posted 6/14/2011 by Tina Amini
other articles by Tina Amini
Platforms: 360
A good platformer is challenging, to a degree. A good platformer makes you almost want to throw your controller at the screen and call it quits, but is so enthralling that you leave your cursing to mutters under your breath and trek onward regardless. Outland provides just that kind of experience, while occasionally dancing outside the borders of challenge and dangerously flirting with frustration.

Outland is a 2D platformer reliant on a polarity system. Many of its gameplay elements are reminiscent of titles you have almost most certainly played, or at least heard of. The polarity system, for instance, is very similar to Ikaruga’s black/white gameplay mechanic. The shadowy, lithe protagonist is capable of both wall jumping acrobatics for navigating the maze-like levels of each map, as well as effectively wielding a sword during melee combat.

The first most noticeable quality to Outland is its aesthetic appeal. If you are equally a sucker for artistic design complemented by a fitting soundtrack as I am, Outland will draw you in instantly. Every level’s design feels like a dream-like facade, and every obstacle and enemy will add to the feeling that you are an outsider in an unknown, mystical world. Navigating Outland’s mazes is never exactly a pleasant journey - you’ll be battling spiders, knocking down walls, launching to new platforms, avoiding patterns of harmful light energy and much more than most people’s imaginations can design. Once the charm of its visuals and sounds have settled in, players will grasp the concept of just how fickle the platforming challenges can be.

The main gameplay concept in Outland requires players to anticipate movements of either light or dark energy channeled by spirits. This mechanic is unique in that in order to respond to the environment, players will have to be cognizant of what energy they are channeling in return. While scaling and jumping in between ledges and walls, emanating energy will obstruct the path. So long as the energy you are channeling matches that of which you are attempting to pass through, you’ll come out the other end unscathed. This becomes tricky when you have to concentrate on switching back and forth at just the right moments while simultaneously keeping a good footing. The gameplay mechanic necessitates a more thought out plan involving gauging the behavior of your obstacles, which include both enemies and environmental ones.

Having to outrun enemies and light/dark spirits can be a fast paced experience. Dodging, jumping and simultaneously collecting hidden items can be demanding in a pleasantly challenging manner. Outland will have you quickly responding to changing environments and spontaneous appearances of enemies. Along the way, monuments you encounter will grant you new abilities that give you a better fighting chance in combat, as well as new techniques to progressing through levels. Levels change dynamically as you gain access to new abilities. Discovering new areas of the map that can be accessed after being granted with new abilities makes Outland an even more intriguing world to explore. You can feel that there is a larger part to this world than what you can currently explore/discover.

I learned something about myself while playing Outland: I have zero patience. I’m a run-and-gun kind of gamer, so when it comes to waiting for the proper rotation of blue/red colors, I often can’t be bothered by it. I’ll opt for taking damage just to progress a bit quicker and move on to defeating more enemies. Your enjoyment of Outland will be based on whether you like plotting out the perfect, most rhythmic movements required to navigate each obstacle course, or whether you’re like me and rather sacrifice your life than spend time waiting for colors to align.

Outland’s boast of difficulty can often be confused as an unnecessarily irksome variation. Most prevalent during boss battles, a lack of checkpoints becomes a large hindrance to the enjoyment and gratification of defeating a particularly challenging boss. Outland’s boss battles are prone to having multiple levels of health, but with no checkpoints between them. That means even if you’ve already defeated the boss’s first two levels of attack, you’ll have to repeat them if/when the third is where you meet your end.

While Outland is certainly a challenging platformer, something as simple as a lack of checkpoints during boss battles can quickly turn fair challenge into a hassle. As the game progresses, these battles become even lengthier. With several levels to pass per boss, and no checkpoints between them, fighting off a boss feels more like a chore than a challenge. It inevitably feels like you, as a player, are not being rewarded for your triumphs. Only your moments of failure are truly recognized. This does not bode well for motivation to tackle future boss battles. It is also why I consistently needed to take breaks away from the game.

Outland’s best qualities are most certainly its demanding polarity, and platform gameplay as well as its beauty. Colors are warm and glowing, and tribal-like music complements the visuals in a way that is almost romantic. The swirls of color and silhouettes in the forefront make Outland seem like a dream-like experience, which reinforces the thematic presence of being in a spiritually-dominant world. The gameplay mandates players to learn the movement and natural motion of both your character and the light/dark obstacles.Just like any platformer, players will be required to master the movement of their character - from jumping to sliding and slashing - thereby adding to the beauty of the game.
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