Action - PS3
3 Save Slots
1 player / Online Multiplayer
Some people recommended Outland to me before, but I only got around to playing it just now. Part action-platformer, and part Ikaruga color-switching, I was intrigued by the concept. I'd have to say I was a little skeptical, because the developer, Housemarque, is an indie studio in Finland. I never really found Western games to be able to compare to the Japanese in classic 2D genres. Thankfully, Outland blew all my expectations away.
The game sets your character up as a hero that must defeat these twin sisters of darkness and light. The story is a bit hokey, but that's fine. The real star of the show is the gameplay. For the most part, you will be jumping and slashing your way through the game. Like Metroid, you will sometimes find your path impeded until you have an ability acquired later on. The melee combat is quite satisfying, where you can get into a groove by doing limited combos on enemies. The emphasis is not on stringing together moves as much as it is timing and pattern recognition, but it's nice to know the hero has some flexibility when needed.
What Outland does right with this formula is that it's like Metroid and not Metroidvania, which I think is one of the worst atrocities in the gaming world. By NOT employing a leveling-up system, Outland always feels like the challenges laid out were carefully crafted. There is still a progression system where you can add to your life and spirit meters, but they're limited to if/when you find them.
But while that's the core gameplay, I haven't even mentioned the phase-switching aspects yet. How it's handled here is definitely influenced by Ikaruga with its myriad of bullet hells, the ability to absorb them if you're the same phase, and the simplicity of swapping phases on-the-fly. Where it's different from Ikaruga, is that it's an action-platformer, so there are new ways to use phasing. In Outland, you generally can only damage enemies if you're the opposite phase. Sometimes the game will even penalize you for hitting an enemy of the same phase, by having it explode. Another mechanic that Outland uses is to have platforms be a particular phase, so if you're the wrong phase, you just fall through them. All of these elements definitely keep you on your toes, so you end up learning to be ever-vigilant in changing phases in mid-jump or mid-combo.
What pulls everything together is the tight controls. I was expecting that to be the Achilles heel of this game, but I think Housemarque created Outland out of a love for Japanese-game design and wanted to pay it homage. There's precision in the game controls, care in the level layouts, very few blind-jumps (those that exist seem intentional), and clever boss fights. I just got the sense that every enemy, every bullet, and every item was designed to be exactly where it is. That's exactly what I appreciate about older Japanese games, and I love it here.
Downsides? Not many, but if I were to be nitpicky, some of your earned character abilities seem more like an afterthought. The "Charge Attack" in particular seems really silly, because there's only 2-3 places in the entire game that require its usage. It almost seems like they were running out of ability ideas, so just stuck it in the last second. Still, that's hardly a deal-breaker.
Outland is some of the most fun I've had in a game in recent times. Definitely one of the PS3's finest.