letting you pick up exactly where you failed, with the only permanent loss being the achievement you could have earned with a perfect game.
Moving through areas the first time and just filling the map is rewarding by itself, but the actual in-game rewards can sometimes be a little lackluster. Part of the issue with exploration is that while you don’t have to repeat a lot of the challenge rooms over and over, the map is also huge and the fast travel points are confusing to memorize. Making your way through a challenging area only to find a +5 missile upgrade or more Wozen to release can feel a little disappointing. The developer has been hard at work patching away a lot of my complaints in this regard though. Since the game’s launch he’s increased the speed of the run function and has made wall jumping much easier to execute – to the point where you can fly up walls pretty easily after you’ve found all the upgrades. If the game could be updated so that all of the fast travel points are clearly marked on the game map, a lot of the slowness of traversing the world would be mitigated.
In general your character controls feel weighty and slow – upgraded run speed aside. Perhaps this is intentional design, but it’s a difficult game to pick up and play after waiting a week because of the complexity of its controls. All four shoulder buttons of the controller are used, and it’s easy to forget which function is mapped to what button, especially since combined functions don’t necessarily have any logical connection. Your bomb is mapped to the same button as interacting with the environment, and must be specifically placed on walls instead of simply dropped. Your run button – which you basically want to be holding all the time – is the back left shoulder button while your dash/dodge button is the front right shoulder button, making for a bit of a lopsided hand grip. Your dash button also doubles as your duck button for some reason, but only if you are also pushing down when you press it, so be careful that you don’t accidentally roll into that lava pit when what you really want to do is change to your ball form. I know its confusing to explain all of these buttons individually, but my hope is to convey that its just as confusing to play with them without a little time to get used to them.
It’s perhaps because of the complex controls that the bosses in Outbuddies are pretty hit or miss. Without regular enemies to really get you trained on using the control scheme to avoid attacks or switching weapons on the fly, your initial attempts against a given boss are probably going to be frustrating. About half of them also have uninteresting or broken patterns, with one in particular enjoying a frustratingly random shower of lava rocks in conjunction with his already adequate attack pattern. Some bosses stand out as memorable fights however, particularly the two that have hacking puzzles to them, making them especially fun playing with two players.
The biggest flaw with the bosses, at least for me, is that I didn’t feel any strong investment in fighting them. The game’s story presentation is weirdly wordy, and the ideas aren’t presented with any sense of pacing. The denizens of the underground are called the Wozen, and there are good Wozen and bad Wozen, but I don’t care about any of the Wozen. On your map screen there’s a “Wozen Saved” indicator, but we didn’t save a single one until hours into the game. When it finally happened we weren’t given any real incentive to seek out more of them. They do seem to randomly show up in boss fights to give you health items, but besides that there’s little fanfare to your benevolent activities. Since you need keys to open the locks on the prison doors, and these same keys can be used to buy a 1-up to use during boss fights, there’s sort of a decision point on whether you want to make a boss easier or be a savior, but again there aren’t any memorable NPCs to really make you feel the plight of the people you’re saving or exploiting. This lack of investment is especially weird since Bosses have a couple of paragraphs of dialog taunting you with the Old One threat that you never really see. That dialog ultimately comes across as nonsense filler text since nothing else in the game paints an adequate picture of what they’re talking about. Instead of walking away from the final boss chamber pumped that I had finally completed the game’s challenges, I was instead confused (and also lost since you’re still given access to potentially the game’s whole world in those final moments.)
Outbuddies is another valiant passion project effort made by a single individual, and as always making a game that’s this good on a first attempt is laudable all on its own. While I feel like there’s a wide gap between what Outbuddies is, and what it could be, don’t let that dissuade you from checking it out. It’s still a fun game, especially if you have a friend to play it with. The game’s author, Julian Laufer, has continually been hard at work with updating the game based on player feedback as well, so its entirely possible that all of my criticisms written here have since been completely addressed. There is indeed some fantastic potential for being one of the greatest atmospheric Metroid-likes since the best of that series which inspired it, but for now it’s still very good and a one-of-a-kind for its brand of asymmetrical play.
It's pretty hit or miss. Some encounters start to get repetitive and some bosses aren't as well designed as others.
Your character is weighty, making the puzzling aspect of platforming more interesting than the dexterity challenge.
Besides the critical upgrades, your main reward is more missiles, or optional collectables which are lackluster without a compelling story to back them up
Figuring out how to get across the trickier hallways is the main highlight of the game, and is especially rewarding with a second player
The presentation is strangely wordy without really having ''grab''. A story or narrative with better pacing would go a long way to cementing all of the other aspects of the game
The Retro pixel art is generally pleasing, though some aspects are hard to discern on a large screen
The music is ambient rather than something that stands on its own
The game is almost completely open right from the start, especially with a second player. Multiple playthroughs will likely look completely different.