PAX may not quite be on par with E3 when it comes to major game announcements, but it’s still hard to get through the weekend without seeing a few new titles in the headlines. One of the more interesting reveals from the show thus far has been Ubisoft’s unveiling of Outland, an artistic platformer from the developer behind Super Stardust HD. Outland combines retro 2D platforming with a number of elements from shoot-'em-ups--most noticeably a light-dark dynamic similar to Ikaruga. After hearing about the game yesterday, we took a walk over to the Ubisoft booth, hung a left at HAWX 2, and took a look at the demo being shown for this upcoming downloadable title.
If what they say about first impressions is true, Outland is certainly in good shape. Its slick art design combines stark black platforms with vivid, colorful background scenery. The level we saw had a definite jungle theme to it, with roots curling from the bottom of floating platforms and giant spider creatures skittering along on the ground.
The story diving the game is a simple one: one day you awaken from a strange dream, notice that things around you aren’t quite right, and set out on a quest to speak with a shaman who can heal your ills. This sets the stage for a jungle world overrun by mysterious creatures and monsters. Along with the aforementioned spiders, we saw an imposing boss figure named the Golem. This one-eyed creature towered over the protagonist, wielding a giant club and looking not entirely unlike one of the bosses from Shadow of the Colossus.
What seems like it will ultimately set Outland apart from other pretty 2D platformers is the light-dark dynamic that has been heavily inspired (to put it politely) by the classic arcade shooter Ikaruga. Essentially, there are enemies, platforms, and hazards in the world that can be either neutral, light, or dark. You quickly unlock the ability to fully align yourself with either your light side (a pale blue) or dark side (a deep red). In terms of combat, you can only attack enemies of the opposite color (attacking same-colored enemies will wind up hurting you), while absorbing flying projectiles of the same color will heal instead of harm you. The game encourages clever exploration beyond the required path, often making certain moving platforms usable only when you're aligned with that color.
The shoot-'em-up comparisons don't end at Ikaruga's light-dark system, either. A lot of areas in the game will unleash what feels very much like a top-down shooter's idea of "bullet hell." You'll see waves of flying blips that are actually harmful projectiles. These often come out of the ceiling in semicircles of alternating color, forcing you to both quickly take cover under platforms and rapidly switch sides to keep from getting hurt. Having not played the game, we can't say how difficult this will be in practice, but developer Housemarque assures us that it's keeping the difficulty accessible for casual players. These bullet hell areas, then, are more an optional challenge for the hardcore players to defeat in order to earn bonus items and collectibles.
All in all, Outland certainly looks like an interesting platformer. It may wear its influences on its sleeve, but the combination of different genres is at least creative in its own right. We're hoping to get a chance to play it soon to see just how these different elements come together. Keep an eye out for more coverage.