As gamers we can probably agree that most video games tend to be about good vs. evil, or more importantly, light vs. dark. Occasionally there comes a game in which you must harness these essences for your own use, such as Ikaruga. While you don’t necessarily “harness” the powers of dark and light in Outland in the same way you do in Ikaruga, light and dark do play a major role in the game. What do I mean by that? Let’s take a look at Outland and find out.
The story of Outland is not all that complicated, but it’s precise and to the point. The game is about a man who is haunted by “dreams of legend”. He sought out a shaman to make sense of visions he was having and learned about an ancient truth. The shaman told him about a “great wheel” endlessly turning and two sisters who helped make the world, but then sought to destroy it. The two sisters were imprisoned by a hero, that hero’s soul waiting to be reborn. The hero’s time has come again, but so has that of the two sisters. You must now seek out the two sisters and prevent them from shattering the world they created.
The goal of Outland is to traverse through several areas and defeat the guardians of each before taking down The Sisters in the final area. As the game begins you can only run, jump, and jump off of walls. As you progress through the game you’ll gain various abilities such as attacking with a blade, performing a ground stomp, and even firing a powerful laser capable of doing great damage to any enemy in its path. Some of these abilities use up a point of energy, represented by a yellow circle in the upper-left corner of the screen. You can refill each energy point as you defeat enemies and you’ll also find energy upgrades (as well as heart upgrades) throughout the game that requires spending the gold you find. Thankfully the gold is plentiful so you’ll rarely, if ever have a situation in which you can’t afford an upgrade.
So what about this light vs. dark thing I mentioned earlier? You actually get a preview of this towards the start of the game. Early on you enter a flashback of sorts to when the hero first encountered The Sisters. It’s not a very long segment and it actually ends as you climb the ladder to the actual showdown, but it gives you a preview of the light and dark mechanics. Where in Ikaruga you absorb light and dark energy to gain power to use against enemies, here it’s a bit different.
Once you obtain the light and dark essences (which you actually gain at separate points in the game…think the portal guns in Portal how you get one at first and the other later), there are actually several “mechanics” to them. Yes, there are mechanics to the mechanics. First off, you’ll notice that after getting an essence that most of the enemies are either blue (light) or red (dark). You can only hit an enemy if your active essence is the opposite color of the enemy, so if you’re fighting a blue enemy, you have to have the red essence active. When it comes to projectiles, you can absorb same-colored projectiles by just having them touch you, while different-colored projectiles hurt you. Absorbing the projectiles doesn’t do anything until later on when you gain an ability to absorb the projectiles and fire them back at enemies.
Each “level”, so to speak, is broken up into several areas. While you’re free to explore each area, the ultimate goal for each level it to find a key that will let you into the guardian’s room, then defeat the guardian and open up the path to the next area. You can go back to any area you’re completed (and there are even teleporters that you can make use of after the second level is cleared) to gain more money to buy health and energy upgrades, as well as hunt down golden icons to unlock concept art. As you progress you’ll see some golden fireflies that will lead you in the correct direction, plus you can pull up a map of the current area to see where you’re supposed to go to. I constantly found myself pulling up the map to see what areas led to dead ends to search for the golden icons as well as extra gold. However, thanks to the map it’s not very hard to find your way. That basically sums up the game itself, so let’s see what I enjoyed and what kind of bothered me.
What I Enjoyed
To start with, there is a sense of challenge in the game. Early on it’s not too hard, but once you’re able to switch between the essences, you’ll find yourself doing that constantly. I’d almost compare it to a puzzle game, trying to learn when to switch essences, but it’s not like any areas are too challenging to get through. The challenge itself can be the timing between switching essences. For instance, there are multiple occurrences where I’m on a platform that requires me to have the blue essence active, then jump, switch essences to red to absorb a stream of red projectiles, and then switch back to blue to land on another blue platform. How about having to deal with multiple enemies, some red and some blue? It can get tough dealing with one enemy, then switching essences to deal with another before he strikes you down. Don’t let the opening area and first level lull you into a false sense of security, there is some challenge in the game.
Going back to the bosses, I really enjoyed fighting them…mostly. While the final fight was a bit frustrating (in fact, it was a decent jump in difficulty from the other bosses), a lot of the fights made you be patient while the opportunity to attack made itself present. In one fight you’re riding on the back of a dragon as it flies through the air and drops bombs on you while you have to ground-stomp colored areas on its back. You have to avoid or attack the bombs while maintaining the color you need to hit the colored area on the dragon, and you have to do this for about three cycles. The Sisters at the end of the game will wear out your fingers and whatever button you’re using to switch between essences as you’re constantly dodging projectiles while trying to maintain the proper color to attack.
As you gain more abilities you learn new ways to take out various enemies, and some enemies actually make you take a step back, see how the enemy operates, and then find a suitable way to take them out. Most minor enemies will require three or four hits to defeat, and a tactic I found myself using was to either hit the enemy twice before sliding into it for the third hit, or use my Up+Attack move to swing my sword upwards to launch an enemy into the air, then do a three-move combo on it to defeat it. Larger enemies might not give you many opportunities to attack them, so it’s a matter to waiting to see what they do, then counter. With that said, there were some things that bothered me with Outland.
What Bothered Me
First, Outland is a very short game. The main game, while exploring every area, nook, and cranny I could my first time through (some areas you have to go back to once you gain a new ability), only took about five hours. There is an Arcade Mode with leaderboards where your ranking depends on your final score and amount of time taken to clear the area, boss included. That adds some replayability, as well as the golden icons and achievements, but even for a $10 I was hoping the game was a little longer. Keep in mind that the five hours was my first time going through the game. Now that I know what to do and where to go, I’m sure that even if I only went out of my way to get the health and energy upgrades it would only take a few hours.
The bosses, while interesting, aren’t really that hard save for The Sisters. Each of the first four bosses only took me three tries max, and most of them only took one or two. Once you know how they attack and what you have to do to attack them back, it’s just waiting out their attacks, making sure you’re using the correct essence to avoid getting damaged, and then attack when the opportunity arises. The Sisters is the lone example here as this took me several tries to clear as there’s a ton going on. Don’t get me wrong, I like a challenge, and The Sisters definitely provided me with one. However, it took me more tries to take them down than the other four bosses combined.
While I enjoyed my time with Outland, I really wish it was longer. As stated there are some areas you come across when first playing that you have to get a new ability before you can take that path, often leading to a golden icon. The levels had some challenge to them later on, the bosses were fun (if not frustrating a couple of times), and I really felt a sense of accomplishment after taking down The Sisters after a tough and intense fight. I just wish that sense of accomplishment wasn’t only five hours into the game.
It’s also worth noting that outside of the final area and boss fight, the other four areas didn’t seem incredibly difficult. There are challenging parts of the levels where you have to time your switching between the essences in some tricky spots, but as you progress through the game and get better at those skills, the difficulty doesn’t increase as much as I thought it would. I fully expected to have a major challenge on my hands in the final area, but outside of a few hiccups it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be…well, outside of the final boss that is, which is to be expected. As long as you have some patience, you shouldn’t have many problems even in the later areas of the game. Still, for $9.99 Outland is worth picking up if you’re into these kinds of platformers and I will likely play through it again down the road.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.