Outland Review

By on June 19, 2011

Excitement comes in two colors.

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First Impressions
My reaction is

Platforming is not what it used to be. Then again neither is gaming nor, in fact, are gamers. Things have changed, gaming has developed and classic platforming is nostalgic but passé. Be that as it may, I am one of many gamers with a soft spot for some good old-fashioned 2D platforming, especially since I often find 3D platforming to be frustrating and uninspired. During the last couple of years, numerous side-scrollers were released via digital download and some were quite good. Most, however, just flattered to deceive.

…And then there is Outland.

Outland is a 2D plaformer with a polarity twist. The system may not be new but adds depth to the game’s otherwise rather simple mechanics. If you are familiar with Ikaruga’s polarity system then Outland won’t seem too different. You play has a nameless, faceless hero that can alternate between dark and light power. The power of ‘Evil’ is red and ‘Good’ is appropriately blue. This is not part of some morality system á la Infamous, in fact the only significance is that there are two colors – red and blue. You can only kill enemies of the opposite color and shield against beams or projectiles of the same color. Hence the point of the game is platforming with strategic and timed switching of colors.

This may sound overly simple but the end result is quite good. The game is appropriately paced and gets more and more challenging as you progress without ever feeling cheap or tedious. In every level, you’ll acquire new powers or skills that can either prove useful in combat or necessary for progression. Outland has a semi-open world system that let’s you backtrack in levels or revisit other levels via a teleport system. Completists will feel compelled to revisit earlier sections that required certain abilities not yet acquired, however   revisiting levels is completely optional.

In addition to the single player campaign, there is arcade mode which involves timed playthroughs of the levels as well as co-op mode that lets you play alongside a friend, as long as your friend is not literally beside you because Outland’s co-op mode is online only. It is a shame, but most of the co-op specific challenges are wicked.

The game’s primary strength is its core devotion to platforming. There is combat, there are upgrades but everything serves the platforming. The level designs are balanced, never too hard but consistently challenging, especially near the end. Outland also has fantastic boss battles. Most are big and require superhuman patience and planning. In fact, the entire game requires a patient approach. There may appear to be beams and enemies all over the screen but if you look around properly, you’ll find the gaps you need to aim for and then you can traverse perilous sections comfortably.

Outland is visually slick. It’s not extravagant but has a visual language that complements its color-coded gameplay. There are no real cutscenes to speak of barring a few storyline sequences that are merely narrated and, undoubtedly, the weakest part of the game. Outland is the type of game that is hard not to admire. It does alot with a little and it looks and sounds great but is never overly self-indulgent.

It is hard not to like Outland unless you really dislike the genre. The very nature of side-scroller platforming garners some frustration which is not everyone’s chocolate sundae, but if you’ve ever lamented the stale state of today’s 2D platformers, Outland is for you.

The Scorecard
Platforming at its finest. The polarity system is built-on tremendously well.
Simple but gorgeous.
The music and sound effects are good but never overstated. The narrator is not too convincing however.
Outland is pretty short but at $12 it’s hard to complain too much.
Good old-fashioned fun. Boss battles are epic and the platforming is a challenge.
If you’ve ever lamented the stale state of today’s 2D platformers, Outland will rekindle your faith in the genre.


As an opinionated young gamer many years ago, I made three predictions: 1- Sega would dominate the console wars for 50 years. 2- Simon's Quest would be remembered as the definitive NES game. 3- I would be gaming even more as an adult. I suppose one out of three isn't bad.

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