Outland initially grabbed our attention at PAX, where we saw a demo of Housemarque's artistic upcoming puzzle platformer, which uses a light-dark gameplay mechanic similar to Ikaruga. A similar demo was present at Ubisoft's Digital Day event, where we were able to go hands-on and play through the jungle level that was shown at PAX. At this point, it feels more like an action platformer than a puzzle game, but your critical thinking skills will be put to the test along with your catlike reflexes.
We glossed over the initial cutscene and story, but the general idea is that you play as someone who has strange visions and you set off to discover the meaning behind them. As you progress through the dreamlike levels, large hieroglyphics provide a hint at what's coming next--in our case, a giant boss fight--but we were told that the arcane drawings also help explain the world's mysteries.
Your character is a dark silhouette, accented by scarves that are either light blue or fiery red. This indicates what kind of power you're aligned with; blue for light and red for dark. With a push of the right bumper, you can easily and quickly switch between the two, depending on the circumstances. Light enemies, which include giant spiders and other buglike creatures with similar blue accents, can only be destroyed if you're currently handling the dark power. You'll have to constantly look ahead to see what you're up against and switch quickly, especially when a never-ending wave of red and blue beams are firing at you.
Navigating through the level can involve some backtracking and puzzle-solving. Certain platforms will only move when your powers are matched up, or they'll disappear when you're not. Your character is nimble and can gracefully leap over spiked-filled chasms. The A button is used to jump, the X button acts as your sword, and the B button replenishes a heart in your health meter once you've gathered enough energy.
After making our way through the jungle-themed level, we quickly walked through an area that looked like a dungeon or some kind of underground network. The cooler color tones here were a contrast to the warmer hues of the previous level. We eventually made it to our first boss battle, a hulking stone creature that would pound the ground with its massive stone arm, sending a wave of fire in our direction. The fight came in several phases and became more and more chaotic. Not only are you dodging the creature's attacks, but you'll also have to fend off bugs, as well as dodge a shower of red and blue pellets all the while trying to focus on your goal of slashing away at the boss's head. It certainly isn't easy, but after a few tries, you'll understand the pattern; then, it's a matter of being patient and quick.
We're curious to see what other levels and boss battles are in store, as Outland looks to provide a solid challenge. Look for the game sometime in 2011 on Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network.